With support and partnership from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, three national organizations – Code for America (CfA), Living Cities, and the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP) – are working with seven communities around the country to advance the frontier of civic technology and data ecosystems development. Our organizations have developed extensive ties with localities across the country over 54 collective years of working with the non-profit and public sectors. We share a commitment to harnessing the power of civic technology and data to make local governments and civic organizations more effective in meeting the pressing challenges of the 21st century.

Elizabeth Reynoso, Assistant Director of Public Sector Innovation at Living Cities, also contributed to this blog.

Each of our organizations works in urban communities across the country and we are intentional about improving the conditions and lives of low-income residents. NNIP has 30 member cities, Code for America has 80 brigades of volunteer civic technologists, and Living Cities works with cross sector leaders, including mayoral chiefs staffs in 40 cities. By aligning missions, networks, and resources, our three national organizations served as a launching pad for the Civic Tech and Data Collaborative (CTDC). Civic technology is the use of digital technologies and social media for service provision, civic engagement, and data analysis. Code for America, NNIP, and Living Cities activated our networks of civic technologists, data specialists, and local government officials to identify their challenges and propose how civic technology and data could address those challenges. When we asked, ‘What would you like to get done if you could expand your toolbox and capacity to better leverage data and technology to solve your pressing civic issues?’, seven cities in our networks responded.

Three communities—Boston, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C.— have formed new partnerships to address local challenges with data and technology. To catalyze the development of these local partnerships, we required local government, community data organizations and brigades of volunteer civic technologists to propose a project together. A criteria for selected proposals was a plan to inclusively engage the residents in their communities in the development of tech and data solutions. Four other communities—Cleveland, Pittsburgh, San Antonio, Seattle/King County—are at the earlier stage of assessing their landscape of civic tech partners to potentially pilot projects within the future. All seven teams receive financial resources, technical assistance, and support in assessing their efforts from our three organizations. We also facilitate cross-site learning experiences virtually and in-person to accelerate opportunities to learn from peers. We believe that these pilot partnerships can help to grow an ecosystem of individuals and organizations with competencies to use data and technology to address issues that affect low-income residents beyond the two-year initiative.

Residents, data, and technology are not afterthoughts for the Boston, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C. collaboratives. At the initial stages of problem-solving, these three communities conceived of creative ways to include the voices of low-income residents in the development of their solutions. These collaboratives are working to prove that designing tools that liberate public data from archaic and siloed systems has the potential to strategically preserve affordable housing, facilitate court resolutions, and offer economic opportunity for more youth. They will demonstrate what happens when the members of their collaboratives work together in new ways to leverage data and technology to enable civic leaders to make better decisions. The solutions created locally are intended to inspire and advance the work of the growing field of applied data and civic technology. Any new methods or technology products that a local CTDC site produces will be open source, so that communities beyond the local ecosystems that created them can understand the programming behind the tools.

As national organizations we provide a significant platform for sharing the successes and challenges of the Civic Tech and Data Collaborative with each other and the field. When a local CTDC site develops new ideas and tools that can potentially be scaled and replicated, we promote and disseminate these resources to our broader network and audience. We document the data and tech milestones at the local level and their resulting impacts to share within the CTDC and with our networks of other cities. Synthesizing the lessons learned from cultivating local civic tech and data ecosystems for the collaboratives is an integral role of the national CTDC partners.

While Code for America, Living Cities, and the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership are providing resources and opportunities to a handful of cities, we realize that civic actors are setting up these collaboratives in places outside of this initiative and we are eager to exchange ideas and lessons with others. As the CTDC develops we will share examples from the local collaboratives that provide evidence of successful ecosystem-building as well as their challenges so that together we can harness the power of technology, data, and community engagement to reduce the impact of poverty in our nation’s cities.