‘Where government and technology intersect’ was the tagline for Innovate Your State’s Third Annual Civic and Gov Tech Showcase in San Jose. The event examined the technological innovations that support federal and state government, engage and educate citizens and improve government services. As Michelle Thong from the City of San Jose stated, ‘nourish the civictech ecosystem to make government work better’.
Innovations for the Greater Good
The event showcased entrepreneurs in the #civictech and #govtech arena. Their innovations ranged from public financing through education to public art. The standout pitches had great ideas that were backed up by simple, smart technology:
• Neighborly – empowering residents to invest in their own communities by giving individuals access and advice to buy into the municipal bond market
• Ride Along – giving police the information they need to interact safely with those with mental health issues
• Run For Office – giving citizens data on local and state elections to encourage them to ‘run for office’ and address the lack of diversity and issue of many unopposed elections
• Social Coin – a platform to encourage participation in local government solutions with rewards for positive action
• Exhibition District – a local San Jose initiative to encourage public art – their Local Color project has converted an abandoned store into a community event center
• Community Insight – providing information on benefits to low-income individuals via a simple texting app – many families have received up to $7K in tax benefits
• iCivics – getting kids into civic engagement through educational online games
Mayor of San Jose Unleashes the Geek!
Sam Liccardo, the Mayor of San Jose, spoke of the city’s lack of resources that are being addressed in innovative ways. Their Unleash the Geek program asks the community for tech solutions to a pressing city problem. For Challenge 1.0, the question was ‘how can we remove graffiti from freeway bridges without stopping the traffic’.
Four finalists, from 150 entrants, were given $5K to build a prototype. The winners Grad created a low-cost drone that was able to spray paint over graffiti from the air. We were treated to a live on-stage demo, followed by the unveiling of the nextgen drone that can crawl up walls and under roofs.
The Mayor also announced Unleash Your Geek Challenge 2.0 – ‘how can the city use water sensors to predict and manage floods’. This follows from the devastating floods in the city earlier this year.
Future of Transport
Next, a group of transportation experts gave their insights into the future of transport. Ryan Popple of Proterra predicted a future of autonomous electric buses using dedicated bus lanes to provide rapid, flexible transit. Well, he does run an electric bus company! Debs Schrimmer from Lyft agrees that the future is self-driving vehicles but sees them as shared ownership cars alongside connected mass transit. Ben McKeever, UC Berkeley, cautioned that autonomous vehicles need improved infrastructure plus reliable connections to other vehicles and road traffic controls. There is also the problem of data privacy, as data is being collected on individual mobility patterns that could allow people to be identified and targeted.
It was agreed that public transit must be the backbone of transportation, with highly-accessible, mass transit options connecting to low emission first and last mile transport. The happiest solution is providing a bike and pedestrian friendly environment. The most forward-thinking – using Virtual Reality to reduce the need to travel!
Increasing Civic Engagement Through Education
How can we engage our youth in good citizenry and social activism? And how do we educate them in critical thinking and informed decision making? iCivics and Generation Citizen aim to address these issues by getting into the classroom and providing fun, participatory lessons at all ages and education levels. Unfortunately, the funding per pupil varies by up to 10K, resulting in a big equity gap between the affluent and low-income families.
‘Fake news’ is in the news – but how do our kids learn to spot the real from the fake? Debating both sides of an argument helps to teach discrimination, but learning to trust an organization decreases as the size of the organization increases. Nowadays, much of social media is focused on grabbing attention and many children are addicted to that constant flow of information. We need to engage them in other ways, through intelligent tech solutions and dynamic learning environments. As Sid Espinosa of Microsoft says, we need to get the business community involved in providing solutions, not just funding.
Thanks to Innovate Your State for an informative and inspiring event, and to the City of San Jose, Microsoft and the Knight Foundation for their support.