CfA Summit: Day One Highlights

On day one of the CfA Summit, more than 450 city officials, technologists, developers, and open government advocates packed into the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, Calif.

They came from across the United States and the globe to hear about the state of the art in “civic innovation” as seen through the prism of Code for America’s network of fellows, city and technology parters, and passionate volunteer community. While the young nonprofit’s experiments in disrupting government are just beginning, there has been a noticeable shift from early explorations in what was possible, to today’s robust applications connecting resident to their cities and providing city governments with powerful new tools to understand how people are living and working in their communities. The morning got off to a powerful start with NYU professor Clay Shirky’s talk on “civic media,” a term he defined as “civic media moving past easy answers and stretching into the parts of the system where we’re having to figure out what happens where and why.” Shirky encouraged the audience to differentiate between helpful and “corrosive criticism” and to learn from mistakes.

Ethan Zuckerman, the director of the MIT Center for Civic Media, wrote about the talks by Shirky and Code for America Founder Jennifer Pahlka in his blog and spoke with me about how civics are shifting:

For the rest of the day, the audience saw a growing number of civic applications — applications that move beyond the organization’s initial efforts of adopting fire hydrants to engaging with fundamental issues of social justice, health, and other challenging problems that cities urgently need to address. For example, sends text messages to food stamp recipients in San Francisco to alert them when aspects of their eligibility has changed. The platform of the new Ohana API supports consumer services in San Mateo County, Calif.

DiscoverBPS helps parents and students find eligible schools in Boston. In South Bend, Ind, a voice application and placards gave residents a more accessible way to offer feedback about abandoned or neglected properties.

A beautiful dashboard, built upon live data, gives insight into prison populations in Louisville, Ken.

And rounding out the list, new family assessment software (A CfA Accelerator company) provides the means to collect and measure performance data regarding how well children are being protected and nurtured.

Other highlights of the day included talks on a “metropolitan revolution,” applying the lean startup to government and embracing a culture of data-driven experimentation, the future of civic technology, and talks by mayors of cities large and small trying to find, embrace and scale what makes their communities remarkable.

All of those talks and more are available on-demand on YouTube.

There’s much more to come on day two.

Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.

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