I remember this question coming up during Bloomberg’s Data for Good exchange last year where one of the panels brought up the need for an “exchange for civic tech” where vetted ideas and policies with measurable success could be shared for others to learn from AND re-deployed. Today these are often published in policy documents with titles such as “best practices”, “playbooks” or “roadmaps” which do have utility but they are static in nature and often products of short-term funding efforts.
I think this role of a civic rolodex (based on my references above) is/was traditionally filled by academia but all too often is not aligned with startup-like agility, tech savvy or a sense of urgency and should evolve.
The public policy & public administration programs in this country have done some pretty great work and is often lost in academic jargon and not accessible to a wider audience. They should consider rebranding and rethinking how they engage with the broader civic tech ecosystem and empower local, grassroot tech efforts. I do think that common needs can be addressed by aggressively collaborating.
There also tends to be an awkward town & gown relationship between a local university and local civic-tech initiatives which is unfortunate because there are equally laudable efforts on either side and if they find ways to work together — it could create a fantastic ecosystem around sustainable problem-solving with ample opportunities to commercialize. This is a tall, speculative order though and is probably not going to happen anytime soon. Would love for someone to prove me wrong !
On the flip side urban tech startups are aggressively innovating around business models and are finding it increasingly challenging to engage with local governments, undermining their innovation and that creates for an atmosphere of Uber like challenges to existing regulation.
To that end, I think there is a need for an interdisciplinary body of policy, tech & design (former govIT folks perhaps?), and academics with some level of authority to scan and prototype meaningful tech. solutions and act as an advisory body to local governments.
Their mission should be to aggressively collaborate without needing to read between the political lines and rethink how core public services at the local level can align with shifts in tech. and society and serve as a utility for local decision makers. A digital equivalent of consumer reports for civic tech perhaps? :)
I’m starting to think of it as an evolution to the comptroller’s office who often do pretty great jobs auditing the operational and budgetary performances of a city’s administration. If the same office were to be augmented with responsible civic tech rockstars —I think a lot could be achieved across the board. The dream is to call it a Department of What ifs!