|I love this photo! Miguel is a great example of the new leadership in govtech.
|My angle on civic tech is defined by my work and passion to make government better. I am the CEO/Founder of Startup Policy Lab, a West Coast policy hack shop and think tank. Our first product Canaree.io is a web-application that simplifies law enforcement data requests for startups, protects user privacy, and makes transparency reports more transparent.|
|I work with government as a public member on COIT, which sets The City’s IT policy; for example, the Software Evaluation Policy requires city agencies to consider open source software equal to commercial software. As a side note, for those in SF, if you haven’t read the ICT plan, I highly recommend it.|
|One challenge we all face in this space is that Civic Tech is not clearly defined. The Knight Foundation’s 2015 Civic Tech Report provides a good anchor. My work tends to fall in the Government Data circle: open data, structuring legislative and agency policies, etc. But the point is, there are a lot of ways to engage with civic tech.|
|Many years ago I was associated with a loose collection of attorneys and technologists trying to structure legislative data. This was a bit of a movement at the time; the UN launched Akoma Ntoso to erect some international standards around structuring legal codes. Short story: it’s really difficult.|
|Here is an example of the tool we used. You can see how the markup would enable developers to build tools that pulled from the text. We also hosted a hackathon that teamed up attorneys with developers to mark up the California code. Short story Part II: it’s extremely difficult.|
|Some challenges it's good to be aware of: Government is driven by Politics so can’t be ignored. And government is a big entity so it works by Process; knowing how to manage that process can lead to big change, not knowing leads to frustration. And finally, misplaced enthusiasm in Practice can prohibit actual impact.|
|That said, it’s an awesome time to be in Civic Tech right now. Government is investing money at an increasing pace. Government is also thinking about tech from a policy perspective, not just as a cost center – which opens new opportunities to how tech is applied. And we are seeing this in new areas, e.g. MOCI’s OpenSource project.|
|The SF Dept. of Elections is a great example of the opportunity for civic techies to have an impact. The department has data going back decades; works with volunteers all the time; and, has real tech needs.|
|The DoE has built eData, which is pretty impressive, especially given their resources. The goal is to make data about the SF community transparency and accessible – which it does.|
|Three lessons I’ve learned painfully. 1) Technology cannot correct bad behavior, if the persons to be corrected (e.g. lobbyists) can avoid using it; 2) I’ve tried to build tools to correct for legal issues, but unless the law is changed, nothing matters; and, 3) there are a lot of great people in government doing good work that need our support.|
|The focus on tech means we sometimes miss opportunities for non-tech impact: Goverment loves process, so find areas where forms are required; government has a complicated relationship with collecting citizen data; so there is a need for third party intermediaries. Finally, there is a huge need for case study work to share best practices.|
|People often ask how they can get involved. So here are a few ideas: Committees need experts to help them manage the process. So join! Be a Resource to elected officials that have questions. Please ask Policymakers “What is your biggest problem?” Think big picture; might need to work with groups you don’t always agree with for the greater good. #BeALeader #DontBeCongress|
|Finally, a bit of my own pedestal here. Number 1:SF should be looking at making their platform accessible to other cities. Cities are not thinking platform; they are still too provencial. Number 2: SF owns a lot of software but keeps that software buried in digital silos – The City needs a policy to make that software open source by default and agreements with sister cities.
|To wrap this up: It was great that so many people tracked me down after this presentation. So please find me!
Email: charles  startuppolicylab  org