January 18, 2021 – By Megan Nguyen

The 2020 U.S. presidential election occurred during one of the most critical periods of our nation’s history, as our governments simultaneously navigated multiple crises. Especially during such periods of transition, one of our government’s cornerstones is providing stability to our country, and digital technology plays a significant role in making that happen. In November 2020, the Beeck Center’s Cori Zarek led an Ideas That Transform event with government technology experts Cass Madison, John Bailey, Natassja Linzau, and Shannon Sartin to surface lessons and recommendations to ensure data, design, technology, and other modern tools and practices can support key decision-makers during presidential transitions.


Watch Ideas That Transform: What It Takes to Support Data and Tech Capacity in Government Transition

Technology and data are imperative to governments because of how they make policy outcomes possible. Digital services are increasingly used to implement policy. For example, the House of Representatives passed House Resolution 965 in response to COVID-19 to allow for virtual congressional deliberations with remote proxy voting. Another example is found in The Chief Data Officer in Government playbook, which discusses how the data collected from digital channels can then be leveraged “to gain greater insights and formulate better policies.” People moving into government positions should have an understanding of both the priorities and the challenges of technology and data in order to build a more comprehensive roadmap to follow for their agencies, particularly for the early days in their new roles.

Takeaway #1: Guiding Documents Preserve Ideas

A more seamless transition can be facilitated by studying any guiding documents created by outgoing agency teams. This allows incoming teams to preserve the value and ideas of previous teams’ work, which might otherwise get lost during the transition. When incoming teams begin their roles with more insight into their predecessors’ work, they are better equipped to continue or build upon it.

Takeaway #2: Evaluate Continuity Between Outgoing and Incoming Teams

It is also important to be cognizant of who started any work that is intended to be continued. For example, Shannon Sartin shared that political appointees typically stay in their positions for around 18 months, which is enough time to get a specific program started, but may not be enough time to see its complete results. For many appointees, the success of their work depends on their successors’ abilities to carry it forward. Those wishing to continue the work of their preceding political appointees must be mindful that the outgoing and incoming teams may have different capacities, skill sets, and training. It is critical for incoming teams to determine whether they are compatible to advance their predecessors’ efforts, otherwise, it may be necessary to restructure the vision of the work.

Takeaway #3: Embrace Transitions as Potential for Meaningful Changes

Finally, government transitions should be viewed as opportunities for success as much as they are viewed as periods of disarray. Cass Madison described transitions as “the heart and soul of government.” They are opportunities to repitch ideas to incoming government leaders, especially those with aligning interests. The Beeck Center’s 2016 Architecture of Innovation report discusses how transitions should “embrace innovation and build the necessary architecture to promote and institutionalize its use as a means to achieve outcomes.” Transitions can invite moments of crisis that give government agencies the momentum to make immediate, impactful change. Key decision-makers must understand how to mitigate concerns of transitions and leverage these transitions to best serve public needs.

Megan Nguyen is a junior in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. As a Student Analyst, Megan explores how data practices and digital services can help governments better serve public needs.

December 18, 2020 – By Emily Tavoulareas

Last month, I facilitated a conversation as part of the Beeck Center’s Ideas That Transform Series with colleagues working on a project to improve outcomes for older youth in the foster care system. While our discussion focused on their recent research which they have published today, I found myself thinking a lot about the approach they took to their research—combining a “discovery sprint” with design research—that led to a fundamental shift in both how they thought of the problem, but also the possibilities for solutions. Here I dig into some lessons that can be drawn from their experience, that might be applicable to solving problems in any context. 

The approach

The project was run by Think of Us, a small non-profit working to transform child welfare, to better understand how a product or process intervention might improve outcomes for youth as they age out of foster care. Bloom Works partnered on the execution. The project took place in less than 16 weeks (though not consecutive). They did a “discovery sprint” coupled with design research—two things that are relatively common in the technology arena. What this example demonstrates is how powerful this approach can be when applied to entirely non-technical problems.

What it boils down to is that this type of research… really puts people at the center. It brought that proximity not just to a product—but to, how is it that my humanity exists within this bureaucratic web of decisions that are affecting my life? 

– Sixto Cancel, Founder + CEO of Think of Us

What I find most compelling about this effort is that while they had a clear research question to begin with, what the team learned changed the way they saw the problem space at a fundamental level. So the project team adjusted their focus in-flight. Here are a few key lessons from their approach, that could be helpful to anyone endeavoring to do this type of work. 

Lesson 1/ Be open to going beyond your original research question.

The team started their research focused on identifying insights that were relevant to the product that Think Of Us set out to build. They quickly realized that what they were learning had implications that went far beyond that technology. What they were picking up on had the potential to change the entire equation at a fundamental level in a very real way. 

Although these may seem like things that are obvious–they weren’t… there were these “aha moments”—these epiphany moments. – Sixto Cancel 

Instead of confining themselves to their original research goal, the team gave themselves permission to allow the learning to drive where they took the work. The research plan was intentionally semi-structured—it meant that the team went into the sprint with a set of topics to guide interviews and observations, but allowed room to explore additional lines of inquiry as they arose. Had they been inflexible, they would have risked rooting the research in the wrong question and, as a result, identifying ineffective (or worst, harmful) solutions. 

Lesson 2/ The intervention will never be a system

As they began the research, the team considered the child welfare system overall as a part of the solution, and sought to find ways for the system to drive change. However, as Think of Us CEO Sixto Cancel said: 

 “… the biggest epiphany and pivot was understanding that no matter what, the intervention will never be a system… systems are cruel and people are kind… and that the *real* intervention is the human beings that are in the system. The system has a way of setting conditions that make it easier, or very hard, to be able to engage in those relationships.” 

The research allowed them to get beyond specific actions and experiences and understand the systemic conditions that were robbing young people from engaging in the very life-affirming relationships that can support their time in and out of foster care. 

child drawing on paper
To better understand the support systems that young people have as they age out of care, participants were asked to draw the people in their lives, then identify those they could trust or turn to for help. Credit Bloom Works

 

Lesson 3/ Commit to your goal, but be flexible on the process

“You always approach a project with a perfectly designed research plan, methods, recruitment techniques… and then you hit first contact with reality and it kind of unravels in a variety of ways.” – Sarah Fathallah, Independent Designer and Researcher for Bloom Works

The team adapted a great deal, and doing so unlocked significant insights. Their ability to stay focused on the goal but adjust their approach in flight enabled them to learn from their interviewees, go deep on their experiences, and uncover unspoken motivations and beliefs.

A perfect example of this was the team’s plan for recruitment. Originally, they planned to “snowball” (that’s when you interview one person and they introduce you to others) their way into interviewing youth’s supportive adults. But they quickly realized that young people didn’t *want* to introduce the people closest to them. While that required a new plan for interview outreach, it was also an insight in and of itself—youth were so protective of their close, trusted relationships that they refused to introduce them to the system. It was a transformative insight and completely changed how they thought about the problem space. 

In another example, the team needed to reframe workshop scenarios and questions in order to get participants to talk about what would best support them in their transition out of foster care in a way that didn’t just mimic how they were repeatedly told by the system to think about that transition. To do so, the team tasked them to list out the hopes and fears they have about growing up, then imagine the app that could alleviate those fears and make their hopes come true. This meant focusing on their strengths and resilience, and getting beyond the stories of loss and hardship that often define them. Something as simple as imagining an app can help make children’s dreams feel more realistic. 

Youth journal page listing "hopes" and "fears"
One of the participatory research workshop artifacts where one participant described the hopes and fears that they have as it relates to growing up and aging out of foster care. Credit Bloom Works

Lesson 4/ Trust the process 

“This work requires a different evolution of yourself, because you have to question every single thing you might think you know about a problem.” – Sixto Cancel

While it is true that this approach has transformative potential, it is also true that it’s extraordinarily messy. It’s a non-linear process that attempts to bring order to unstructured information, and requires comfort in (or at least tolerance of) ambiguity. As designers like to say—you have to “sit in the mess” and “trust the process.”

That “mess” is both tangible and intangible. In its physical form it is an explosion of sticky notes, quotes, sharpies, and laptops. In its emotional form it feels a bit like crushing doubt and anxiety: What are we doing here? How are we going to pull anything insightful out of this mess? How is **this** helping youth in any way? I really just don’t see where this is going. I personally still have moments like this every time I am neck-deep in synthesis. For those experiencing it for the first time and having to trust their partners leading the effort, the feeling is real and unnerving. But the reason we say “trust the process” is that it does have a way of getting where you need to gooften with unexpected outcomes. 

team members working on a whiteboard with notes on it
The synthesis process, also known as “the mess.” Here the team is bringing order to / making sense of their interviews in the field. Credit Bloom Works

Lesson 5/ Be mindful of your positionality

“We were aware that (1) we are strangers, (2) that we held more power, (3) that we were coming in pre-endorsed with whatever reputation the youth had of their agency, as we were introduced by them, so whether that was positive or negative, we were ascribed those values immediately.”  – Sarah Fathallah

conference table with sticky notes on top
Thoughtful preparation, including snacks and food, conveys care and attention that can help participants feel more comfortable from the start. Credit Bloom Works

One of the keys to effective interviews—of any kind, but especially in design research—is trust. This team was very thoughtful and intentional about their relationship to the youth they spoke to, considering questions like, “How do we gain trust? How do we make this relationship a little bit less extractive than it would usually be?”

This took them beyond the typical subject-researcher relationship, and aimed to make it more of a partnership. This meant giving participants a sense of agency by having them control components of the research process. This included opting out of activities, stopping at any time, skipping questions, and agreeing together on the agenda of a participatory workshop before diving in.

Another way the research team built trust with interviewees was to find ways to demonstrate respect—compensating them for their time and wisdom, and setting up an environment that feels comfortable and less formal by decorating and rearranging the space, having snacks and craft supplies, and dressing casually.

The ability to stay focused on what the team aimed to learn, and adjust along the way in pursuit of that understanding, made it possible to identify solutions that were both valuable and practical. 

Watch the full panel discussion with Sixto Cancel, Sarah Fathallah, Sarah Sullivan, and Emily Wright-Moore. See more from our Data + Digital Mini-Series

Emily Tavoulareas is a designer and a fellow at the Beeck Center. Follow her at @EmilyTav.

December 17, 2020 – By Natalie Ward

At the Beeck Center, we use data to better target services, test different strategies, and scale what works with an understanding that data and technology alone is never the answer. The Beeck Center, in partnership with the International Network for Data on Impact and Government Outcomes (INDIGO), collaborated on the inaugural Hack-and-Learn event this fall that brought data practitioners from across the globe together to identify ways to share and work with data to demonstrate impact at scale. 

The INDIGO Hack-and-Learn operated on three different levels:

Community. A diverse group of peers all working toward building use cases for improved data sharing and governance in the social impact space. 

Systems. A collection of people, processes, and tools that maintain an open-source database, data dictionary, and data templates that enable new impact bond projects to share their data.

Data. Multiple master datasets containing information on social impact bonds and social investments to turn into insights and visualizations that display outcomes. 

The Hack-and-Learn brought together a community of peers with a shared interest in data and social outcomes. I got involved to help an initiative called The Skill Mill to leverage data on its social enterprise program to improve monitoring and evaluation of the outcomes and attract investors to their work. The Skill Mill works in the UK to keep young people who have been caught up in the criminal justice system from reoffending. We were tasked with helping investors see the value of social impact bonds (SIBs) as a new type of investment opportunity for social impact organizations like The Skill Mill. 

We used data and data visualizations to show outcomes for investors who want to support efforts to keep high-risk young people out of the criminal justice system. Through collaboration with the local and central government, social investors, and local employers, The Skill Mill aims to combine paid jobs with training and mentoring for high-risk youth giving them opportunity and purpose within their local communities and keeping them out of trouble. Currently, The Skill Mill is funded by a SIB backed by Big Issue Invest, the entity managing the bond and issuing payments to The Skill Mill. SIBs are pay-for-success models, meaning The Skill Mill gets paid for effectively and successfully preventing young people from reoffending.

Data visualization of investment plus technical assistance timeline
Screen capture of prototype data visualization created during Hack-and-Learn.

 

I dug into The Skill Mill data template to find answers to questions like: 

  • What key data points must we collect to evaluate the outcomes of SIBs?
  • Are the existing data definitions robust, clear, and concise for reporting?
  • How can data from project spreadsheets be transformed into visualizations showing an investor’s flow of money throughout the SIB?

By the conclusion of the Hack-and-Learn, our team identified how data from The Skill Mill project can be collected and interpreted to better display outcomes achieved through the program. The Skill Mill initiative has collected robust data on the 224 young people employed through the program who received wages, training, qualifications, and hands-on work experience over the 6 months they are enrolled. Through data collection, sharing, analysis, and visualization, social enterprises like The Skill Mill can communicate the outcomes of SIBs to investors. Incentivizing investors to consider innovative financing models such as SIBs is a powerful way to finance programs that are proven to make a strong impact within local communities. By providing investors with data on the results of pay-for-success programs, investors can make calculated data-driven decisions regarding how to invest capital within communities to make a lasting and effective impact. 

Exploring the SIB model and measuring outcomes-based approaches through data collection and analysis is a key component of reimagining social change. Coupling fair financial models with the power of data and technology has the potential to develop an entirely new data-driven ecosystem for impact investing. It is the role of social impact practitioners to determine what data should be collected and how to best monitor and evaluate the outcomes of social enterprise programs through analysis, visualization, and prototyping. When investors can leverage data and visualizations to view the flow of capital from funders to the community, the positive impacts of SIBs on the life of an individual becomes evident. 

The Beeck Center operates on the belief that we are stronger together and that building a collaborative environment is pivotal for achieving impact at scale. A core value at the Beeck Center is collaboration and the Hack-and-Learn event in partnership with Indigo allowed for the Center to increase collaboration on a new level through learning from more partners, talents, and experiences in the social impact space to identify innovative ways to leverage data for social good. 

 

Natalie Ward is a student analyst at the Beeck Center. She earned a Masters of Science from Fordham University and is interested in how technology, data, and science can be used to improve social outcomes. She is currently seeking a full-time role on an innovative team. Connect with Natalie on Twitter or LinkedIn to learn more about her work. 

November 16, 2020 – By Anna Gorman

Bored in their homes with nowhere to go, quarantiners worldwide turned to Netflix — earning the company an astonishing 15.77 million new subscribers between January and March of 2020 and increasing their subscriber base to more than 195 million. But when just one of those 195 million people clicks “play” on, say, their eighth episode of the Great British Baking Show, what happens? What is the cost?

At the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation, as we strive to leverage technology and data for social change, it’s important we understand how the decisions we make regarding technology impact the environment we live in. When you watch a webinar or binge “The Mandalorian,” you activate a massive network of computer servers, allowing your personal computer to download the content bit-by-bit in real-time, aka streaming video. Each of these video streams comes with energy costs — the computer needs to charge, the Wi-Fi needs to connect to its network, and the bytes of data that comprise the stressed baker’s perfectly-iced cake need to travel from data centers to your computer. While your monthly bills may demonstrate some of the energy cost of streaming on your end, the costs accrued beyond the “play” icon are a little less obvious.

Illustration by the author.

At its core, every data center that allows a user to binge their favorite show is part of the internet’s “brain” — they store, process, and communicate data to personal devices across the globe. To provide these services, data centers require a significant amount of electricity, which can, in turn, translate to carbon emissions. The energy used to power these centers is converted to heat, which must then be removed from the center using cooling equipment that uses more electricity. Advancements in technology and transitions to renewable energy have allowed data centers to become increasingly energy efficient, offsetting much of the overall recent increase in web traffic. However, in many places worldwide data centers are still powered by electricity from fossil fuels, leading to questions over the environmental footprint of spending a quarantine day watching Netflix. While the energy usage of operating a data center can be significant, recent studies indicate that streaming yet another episode of the Great British Baking Show may not be as detrimental to the environment as previously thought. 

In July 2019, French think tank The Shift Project published a study on the “unsustainable and growing impact” of online streaming, claiming that the carbon emissions of streaming an hour-long show are equivalent to driving almost eight miles. This claim was repeated in a number of recent articles in reputable popular media like Reuters and BBC as recently as March 2020, and continues to influence media coverage. However, more recent fact-checks and new studies have cast doubt on this claim and the assumptions it rests upon, which have led to an over-exaggeration of streaming’s energy use. According to Carbon Brief, a science-based news website covering climate change developments, the flaws in the Shift Project’s assumptions “seriously exaggerate the electricity used by consuming video.” Carbon Brief claims the study overestimates bitrate, the amount of data transferred per second when streaming, assuming it to be six times higher than Netflix’s global average bitrate in 2019. It similarly overestimates the energy used in data transmission networks, leading to an overall exaggeration of the energy intensity of video streaming.

Additionally, the electricity use of data centers themselves have often been dramatically exaggerated, according to new research published in the academic journal Science in February 2020. Various mathematical models can be used to estimate data center energy uses, though it’s difficult to estimate electricity usage and carbon emissions because no official statistics are compiled at national or global levels, and not every data center discloses this information. The mathematical model implemented in a study can vastly influence conclusions, and variance in results leads to general confusion around data centers’ true electricity usage. The most recent literature favors a comprehensive “bottoms-up” approach to calculating data center energy uses, cautioning that the use of older, more simplistic mathematical models that do not take into account efficiency gains have led to gross overestimations, and thus have over-exaggerated the environmental threat of watching one’s favorite mindless -or prestige- television online. According to this new research, an hour spent on Netflix is not equivalent to driving eight miles — it is much closer to driving approximately four blocks.

This is not necessarily an all-clear for the future. Today, data centers consume approximately 1% of the world’s electricity, but demand for these centers is expected to grow. As more and more of our world becomes digital, it is increasingly likely that the efficiency gains of current technologies may not be able to offset the growing digital demand. Though there is always potential for technological improvement, there is similarly potential for growth in compute-intensive technologies (like artificial intelligence) to outpace the efficiency gains that have historically limited data centers’ electricity usage and carbon footprint. 

Everyone has an important role to play in minimizing the environmental impacts of data centers and video streaming. Governments can — and should — actively encourage investments in improved efficiency strategies, and as always, should encourage the decarbonization of energy supplies and the transition away from fossil fuels. Technology companies need to be held accountable to release their energy usage data to the public, and themselves should invest in more efficient technologies in favor of their bottom line and the greater health of the planet. Within the technology sector, the growing green technology movement encourages the development of environmentally-friendly innovations, particularly in regards to clean energy.

Social impact organizations like the Beeck Center, which exists to drive social change and focuses on using technology and data to do so, can play a role in watching the environmental impact of technology and online work. All online activities, including binge watching, attending Zoom meetings, and leveraging data for the public good, accrue energy costs. Moving into the future, we must be mindful of the environmental costs of the digital demand, related to both social impact and personal enjoyment. 

Nothing comes for free. All of our actions in the coming years can determine whether “Ready, set, bake!” is about cupcakes or the planet.

 

Anna Gorman is a student analyst at the Beeck Center and is majoring in Science, Technology and International Affairs at Georgetown University.

This is the last in a three-part series on the American government digital service workforce. 
Read the previous blogs: Encouraging the Next Generation of Digital Service Professionals to Work in Government and Why Governments Should Prioritize UX for Everyone

November 11, 2020 – By Hayley Pontia

At the Beeck Center, our work in Public Interest Technology Field Building is focused on establishing greater credibility and capacity for those working to deliver services to the public.

Cover of Reimagining the Field for Emerging Government Digital Service Professionals
Read the Report

As a part of my research surrounding emerging professionals in the government digital service delivery field, I interviewed leaders within the field to learn more about the skills, experiences, programs, and personality traits relevant to the field. The more I interview people who work in the field of government digital service, the clearer it becomes that our federal government needs workers with different experiences to be involved in decision-making processes. Although no team is complete without those who’ve worked in government before, our perceptions should be shifting towards a skillset and mindset more representative of younger workers. Increasing the talent pool with a more diverse set of voices who bring a unique set of skills and identity makeups should be a main focus of all government teams. However, just because a team actively makes space for a diverse group of individuals, it doesn’t always mean that space is inclusive. Actively making decisions to improve existing staffing systems and how jobs are traditionally evaluated is an important note to make. Considering this, I asked 10 government digital service workers what they believed to be the most important skills for emerging professionals within their field. Many of their responses echoed one another and centered on these themes.

1. Focus on mission-driven work 

“Government is really behind. Don’t judge employees within the government who are working to fix these problems. Don’t come in with a savior complex.” – Former USDS Director 

A passion for mission-driven work empowers emerging professionals as a common core value. They are dedicated to serving others and are willing to educate themselves on topics that are important parts of users’ lives. Real impact is a main priority for the products and services they create. Within local, state, or federal government alike, they realize the magnitude of their work’s ability to drive change. 

2. Bureaucracy hacking and preparing for slow wins 

“Doing big things in government takes a long time. Don’t be that afraid of multiple year projects.” – Chief Technology Officer  

Unlike the private sector, rapid change has an increased risk when implemented in the public sector, so a willingness to adapt and understand procedural nuances is an important part of a government digital service. Ideas, creation, and implementation may take much longer to enact, requiring patience and ability to reiterate innovations consistent with emerging technologies.

3. Explaining technology to various users

“Don’t be afraid to step outside of the box – take an effort to learn other things in your role.” – Former USDS Director 

It is important to understand how technologies work without actually implementing them yourself. A broad understanding of the way technologies serve people and what they are capable of is key to serving on digital service teams. Members of a digital service team all have varying backgrounds that brought them to their roles; it is important to maintain an interdisciplinary approach when problem solving and working together as a team.

4. Advocating for underrepresented issues

“One thing that is challenging for me is far more difficult for someone else and for them to be taken seriously. We need to make more space for those people.” – Former 18F Consultant 

There are many instances when certain groups are left out of the equation whether intentional or not. It should be every level of the government’s duty to shine a light on these inequalities and how a historically underrepresented group may be affected. This includes providing ample research and support to address these issues, and requires moving past pushback. Serving as a sounding board for those who may traditionally be marginalized is also necessary. 

5. A surplus of empathy

“I had a long standing understanding of the importance of trust in relationships and empathy towards those who are in hard situations. Government is an everyday hard situation.” – Former 18F Consultant 

Government is often stereotyped as monolithic in process, leaving little room for understanding and humanistic qualities, but this is most certainly not the case. Most public service employees must possess high levels of empathy, navigating different experiences and circumstances by understanding others’ wants, needs, and pain points. Their jobs are to represent and understand those who they are serving. Without a semblance of awareness of the needs of residents, it is difficult to make accurate decisions that represent the population. An emphasis on human-centered design thinking allows professionals to understand, create, and modify systems to better serve those they are affecting. This allows for great amounts of quantitative and qualitative research in order to understand the environment. 

6. Development of “power skills”

“A job in this field is 90% about building trust and relationships.” – Former USDS Consultant 

In one of my interviews, a leader in the field described often overlooked skills, traditionally labeled as “soft skills,” or more ideally, “power skills,” as some of the most important to government success. Power skills are commonly defined as technical and non-technical, serving as a hybrid for effective problem solving and communication. There are seven power skills: (1) problem solving, (2) decision making, (3) judgment, (4) communication, (5) self management, (6) collaboration, and (7) value clarification. Each skill builds off of the other serving as an ideal ecosystem of productivity. Whether as a combination of multiple or expertise in one, these skills help produce successful outcomes in government digital service teams and other innovative teams within government. 

 

Although there are currently limited entry-level positions available in the field, it is important to know that there is an acknowledgement of the relevance of emerging professionals in the field. It is also important to recognize the importance of transparency and accessibility of resources in order to establish a workforce prepared to use these skills. Expecting all digital service professionals to have access to developing these resources is not a fair way to judge success considering the current ecosystem. Providing more resources for emerging professionals is a key objective in our work at the Beeck Center. 

While this list is intended to provide a macro view of what may be valued of government digital service professionals, it is important to celebrate differences in approaches, experiences, and exposure to obtaining these skills. Providing clearer, more accessible pathways for emerging professionals is just the beginning. 

Hayley Pontia is a student analyst at the Beeck Center. She earned a Master of Arts in Communication, Culture and Technology in May 2020 with a focus on user experience research and is currently looking for a pathway into public service. Connect with her at https://www.linkedin.com/in/hayleypontia/. Other examples of her portfolio can be found at  https://www.hayleypontia.com.

This is the second in a three-part series on the American government digital service workforce.
Read the first blog: Encouraging the Next Generation of Digital Service Professionals to Work in Government and the final: Skills Needed for Government Digital Service Professionals

November 11, 2020 – By Hayley Pontia

Before starting graduate school, I thought I knew little about user experience (UX) and what it meant, but I soon realized that it actually encompassed what I’d already been doing since I began my post-secondary education. I studied psychology and communication at the University of Pittsburgh before coming to Georgetown to pursue a career at the intersection of social impact, design, and research. Working with nonprofits and organizations such as the Beeck Center, I realized the value user experience brings to serving all people for whom government was intended, not just those government thinks they are positively affecting. What I really appreciated about the premise of UX, was the inherent effect of serving the public by creating new or modified solutions to existing, systemic problems.

Cover of Reimagining the Field for Emerging Government Digital Service Professionals
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Those with lived experience know best what can help them and how they would like to receive support. Although this concept of UX research is still relatively new in government, it is becoming the norm as more governments focus on the best way to serve the public. At the core of UX is ensuring that users find value in what you are providing

In any public sector organization, UX methods are imperative to successfully create, deliver, implement, and improve systems. It is easy to rely on third-party vendors that offer easily accessible service delivery, tailored to their specific team and there is nothing wrong with that. But a basic understanding of human-centered design within the public sector organization can help create efficient, innovative, and cost-effective solutions in-house, and ensure that any services provided by vendors align with the same characteristics. For example, the New Jersey Office of Innovation and Colorado Digital Service have both created dedicated teams that are able to cost-effectively deliver services, such as a streamlined unemployment website and COVID-19 Information Hub through human-centered design (HCD) influenced procurement processes. Making these efforts standardized and easily accessible is an imperative towards better serving all people.   

In fact, it’s helpful for any government employee to receive HCD training so they can ensure their work truly values the ideas of others alongside their own. What becomes difficult is sourcing and providing a healthy space for UX professionals in government teams and the needed bandwidth for establishing this government wide initiatives similar to Usability.gov’s stance on a user-centered approach. Alongside those with more technical skills, the voices of those historically considered to possess “soft skills” should be seen as compliments rather than opposites. Without the ability to analyze and deconstruct complex systems, language, and products, our government remains at a disadvantage when it comes to delivering services. 

honeycomb graphic of 7 basic traits of user experience
Factors that Influence UX. At the core of UX is ensuring that users find value in what you are providing to them. Credit: Usability.gov

In order to better understand the breadth of problems UX research and design can solve, the table below describes potentially effective examples of UX within government. These, along with other methods, can be taught through various platforms such as online training, bootcamps, and educational YouTube videos in order to better develop an iterative process of service delivery through internal teams. Bloomberg Philanthropies funds innovation teams (i-teams) that encourage  city leaders to use a design and innovation lens to tackle big problems and deliver better results.

Each method can be used in almost any stage of the digital service lifecycle, although the Nielsen Norman Group suggests specific guidelines in their UX research cheat sheet. Usability.gov suggests in order for there to be a meaningful and valuable user experience, information must be useful, usable, desirable, findable, accessible, and credible.


Effective Examples of UX in Government
MethodDescriptionWhat This May Look Like in Government
Card SortingA technique that asks users to group content and functionalities into open or closed categories giving input on content hierarchy, organization and flow.Asking users of the FAFSA website to describe key elements of the digital service, then categorize into schemas.
Needs Assessment
A systematic process for determining and addressing needs or "gaps" between current conditions and desired conditions or "wants".
Asking users internally + externally of a service, such as Veterans Pension Program, what needs to happen in order to make the interaction successful.
Empathy Mapping

A collaborative visualization used to articulate what is already known about the user. It externalizes knowledge about users in order to create a shared understanding of user needs that aids in the decision making process.Learning more about what the users are thinking, feeling, saying, and doing while filling out their 2020 Census questionnaire online.
Persona Creation for Journey Mapping

A relatable snapshot of the target audience that highlights demographics, behaviors, needs and motivations through the creation of a fictional character. Then, a diagram that explores the steps taken by the user(s) as they engage with the service is created.What the average user experiences while accessing a SSA-16 form while applying for disability and what steps they experience throughout the process.
Rapid Prototyping

An iterative approach to the development of the services involving quickly creating mock-ups of a system before it is built in production.In line with Agile Product Management, New Jersey Office of Innovation’s creation of the New Jersey Career Network, an online career coaching tool to help people experiencing long-term unemployment plan and manage their job search.

To aid in this process, the Beeck Center’s work on Public Interest Technology Field Building is focused on ways to build credibility and capacity for the field of government digital services. Within the umbrella of digital services, roles such as UX researchers and designers are slowly becoming more common in government innovation teams. Through our research understanding the government digital service field and what workers in this field need, we want to help strengthen those existing roles and establish more pathways for promotion and career support, as well as help other teams recognize the value of these skills and create new roles. We are partnering with and building on the work that people in the civic tech and digital government community have been leading for years, including organizations like the AGL Association which is providing support for the community of government professionals working in tech and digital service roles. 

Becoming more informed about what residents experience when using different government platforms will not only improve the quality of the platforms and the work of the employee teams, but the reputation of the government as committed to serving people. It ultimately leads to greater trust in government when the systems work well and services are seamlessly delivered.

Often, collective memory will reinforce the narrative that the government is just “doing the best they can” with the resources they have, but we should be asking more of our government, while also expressing patience, to create better services when they affect such a large population. The foundations of UX make this possible. By employing empathy and methodological research we are able to expect thoughtful solutions to these complex problems that have the potential to change our lives. 

Hayley Pontia is a student analyst at the Beeck Center. She earned a Master of Arts in Communication, Culture and Technology in May 2020 with a focus on user experience research and is currently looking for a pathway into public service. Connect with her at https://www.linkedin.com/in/hayleypontia/. Other examples of her portfolio can be found at  https://www.hayleypontia.com

This is the first in a three-part series on the American government digital service workforce. 
Read parts two and three: Why Governments Should Prioritize UX for Everyone and Skills Needed for Government Digital Service Professionals

November 11, 2020 – By Hayley Pontia

It should be startling that less than 5% of federal government employees are between the ages of 22-29. Not only are young professionals willing to adapt and learn potentially more readily than those fixed in a system, but they may also be more capable of helping governments overcome technological problems by proactively using data and technology to better carry out their missions in this digital age. 

Ironically, some of the most knowledgeable people in the areas of technology and digital services are those Generation Z and Millennials who grew up with technology and are newer to entering the workforce — those same 22-29-year-olds barely represented in state, local, or federal government. They are the “digital natives” who can quickly adapt and learn new technological skills. They already possess the foundation that many in government may actively be working toward or relying on others to support. Because this talent pool is eager to jump into public service roles, technology and innovation leaders should focus more efforts on the recruitment and career development of this cohort of emerging professionals. Digital natives are a valuable asset to any organization and need career pathways towards government digital service. 

Cover of Reimagining the Field for Emerging Government Digital Service Professionals
Read the Report

In March 2020, a group of student Mozilla Builders launched Impactful, an online platform for technologists to develop their careers in social good by connecting them with socially-impactful opportunities and with other impact-driven technologists. Recently, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, community platforms such as Remote Students serve as a place where students and recent grads can share opportunities, events, resources, and help each other achieve their career dreams within the tech field.

Those of us coming out of current university programs are learning cutting-edge skills in human-centered design, focusing on how to put people at the center of systems and processes. These skills mean newer, digital native workers are more oriented towards public service, but there are still not as many opportunities available as there are in the private sector. Existing government teams that work in these modern ways, such as the U.S. Digital Service, 18F, Veterans Experience Office, New Jersey Office of Innovation, and San Jose Civic Innovation team are still in early days themselves and most have not yet been able to fully fill in this early part of the career pipeline. 

This isn’t to say that those already in the field aren’t trying to create more opportunities for emerging professionals. It is important to recognize the many barriers that existed for the inception of digital service teams as they exist now. But as those teams mature, agency leaders must focus more effort on the career development of this junior part of the pipeline.

Technologists, data scientists, and designers are changing the way government approaches carrying out its mission, and those individuals are also acknowledging the importance of creating entry points to civic tech-related jobs for recent graduates. But government leaders need to provide incentives and pathways obtainable for those seeking digital service in the public sector. 

This requires supporting the current ecosystem of professionals in order to allow them space to mentor those entering the field. Coding it Forward launched in 2017 to establish summer fellowships for current students in the federal government and those students are matched with mentors working in the public interest technology field. It’s a great model, but is limited in scope and duration. Roles in places like USDS, 18F, and the Presidential Innovation Fellowship allow mid- and senior-level professionals to focus on following created pathways through these organizations. But what is missing from the equation are pathways for people looking to gain experience in the more interdisciplinary field of public sector technology as junior- or entry-level professionals. Using the framework from research conducted by fellow students last summer, and through the work of the Upskilling the Government Technology Workforce project I’ve been leading at the Beeck Center, we are supporting public sector and public interest teams to prepare to bring in a younger generation digital service skills to actively challenge systems that require modern solutions. 

The Beeck Center is tapping into the network of digital service professionals through user research in order to better understand what makes current digital service individuals successful and what they are looking for in those new to the field. 

This year, I have been working to enable change for new talent by researching, listening, and creating useful resources for those relatively new to the field of government digital service delivery. As I head out into the workforce myself, I hope to challenge these existing systems that make it difficult for someone eager to use technology for good.

Hayley Pontia is a student analyst at the Beeck Center. She earned a Master of Arts in Communication, Culture and Technology in May 2020 with a focus on user experience research and is currently looking for a pathway into public service. Connect with her at https://www.linkedin.com/in/hayleypontia/. Other examples of her portfolio can be found at  https://www.hayleypontia.com.

Friday, October 30th | By Jenn Noinaj

There’s a collective sense of purpose and responsibility in the public interest technology field that I’ve never experienced in any other job. The public service sector is about delivering better outcomes to the public, such as improving how individuals might receive their benefits or access services that they need, and public interest technology helps do just that. The field uses design, data, and technology to help achieve those outcomes, and ultimately serve the public good.

Since this is a growing space, it’s important for us to be intentional and design ways we can positively impact this growth. Designers, product managers, and engineers come into public interest tech for the mission. People are passionate about the work. Yet, there are still opportunities for us to improve: increasing diversity numbers, championing a more inclusive culture, forging career paths for professionals with various levels of experience, and fostering knowledge-sharing between communities, to name a few.

Building upon the great work that’s already been done, including by leaders at New America and the Ford Foundation, I’m excited to join the Beeck Center as a fellow this year to find and create solutions that will help contribute to the growth of individuals, teams, and communities in the public interest tech sphere. Our team aims to deliver on outcomes that are intersectional, equitable, and rooted in context for everyone to be successful, making sure we’re inclusive and supportive of diverse talent. This field is vast, and understanding the ecosystem, the people, organizations, and structures that make up this space, will help us ensure that our work is sustainable.

headshot of Jenn Noinaj
Beeck Center Fellow Jenn Noinaj

Prior to the Beeck Center, I was at the United States Digital Service (USDS) where I worked on transforming digital services across government by building capacity in design and technology and championing a user-centric culture. I supported multiple hiring actions at various agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, partnering with human resource specialists to recruit and hire diverse candidates. My team worked on revamping job announcements and position descriptions to attract people from non-traditional backgrounds and established a new process to improve federal hiring practices, ensuring a fair and equitable process for applicants. I also helped shape USDS’ hiring practices for designers, participating in recruiting, updating our competencies to align with the latest hiring needs, and conducting resume and portfolio reviews and interviews. I’m excited to bring these experiences and my background in human-centered design to carry the Beeck Center’s Public Interest Technology Workforce project forward.

We’ll be kicking off a stream of research to delve further into the field and identify findings and opportunities for us to tackle. We’re partnering with the United States of Technologists and the Tech Talent Project to produce an onboarding guide to serve as a starting point that can be customized by teams as needed. We’re looking at ways of building up a professional association to facilitate knowledge-sharing, community building, and training for folks interested in this field. I’m also excited to help out on other projects at the Beeck Center, and am currently putting together a guide on Discovery Sprints, a method to quickly understand a problem space and identify actionable next steps. These projects will build upon all of the existing resources that the Beeck Center already has published, such as how to get started in the public interest tech field and recommendations for digital transformation in government.

How You Can Help Us Now

Our project is looking at ways we can support those who work in this field, ensuring the workforce has the skills, tools, and resources they need to deliver on outcomes to the public. In order for us to identify how to institutionalize career support resources like professional development opportunities, mentorship models, and training programs we need to understand how best to meet the needs of those currently doing the work. I’m working with the Beeck Center’s Vandhana Ravi to conduct a Public Interest Technology Workforce Survey aimed at capturing the experiences, backgrounds, and demographics of the individuals in the field. We’re hoping to hear from anyone who identifies as a public interest technologist (researchers, designers, engineers, product managers, contractors, volunteers, students, etc.) to make sure we are considering the broadest perspectives and experiences. Based on the results, our plan is to publish a demographics report with the trends and opportunities from the survey, as well as follow up with individuals to have more in-depth conversations.

If you’re a part of the Public Interest Technology field, please consider taking the survey and helping us share it far and wide with your colleagues. The survey will close at 11:59PM EST on November 30th and we will look forward to sharing the findings with you so we can all work to improve a more inclusive field.

Jenn Noinaj is a Beeck Center Fellow leading our Public Interest Technology Workforce portfolio. You can follow her on Twitter and find her on LinkedIn.

October 30, 2020 – By Sara Soka

Millions of Americans rely on the social safety net to provide basic economic, food, and housing support when experiencing hardship. When COVID-19 killed millions of jobs and drove benefit demand to unprecedented levels, the often-difficult steps to receiving benefits — submitting documents about your income and household at a government office or by mail, waiting for a decision on your application, and needing to recertify your eligibility often if your situation doesn’t improve quickly — got even harder. Applicants have been dogged by outdated, manual systems for years, and they can be especially tough for people in precarious situations to maneuver. In March, Simon Tung told Reuters his attempts to get unemployment payments were a struggle.

“He called hundreds of times. When he did get through, sometimes he would get a message saying the system was overwhelmed and to call back. On April 2, he received his first direct deposit from New York state – for $0.”

cover of social safety net benefits report
Read the Full Report

The good news is that there are successful examples of government bringing social safety net benefit delivery up to contemporary standards. In the last decade, a small but growing number of local, state, and federal government agencies have worked with nonprofits and public benefit corporations to make many steps in the benefit application process easier. The Beeck Center’s latest report, Technology, Data, and Design-Enabled Approaches for a More Responsive, Effective Social Safety Net examines tools and methods that are working, presenting opportunities for scale to reach more Americans in need. Government executives, policymakers, and philanthropic organizations can use the examples and case studies to leverage the renewed interest in improving the functionality of these systems in the wake of COVID-19. With the likely passage of new stimulus legislation after the 2020 general election, this is an opportunity for a large federal investment to improve the social safety net, and the chance to learn from the people who have been working in this field for years.

For instance, the nonprofit design studio Civilla worked with benefit applicants and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to combine five benefit applications into one. The new application is 80% shorter and takes half the time to process. It’s also available in a mobile-friendly online format allowing users to manage changes to their benefits, upload documents and photos, and receive text notifications.

We started working on this project in February 2020, just prior to the onset of the pandemic. The report’s recommendations are overarching and tactical, drawn from case studies and white papers from leading organizations in this field including Code for America, Benefits Data Trust, and Nava, interviews with practitioners, and news reports. The report focuses on needs with particular resonance now, when the pandemic has tried the capacity of existing benefit systems and racial justice continues to be a primary concern for the nation. Reports like this are only as useful as they are actionable, and this one offers the chance to apply the hard-earned insights of leaders in the field, who we’ll continue to partner with to implement the lessons we’ve uncovered and scale what works, making these systems work better for everyone.

The Beeck Center’s Data for Impact portfolio includes a number of projects and fellows working to advance the role data plays in decision-making, including through the State Chief Data Officers Network. The Project Manager supporting the State CDO Network and Data for Impact portfolio will coordinate a number of projects that include research, technical support, and coordinating communities of practice.


The Beeck Center strongly encourages all people to apply (please circulate widely), especially those who hold the following intersecting identities: Black, Native or Indigenous, People of Color, LGBTQIA+, non-binary, poor or working class, persons living with disabilities, neurodivergent, young, undocumented, speak English as a second language, and others with lived experience in overlooked and/or underestimated communities.


If you have any questions about this fellowship’s objectives, requirements, and/or language used in this job description, please email Vandhana Ravi at vr381@georgetown.edu.

What we do. When our institutions are effective, we trust that they will support our communities, especially when people need them most. We reimagine and design systems using cutting-edge tools and practices. Our team focuses on solving hard problems. We work on practical solutions like helping the foster care system better match children with people they already know and love, using technology tools to change how Congress interacts with its constituents, and making it easier for families to apply for public benefits like SNAP, housing assistance, and unemployment insurance. We also help policy makers use data and analytics for more effective and evidence-based policies, using human-centered principles to ensure the systems are designed to keep people at the forefront.

Who we are. Situated at Georgetown University, we are a team of experts with experience in data science, analytics, software development, human-centered design, and policy. We come from executive roles in the tech sector, all levels of government, non-governmental organizations, and academia. Our graduate and undergrad students learn practical skills by working with us.

How we do it. We identify problem-solvers who are addressing global challenges, document their approaches, and build action-oriented networks so we can support one another as we implement and share what works at scale.

Role + Responsibilities

The Project Manager will report to Tyler Kleykamp and will manage the day-to-day activities of a new training and technical assistance program designed to support state governments in developing action plans that will improve their use of data to support economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic on issues including housing and homelessness, education and workforce, and small business support. The Project Manager will also serve as a liaison for all of the project work within the Beeck Center’s Data for Impact portfolio. They will be responsible for:

  • Providing direct program management and project support to the participating states, staff, and stakeholders within the Beeck Center’s Data for Impact portfolio
  • Coordinating and implementing the training and technical assistance program curricula with support from Beeck fellows
  • Coordinating, planning, and executing events and convenings
  • Ensuring additional team members are appropriately supported with their research, report writing, case studies, white papers, policy briefs, blog posts, podcast interviews, conference presentations, slide decks, convenings, webinars, and other activities
  • Overseeing selection and staffing for the technical assistance program cohorts
  • Coordination with the Beeck Center staff and within Georgetown University’s Initiative on Tech & Society
  • Coordinating operations and business processes for the technical assistance program
  • Supporting grant reporting, project proposals, and other growth-driven reporting
  • Anticipating and managing risks, including methodological and ethical risks and organizational and logistical challenges
  • Selecting, working with, and managing student analysts hired to support the projects
  • Communicating with key Beeck Center staff around updates, coordination points, and reporting expectations
  • Supporting the researchers as they identify sources for consultations and information gathering
  • Logistical and administrative support for project organization and events

Qualifications

Candidates for this position must have:

  • At least 6 years experience, with at least some of that time in public interest, government service, and/or academia
  • At least 1 year of experience managing projects and working with individuals with varying levels of work experience and professional backgrounds
  • Prior experience developing and/or implementing training programs
  • Experience managing, delegating to, and mentoring junior-level support staff and/or students
  • Experience planning, coordinating, and facilitating events, particularly events conducted in a virtual or remote fashion
  • Strong experience in planning and managing complex projects, and establishing and maintaining effective collaborative relationships with individuals and organizations across functional units
  • Experience working at the intersection of academic, policy, and practitioner communities
  • Ability to work independently with minimal supervision to meet deadlines and produce high-quality results in an environment with competing priorities and deadlines
  • Exceptional oral and written communications skills
  • Proficiency using computer systems and software including word processing, collaborative software such as Slack and Google suite, social media, and project management tools such as Asana and Trello

Ideal candidates for this position will also have:

  • Experience managing grants and working with funders
  • Familiarity with legal and political processes involving state level public service delivery and/or data
  • Enthusiasm to support governments as they aim to better serve the public
  • Enthusiasm and willingness to work in a university environment and leverage its strengths to support public service

Salary, Benefits, and Employment Term

The Project Manager role is a 16-month term. The salary band for this position is $70,000 – $90,000 annually, commensurate with experience, and includes full benefits. The position is expected to begin in December 2020 and the salary will be paid monthly. There is no guarantee of continued employment beyond the 16-month term.

Needs Assistance

If you are a qualified individual with a disability and need a reasonable accommodation for any part of the application and hiring process, please click here for more information, or contact the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Affirmative Action (IDEAA) at 202-687-4798 or ideaa@georgetown.edu.

Need some assistance with the application process? Please call 202-687-2500. For more information about the suite of benefits, professional development and community involvement opportunities that make up Georgetown’s commitment to its employees, please visit the Georgetown Works website.

EEO Statement

The Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer fully dedicated to achieving a diverse faculty and staff. All qualified applicants are encouraged to apply and will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity and expression, and sexual orientation), disability status, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law.

apply now text on blue mosaic background

The Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation is establishing a new portfolio focused on the core building blocks needed to operate and govern our institutions with a goal for better outcomes in society. We’re talking about the wholescale systems change needed to reimagine how our institutions serve people in a way that puts them first and rebuilds trust. This “infrastructure for opportunity” might take the shape of policies, practices, software, service design, analytics, and/or culture change and would focus on sectors that reach the overlooked, underestimated, marginalized, and vulnerable members of society such as those receiving public benefits or navigating the foster care system.

The Project Manager for our new Infrastructure for Opportunity portfolio will coordinate projects designed to improve access to social safety net benefits, make it easier to administer high-priority government policies through open source software, help families navigate complex systems such as foster care licensing, and more.


The Beeck Center strongly encourages all people to apply (please circulate widely), especially those who hold the following intersecting identities: Black, Native or Indigenous, People of Color, LGBTQIA+, non-binary, poor or working class, persons living with disabilities, neurodivergent, young, undocumented, speak English as a second language, and others with lived experience in overlooked and/or underestimated communities.


If you have any questions about this position’s objectives, requirements, and/or language used in this job description, please email Vandhana Ravi at vr381@georgetown.edu.

What we do. When our institutions are effective, we trust that they will support our communities, especially when people need them most. We reimagine and design systems using cutting-edge tools and practices. Our team focuses on solving hard problems. We work on practical solutions like helping the foster care system better match children with people they already know and love, using technology tools to change how Congress interacts with its constituents, and making it easier for families to apply for public benefits like SNAP, housing assistance, and unemployment insurance. We also help policy makers use data and analytics for more effective and evidence-based policies, using human-centered principles to ensure the systems are designed to keep people at the forefront.

Who we are. Situated at Georgetown University, we are a team of experts with experience in data science, analytics, software development, human-centered design, and policy. We come from executive roles in the tech sector, all levels of government, non-governmental organizations, and academia. Our graduate and undergrad students learn practical skills by working with us.

How we do it. We identify problem-solvers who are addressing global challenges, document their approaches, and build action-oriented networks so we can support one another as we implement and share what works at scale.

Role + Responsibilities

The Project Manager will report to Taylor Campbell and will manage the day-to-day activities of the Infrastructure for Opportunity portfolio underneath the guidance of the new Infrastructure for Opportunity Senior Fellow. They will be responsible for:

  • Providing direct project management and support to the projects and fellows within the Beeck Center’s Infrastructure for Opportunity portfolio to ensure quality execution, clear coordination with partners, and ultimately that goals are being met and achieved
  • Ensuring fellows are appropriately supported with their research, report writing, case studies, white papers, policy briefs, blog posts, podcast interviews, conference presentations, slide decks, convenings, webinars, and other activities by either providing direct support or helping fellows access other support resources
  • Supporting the project selection and staffing directed by the portfolio’s Senior Fellow and Beeck Center team
  • Working with the communications team to direct creation and dissemination of portfolio content
  • Coordinating with the Beeck Center staff and within Georgetown University’s Initiative on Tech & Society on project collaboration and information sharing
  • Coordinating operations and business processes for the projects
  • Supporting grant reporting, project proposals, and other growth-driven reporting
  • Anticipating and managing risks, including methodological and ethical risks and organizational and logistical challenges
  • Selecting, working with, and managing student analysts hired to support the projects
  • Communicating with key Beeck Center staff around updates, coordination points, and reporting expectations
  • Supporting the researchers as they identify sources for consultations and information gathering
  • Logistical and administrative support for project organization and events

Qualifications

Candidates for this position must have:

  • At least 3 years experience, with at least some of that time in public interest, government service, and/or academia
  • At least 1 year of experience managing projects and working with individuals with varying levels of work experience and professional backgrounds
  • Experience managing, delegating to, and mentoring junior-level support staff and/or students
  • Clear, direct, and empathetic communicator to work with varying levels of team members that require managing up and down
  • Ability to work independently with minimal supervision to meet deadlines and produce high-quality results in an environment with competing priorities and deadlines
  • Exceptional oral and written communications skills
  • Proficiency using computer systems and software including word processing, collaborative software such as Slack and Google suite, social media, and project management tools such as Asana and Trello
  • Constant and iterative learner and is open to experimentation
  • Ability to work in a dynamic, fast-paced environment
  • Enthusiasm and willingness to work in a university environment and leverage its strengths to support projects in the public interest

Ideal candidates for this position will also have:

  • Experience managing grants and working with funders
  • Experience working at the intersection of academic, policy, and practitioner communities
  • Strong experience in planning and managing complex projects, and establishing and maintaining effective collaborative relationships with individuals and organizations across functional units

Salary, Benefits, and Employment Term

The Project Manager role is a one-year term. The salary band for this position is $50,000-$70,000, commensurate with experience, and includes full benefits. The position is expected to begin in December 2020 and the salary will be paid monthly. There is no guarantee of continued employment beyond the one-year term.

Needs Assistance

If you are a qualified individual with a disability and need a reasonable accommodation for any part of the application and hiring process, please click here for more information, or contact the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Affirmative Action (IDEAA) at 202-687-4798 or ideaa@georgetown.edu.

Need some assistance with the application process? Please call 202-687-2500. For more information about the suite of benefits, professional development and community involvement opportunities that make up Georgetown’s commitment to its employees, please visit the Georgetown Works website.

EEO Statement

The Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer fully dedicated to achieving a diverse faculty and staff. All qualified applicants are encouraged to apply and will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity and expression, and sexual orientation), disability status, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law.

apply now text on blue mosaic background

The Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation is establishing a new portfolio focused on the core building blocks needed to operate and govern our institutions with a goal for better outcomes in society. We’re talking about the wholescale systems change needed to reimagine how our institutions serve people in a way that puts them first and rebuilds trust. This “infrastructure for opportunity” might take the shape of policies, practices, software, service design, analytics, and/or culture change and would focus on sectors that reach the overlooked, underestimated, marginalized, and vulnerable members of society such as those receiving public benefits or navigating the foster care system. We are recruiting a senior fellow with a strong point of view about what a future state for our social infrastructure should look like and how we can work with a broad ecosystem of stakeholders to design that future and work toward it together.


The Beeck Center strongly encourages all people to apply (please circulate widely), especially those who hold the following intersecting identities: Black, Native or Indigenous, People of Color, LGBTQIA+, non-binary, poor or working class, persons living with disabilities, neurodivergent, young, undocumented, speak English as a second language, and others with lived experience in overlooked and/or underestimated communities.


If you have any questions about this position’s objectives, requirements, and/or language used in this job description, please email Vandhana Ravi at vr381@georgetown.edu.

What we do. When our institutions are effective, we trust that they will support our communities, especially when people need them most. We reimagine and design systems using cutting-edge tools and practices. Our team focuses on solving hard problems. We work on practical solutions like helping the foster care system better match children with people they already know and love, using technology tools to change how Congress interacts with its constituents, and making it easier for families to apply for public benefits like SNAP, housing assistance, and unemployment insurance. We also help policy makers use data and analytics for more effective and evidence-based policies, using human-centered principles to ensure the systems are designed to keep people at the forefront.

Who we are. Situated at Georgetown University, we are a team of experts with experience in data science, analytics, software development, human-centered design, and policy. We come from executive roles in the tech sector, all levels of government, non-governmental organizations, and academia. Our graduate and undergrad students learn practical skills by working with us.

How we do it. We identify problem-solvers who are addressing global challenges, document their approaches, and build action-oriented networks so we can support one another as we implement and share what works at scale.

Role + Responsibilities

The Senior Fellow will report to Cori Zarek and, along with a team of fellows, students, and staff, will set and execute the vision for the Infrastructure for Opportunity portfolio. The Senior Fellow will directly oversee a Project Manager who will manage the day-to-day activities of the portfolio, and will work with fellows and students to carry out the portfolio’s vision.

The Senior Fellow will be responsible for:

  • Setting a bold, audacious vision for a reimagined approach to how our institutions use tools including service design, open-source software, data analytics, digital technologies, and other innovative methods to serve the public, including through specific projects such as access to and administration of safety net benefits, administration of child welfare systems, and addressing systemic racism in the finance industry
  • Setting strategy to achieve the impact laid out in the above vision
  • Coordinating with stakeholders including government leaders, non-governmental organizations, other academic institutions, funders, and others
  • Setting up internal structures to better execute the work in an efficient and effective manner
  • Serving as the portfolio leader for the project manager, fellows, and students within the Beeck Center’s Infrastructure for Opportunity portfolio, with management support provided by the Beeck Center staff
  • Leading project selection and staffing
  • Working with the communications team to direct creation and dissemination of portfolio content
  • Supporting grant proposals, reporting, and philanthropic relationships
  • Anticipating and managing risks, including methodological and ethical risks and organizational and logistical challenges
  • Communicating with key Beeck Center staff around updates, coordination points, and reporting expectations
  • General coordination and collaboration with the Beeck Center staff and within Georgetown University’s Initiative on Tech & Society

Qualifications

The following qualifications are required:

  • At least 15 years of experience with some of that in government or the public interest sector designing or managing complex systems at the intersection of digital technologies, government services, and institutional change
  • Expertise with policymaking and implementing government policies
  • Experience with digital transformation and digital service delivery
  • Understanding of the government budgeting process
  • Extensive speaking, publishing, and presentation history, including a proven ability to serve as a spokesperson for your work
  • Extensive professional network of policymakers and stakeholders inside and outside of government at the federal, state, and local levels
  • Experience working with and/or lived experience in working with the overlooked, underestimated, marginalized, and vulnerable members of society (such as those receiving public benefits or navigating the foster care system)

In addition, the following qualifications are desirable:

  • Experience with grant proposals, grants management, and the philanthropic landscape, including having served as a principal investigator for a grant
  • Senior executive experience in government
  • Familiarity with legal and political processes involving public service delivery and/or public benefits
  • Background in human-centered design or user research

Salary, Benefits, and Employment Term

The Senior Fellow role is a full-time, one-year appointment at Georgetown University. The salary band for this fellowship is $140,000-$170,000, commensurate with experience, and includes full benefits. The fellowship period is for 12 months from the start date, which is expected to be in December 2020. There is no guarantee of continued employment beyond the one-year appointment.

Needs Assistance

If you are a qualified individual with a disability and need a reasonable accommodation for any part of the application and hiring process, please click here for more information, or contact the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Affirmative Action (IDEAA) at 202-687-4798 or ideaa@georgetown.edu.

Need some assistance with the application process? Please call 202-687-2500. For more information about the suite of benefits, professional development and community involvement opportunities that make up Georgetown’s commitment to its employees, please visit the Georgetown Works website.

EEO Statement

The Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation at Georgetown University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer fully dedicated to achieving a diverse faculty and staff. All qualified applicants are encouraged to apply and will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity and expression, and sexual orientation), disability status, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law.

apply now text on blue mosaic background

The Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation is expanding our communications capacity for projects in our Data + Digital portfolio to increase storytelling and deliver our message to stakeholders, media outlets, and decision-makers.


The Beeck Center strongly encourages all people to apply (please circulate widely), especially those who hold the following intersecting identities: Black, Native or Indigenous, People of Color, LGBTQIA+, non-binary, poor or working class, persons living with disabilities, neurodivergent, young, undocumented, speak English as a second language, and others with lived experience in overlooked and/or underestimated communities.


If you have any questions about this position’s objectives, requirements, and/or language used in this job description, please email Vandhana Ravi at vr381@georgetown.edu.

What we do. When our institutions are effective, we trust that they will support our communities, especially when people need them most. We reimagine and design systems using cutting-edge tools and practices. Our team focuses on solving hard problems. We work on practical solutions like helping the foster care system better match children with people they already know and love, using technology tools to change how Congress interacts with its constituents, and making it easier for families to apply for public benefits like SNAP, housing assistance, and unemployment insurance. We also help policy makers use data and analytics for more effective and evidence-based policies, using human-centered principles to ensure the systems are designed to keep people at the forefront.

Who we are. Situated at Georgetown University, we are a team of experts with experience in data science, analytics, software development, human-centered design, and policy. We come from executive roles in the tech sector, all levels of government, non-governmental organizations, and academia. Our graduate and undergrad students learn practical skills by working with us.

How we do it. We identify problem-solvers who are addressing global challenges, document their approaches, and build action-oriented networks so we can support one another as we implement and share what works at scale.

Role + Responsibilities

This role might be right for you if you have a background in journalism and communications and love to ask questions and shape narratives to tell compelling stories. This position is based at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., but we are a remote-friendly team and are open to applicants based across the U.S. (you must be U.S. based for this role).

The Storyteller-in-Residence will report to Cori Zarek, Director of the Data+Digital portfolio and will work with other staff, fellows, researchers, students, and project teams. With a number of projects in the D+D portfolio, we need a communications expert who can help in the following areas:

Storytelling (30%)

  • Identify strong stories about our work from a more human-centric perspective, showcasing the people being helped and affected by our work and improved outcomes overall
  • Collect compelling stories and build a storybank around our fellows and projects
  • Help our fellows and team begin to identify and share compelling stories as they approach their research and project work
  • Content creation, publication, and management (50%)
  • Draft, develop, and create original content to tell the story of our projects, either individually or in partnership with Beeck fellows. This may include reports, blogs, op-eds, articles, or traditional written content; video or audio features; presentations or demonstrations; or website content.
  • Support fellows and students as they draft and develop content
  • Guide publishing, marketing, and rollout of major reports and research products
  • Coordinate with the Center’s communications team to support pitching for earned media and placements for op-eds, contributor content, or other published content
  • Coordinate with the Center’s communications team on social media content
  • Identify platforms for content distribution and manage those relationships and processes in partnership with the Center’s communications team

Messaging and marketing (10%)

  • Develop stronger messaging to help unite our work and showcase the value that we’re uniquely bringing, along with the emergent impact that we’re making
  • Create strategies to reach stakeholders and decision-makers including non-governmental organizations, governments, philanthropic foundations, other academic centers, and the public
  • Identify and cultivate relationships with influencers to target for messaging amplification

Strategic planning (10%)

  • Collaborate with portfolios, project teams, and the Beeck Center communications team to set influence goals and communications strategies
  • Create and manage timelines for communications deliverables
  • Developing metrics and analytics to set goals about our reach, influence, and ability to transform lives

Qualifications

Candidates for this position must have:

  • At least 8 years public communications experience, with some of that time in public interest, government service, and/or academia
  • Exceptional oral and written communications skills including editorial and copywriting
  • Extensive publication history
  • Creative mindset with an ability to go beyond surface facts to paint an engaging picture
  • High level of empathy and emotional intelligence
  • Enthusiasm to support governments as they aim to better serve people
  • Ability to work independently/with minimal supervision to meet deadlines and produce high-quality results in an environment with competing priorities and deadlines
  • Strong experience in planning and managing complex projects, and establishing and maintaining effective collaborative relationships with individuals and organizations across functional units
  • Enthusiasm and willingness to work in a university environment and leverage its strengths to support public service

Ideal candidates for this position will also have:

  • Video editing experience
  • Visual design skills
  • Adobe Creative Suite experience

Salary, Benefits, and Employment Term

The Content Strategist is a full-time, one-year term. The salary band for this position is $80,000-$100,000, commensurate with experience, and includes full benefits. The employment period for this role is 12 months from the start date, which is expected to be in December 2020. Depending upon future project resourcing, this role may be extended beyond the initial one-year appointment; however, there is no guarantee for employment beyond the one-year term.

Needs Assistance

If you are a qualified individual with a disability and need a reasonable accommodation for any part of the application and hiring process, please click here for more information, or contact the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Affirmative Action (IDEAA) at 202-687-4798 or ideaa@georgetown.edu.

Need some assistance with the application process? Please call 202-687-2500. For more information about the suite of benefits, professional development and community involvement opportunities that make up Georgetown’s commitment to its employees, please visit the Georgetown Works website.

EEO Statement

The Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation at Georgetown University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer fully dedicated to achieving a diverse faculty and staff. All qualified applicants are encouraged to apply and will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity and expression, and sexual orientation), disability status, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law.

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Beeck Data + Digital projects featured in Ideas That Transform series

October 13, 2020 – By Cori Zarek

Since 2014, the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University has led the way with new ideas and approaches to reimagine our institutions to ensure they are designed to serve the people who need them most. 

We know we can track our package or pizza delivery every step of the way, but not an application for unemployment insurance. The technology exists, it’s just not accessible to everyone—and of course public services are far more complicated than packages and pizzas. We’ve looked at many of these systems to understand the tools and practices needed to make them better so we can work with institutions to implement change. Our Data + Digital portfolio now features nearly 30 fellows, students, and staff, and has organized around three main pillars to reimagine and rebuild trust in our institutions: Public Interest Technology Field Building, Data for Impact, and Infrastructure for Opportunity.

In the coming weeks, we’re partnering with our collaborators to feature some of this work as part of the Beeck Center’s Ideas That Transform series—we hope you’ll join us to hear more about what we’ve been up to.

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Public Interest Technology Field Building

The past decade has seen the founding and rise of what our friends at the Ford Foundation and New America have identified as public interest technology—using the tools and practices of modern design, data, and technology to work toward better outcomes in society. As the field matures, we’ve been thinking a lot about  how to raise its profile for greater credibility, to support public interest technology workers through skills building and mentorship opportunities, and how to cultivate community among those of us doing this work. Here are a couple events where you can learn more about our Public Interest Tech Field Building work.

  • Book club: The Beeck Center’s Taylor Campbell talks with public interest tech leader Cyd Harrell on lessons from Cyd’s new book, A Civic Technologist’s Practice Guide, on Tuesday, Oct. 20 at 1pm ET. Taylor and Cyd will focus on ways that curious, passionate people who work in private-sector tech can become civic technologists and use their careers to make a different kind of impact. Register
  • Managing change: Transitions are a way of life in government—whether there’s a change in management, new policies to carry out, or even a new administration—and we’re bringing together colleagues who have navigated a number of government transitions with a focus on continued support for data and tech through those changes. Join us on Thursday, Oct. 22 at 1pm ET for this conversation. Register

Data for Impact

The Beeck Center has long known that data can drive economic prosperity, more effective policies, and help us measure what matters. In projects pressing for data-driven approaches at all levels of government and throughout communities, Beeck fellows have led the way to make the case for data as a priority and to train teams to best use data to carry out their work. Chief Data Officers in government have a critical role helping governments prioritize data as a way to achieve their policy goals, and since September 2019, the Beeck Center has been leading states in this work as the home of the State Chief Data Officers Network. We’ll feature their work in an event next week.

  • Data-driven recovery: Join Tyler Kleykamp and Katya Abazajian on Monday, Oct. 19 at 12:15pm ET for a conversation about how neighborhood data can support state and local economic recovery from this pandemic in an event held in partnership with Smart Cities Week. Register

Infrastructure for Opportunity

When our systems use leading-edge practices and tools, they’re better equipped to serve people and to make it easier for the workers administering them. From reimagining foster care licensing, to scaling tools to make it easier for families to apply for social safety net benefits, to developing open source software for high-priority policy needs like unemployment insurance and paid family leave, our fellows and partners are rebuilding the infrastructure we need for greater opportunity and better outcomes. Learn more about some of this work in these upcoming events.

  • Follow the money: Government technology policies and projects often come with big budgets and relatively little oversight—and, unsurprisingly, most fail. Beeck fellows Robin Carnahan and Waldo Jaquith spent four years at 18F pushing for better ways to budget for and oversee government tech projects to make them less risky and documented it in the recently released De-Risking Guide for government technology. Join them on Wednesday, Oct. 21 at 3pm ET for lessons that other government teams can adopt to avoid costly projects that don’t deliver. Register
  • Fostering better outcomes: Child welfare programs across the country help some of our country’s most vulnerable children and do so with limited resources. Non-governmental organizations such as Foster America and Think of Us work with partners, parents, and children to support and reimagine what’s possible. Beeck fellow Emily Tavoulareas has partnered with New America fellow Marina Nitze, these organizations, and public servants across the country to co-create the Child Welfare Playbook that captures tested best practices in a manner that is easy for others to adopt and replicate. Emily will facilitate a conversation with child welfare leaders on the results of recent field research examining how to improve life outcomes for youth of the foster system. Join us on Wednesday, Oct. 28 at 4 p.m. ET. Register

Through all of our efforts, we aim to work in the open and document what we find so others can learn from it and scale what works. We also work collaboratively with others—these efforts rely on entire ecosystems to be successful and we aim to convene and coordinate networks and communities of practice to work together for greater impact. Finally, we know this work is never done, so we invite you to pull up a chair and hear what we’ve been up to through this series and we look forward to adding more chairs at the table so we can do this important work together.

Cori Zarek is the Director of the Data + Digital portfolio at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation. Follow her at @corizarek.

September 15, 2020 – By Amen Ra Mashariki

The myriad issues we are dealing with around the spread and impact of COVID-19 in city centers reminds me that we must be forever vigilant when it comes to ensuring government, local NGO, relevant private sector and national and global health data is updated, available and accessible. In 2015, 128 New Yorkers were infected and 12 people died as Legionnaires bacteria spread through untreated water in a building’s cooling tower. During that time, I was New York City’s Chief Analytics Officer, leading the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics. My job was to translate challenges like this into questions that could be answered using analytics, and get agencies to use their data in a new way.

What I learned then is that Legionnaires can be a fatal form of contagious pneumonia that preys hard on the elderly and people with compromised health. Legionella bacteria are found in different freshwater environments, such as water tanks, hot and cold water systems, and cooling towers, but it grows especially well in warm water. People become infected by inhaling contaminated droplets and mist released from water systems.

One of the main sources is contaminated central air conditioning cooling towers. There are over one million buildings in New York City, many of which are decades old, and the city has limited resources for inspection. Where do you begin?

Machine Learning Can Help a Human Crisis

During the 2015 outbreak, we began with data to identify locations with the biggest risk for potential outbreaks. At the time, New York City did not have an existing list of cooling tower locations. The team worked around the clock for weeks pulling in fragments of information from multiple agencies. We built a data management process from scratch to gather, integrate, and ensure the quality of cooling tower inspection data on a daily basis. From this, we built a machine learning algorithm.

Machine learning refers to a set of data-driven algorithms and techniques that automate the prediction, classification and clustering of data. Machine learning can play a critical role in spatial problem solving like this one — where do we even begin to look for deadly bacteria in a city of 8.5 million people?

We used machine learning to identify buildings likely to have contaminated cooling towers by understanding cooling tower locations based on building types and land attributes. The team was able to raise the hit rate for identifying cooling tower locations from 10% to 80% with data. That means, every 8 in 10 attempts to identify a building with a cooling tower was successful. The bottom line? Building inspectors were able to identify contaminated cooling towers faster and save lives.

From this machine learning project, the Building Intelligence tool was born. The tool is a 360-degree reconciled database for buildings that provides information more quickly and easily to agencies across the City.

computer generated map showing New York City buildings
The New York City Building Intelligence Toolkit identifies which buildings have been inspected and gives officials a fast way to react to problems. http://coolmaps.esri.com/NYC/BIT3/

The Legionnaires cluster was located in buildings without a cooling tower, but they were connected and shared a hot water supply. Three became infected and one died over the course of a year. The simple fact that a common variable was identified in these separate cases over this long period of time is thanks to the City being prepared and having data at the ready.

Emergency Drills are for Data too

I’m confident that New York City will be able to contain this cluster so it doesn’t lead to an outbreak like what we had three years ago, but during the next emergency, invariably, we will find we need access and answers to something we don’t know we need. This is what I call the unknown unknown – data we don’t even know we don’t possess.

How can we possibly collect data on everything we may possibly need? That’s where data drills come in handy. When faced with an emergency, we come upon challenges and significant data gaps. As a result, we become aware of needs we could have never predicted prior to that crisis and can fill those demands before such emergencies get completely out of hand.

Data drills are a concept that started in New York City. They are developed and conducted based on a specific operational challenge involving data and require multi-organizational cooperation to achieve a desired result. They can be designed for individual scenarios such as a Legionnaires outbreak or capacity building, asking questions like, “Do we have data on cooling towers and plumbing city-wide?” Data drills can also be used for operations development as well as software testing.

Overall, data drills are a mechanism for helping a city to baseline citywide data practices. They’re also a mechanism for guiding a city towards improving the ability to identify, understand and use data to solve a city challenge when requested in real time.

Data drills make a city smarter about the information it holds and that is key to using data and analytics to make a city safer, smarter, healthier, more efficient, resilient, sustainable, and equitable. Regardless of whether or not urban analytics are immediately necessary to remediate a situation, for any city, data drills should be considered phase zero — constantly running in the background at a cadence that keeps the city’s data ready to be put into action.

Amen Ra Mashariki is a fellow at the Beeck Center and Global Director of the Data Lab at the World Resources Institute. Follow him at @AMashariki.

August 28, 2020 – By Angela Guo

The coronavirus pandemic has underscored the importance of the social safety net amidst historic losses and tragedies: mass unemployment, food insecurity, and uninsured healthcare, to name a few. And when it comes to race, a deep dive into the numbers is jarring: Black Americans are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus, both financially and health-wise — the Black and white unemployment gap widened to 5.3 percentage points in June and the coronavirus is killing Black Americans at a rate three times that of white people. This isn’t a coincidence.

The Black Lives Matter movement is radically changing how we look at our public institutions, personal actions, and historical relationships through the basis of race. The movement has led to the removal of confederate statues, discussions about representation in media, and legislation regarding police funding. These groundbreaking changes result from overdue analyses of how race is integrated into our systems and symbols, in ways many had never thought twice about. The social safety net system consists of welfare programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Unemployment Insurance, that provide basic economic, food, and housing support to millions of low-income Americans. As one of our nation’s most prominent systems in a time of crisis, the social safety net must be examined in the context of race.

Overt to Covert: The History of the U.S. Social Safety Net

“I understand they’re going through a fraud situation, but that doesn’t pay my bills,” Karen Womack told The Washington Post. After Karen verified her identity for unemployment benefits with the state of Washington and the state’s unemployment office cut her aid anyway, she found herself caught up in a system that has institutionalized racism since its founding in 1935.

The U.S. government passed the Social Security Act of 1935 providing an early safety net for elderly, unemployed, and disadvantaged Americans, described by President Franklin Roosevelt as “some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family.” Yet, lawmakers codified the first formal safety net with racism; unemployment insurance was a key component of that law, but agricultural workers and personal service workers were ineligible, leaving 65% of Black American workers without access to unemployment insurance, compared to 27% of white workers. Again, this isn’t a coincidence.

Racist sentiments have echoed throughout the years of discussion around social safety net policy. In 1976, Ronald Reagan leveraged the “welfare queen” narrative in his presidential campaign to describe a Black woman who used “80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans’ benefits for four nonexistent deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare.” This narrative further fueled racial animosity towards Black Americans and unfairly associated them with using fraud to exploit the safety net.


A Brief History of the Social Safety Net in the United States

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Politicians today replicate the welfare queen narrative with a focus on preventing fraud instead of finding ways to effectively deliver benefits to vulnerable Americans. The Beeck Center’s Social Safety Net Benefits Research details the technological barriers in the social safety net imposed by, for example, the digital divide and remote identity proofing when accessing benefits. While current safety net policies don’t share the same overt racist language used to construct the first policies, structural racism compounded over decades still poses obstacles for Black individuals from equitably accessing the safety net. Not only does structural racism prevail in the social safety net, but it also presents itself in other institutions in the United States such as the criminal justice system, education system, and child welfare system.

Patterns of racism in our social institutions often go unacknowledged and unchallenged since they have become ingrained in our society. We must create and implement data and technology solutions that focus on eliminating the racial inequities found in the social safety net system and other public institutions. Working through the lens of anti-racism is a critical requirement for the work of social impact.

What We Can Do

After looking at the history of the social safety net in the United States, we can begin to go beyond the surface of the problems we aim to address. As leaders in the social impact space, we must:

  • Understand the institutionalization of racism in our systems and institutions while designing direct solutions. Without deepening our understanding of racism in the foundation of our social institutions, we may inadvertently scale ideas that are merely the modernized versions of the exclusionary practices from the past.
  • Constantly analyze the tools we use for social impact. We often see technological advances as efficient tools for advancing social impact. Ruha Benjamin’s book Race After Technology details the intersection of race and technology, and how emerging tech and data tools covertly leverage racism in design solutions. Though unintentional, there can be harmful effects on the populations they were meant to serve when we use tools that were historically meant to discriminate.
  • Emphasize process over product in our work. Product-oriented work often neglects the complexities of the problem itself, and the product instead becomes a blanket on the problem we aim to address through social impact. When taking more time to explore the process of our work, we can be better equipped with the methods and capabilities for achieving equitable and sustainable social impact through the lens of racial equity.
  • Evaluate the positions we hold, both personally and professionally. Are leaders in decision-making and social influence BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color)? Are we designing solutions with and for oppressed communities, or are we instead pushing them aside when making decisions?

This isn’t an exhaustive list of steps we can take in our role as social innovators. Anti-racism is an ongoing process that requires active learning coupled with meaningful action. By acting intentionally with a deep comprehension of the intricacies of structural racism in social impact, we can begin to break down the systems and patterns that perpetuate racism and exclusion within our systems and ensure that our social safety net is there to equitably serve all Americans when they need it.

Angela Guo was a Summer 2020 Student Analyst at the Beeck Center supporting the Social Safety Net Benefits Research Project. She is a senior at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill studying Economics and Public Policy.

August 26, 2020 – By Katya Abazajian

A pandemic may seem like the worst time to fix slow-changing, infrastructural data challenges, but there is no better time to begin correcting systems that just aren’t working. 

Chief Data Officers (CDOs) manage critical data infrastructure that helps states innovate and make data-driven policy decisions. Earlier this month, we published Leveraging Data for Economic Recovery, a report showing how CDOs can focus their work to guide states to equitable economic recoveries. But within state governments, CDOs often struggle to make the case for sustainable data reforms when there are more pressing demands on frontline workers.

Data is an essential asset states should use to make emergency response processes more effective and efficient. Through responsible data-sharing, advanced analytics, and publishing robust open data, states can leverage data as critical infrastructure for disaster recovery.  

Many states have set up centralized COVID data dashboards that serve as the main source of information for CDC reporting and national COVID tracking by civic hackers and journalists. Based on conversations with states, we’ve found that while some dashboards have been developed in coordination with data teams’ best practices, others used ad hoc, paper-based processes to gather and publish data from public health officials. This means in states where cross-agency data sharing is not common practice, public health agencies have had to establish new information sharing processes on top of the existing strain of the health crisis. 

While national data-sharing configurations continue to evolve, states are left to fend for themselves in determining what needs to be collected, by whom, and for whom.

Many states develop mechanisms for data-sharing based on internal legal guidance that may or may not not mirror decisions made by other states. This introduces discrepancies in different states’ interpretations of what data is considered public or private, particularly with regards to sensitive health data. During COVID, each state has had to develop its own solutions for data challenges.  

Suddenly, public health agencies need immediate, open channels of communication and data-sharing across departments to inform how schools, employers, social safety net providers, and other practitioners are supporting disaster recovery. 

The CDO role has proven essential to developing multi-agency emergency response functions to COVID-19 in states that have leveraged their data capacity to enable collaboration. CDOs bring exactly the kind of systemic expertise on data use that governors and executive decision-makers need in order to empower quick action and collaboration as the pandemic’s effects continue to shift. 

CDOs can implement the steps outlined in Leveraging Data for Economic Recovery to find key opportunities to open up data-sharing across agencies. They can also champion internal cultural shifts that will allow public servants across agencies to work better together through open data and data-driven decision-making. 

Often, the changes that public servants need to see in their data systems require adapting tech procurement language and shifting data collection processes. CDOs are particularly well-positioned to advise on these decisions alongside Chief Information Officers (CIOs) by streamlining which tools and data best practices are being applied and replicated across government agencies. 

Not only is better internal data use essential for improving the efficiency and efficacy of states’ public systems, but open data and public communication around information are becoming increasingly crucial for navigating the national crisis. Journalists and advocates have demanded better data reporting on racial and ethnic disparities in the effects of social policies and programs and the spread of COVID-19. But states often lack the data capacity to even collect the right data to report these statistics from the ground up. Resolving these challenges and allowing CDOs to inform how data is collected across agencies will require a fundamental shift in how data is treated as critical infrastructure in state government.  

City officials like Beeck Center Fellow Amen Ra Mashariki, former Chief Analytics Officer in the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics in New York City, were the first to pilot the idea of “data drills,” a nod to the fact that just as emergency systems need to be primed for immediate response, data systems need to be primed for effective use in an emergency. Running data drills can be as simple as setting up theoretical scenarios in which data owners across departments are tested on protocols and best practices for gathering and disseminating data in an emergency. This kind of systemic thinking about how to apply data in the long-run can help states integrate data use into other emergency response functions. 

The key to better collaboration in a pandemic is enabling sustainable frameworks for data-sharing, integration, analytics, and open data. States must advance in how they are applying data in order to be prepared for the next natural disaster. And CDOs have a crucial role to play in bringing states up to speed on innovative data uses for public good. 

Katya Abazajian is a researcher with the State Chief Data Officers Network at the Beeck Center. Follow her at @katyaabaz.

August 10, 2020 – By Katya Abazajian + Tyler Kleykamp

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, state governments have used data to respond to real-time needs for critical information. Every day, governors review data and visualizations to react to the evolving challenges of the pandemic. As we learned from state Chief Data Officers in May, CDOs are working overtime to create the dashboards that governors use and share with the public, map food distribution sites, and integrate testing and hospitalization data across disparate sources. 

While state governments must react to immediate, shifting conditions on a daily basis, they’re left with little time to plan for economic recovery from the fallout. As of June, over 30 million Americans had filed jobless claims. Early reports of economic impacts outline tough times for small businesses, renters, working parents seeking childcare, food insecure households, and others in vulnerable situations. To account for these staggering shifts, states’ recovery efforts must be sustainable, infrastructural, and forward-looking. 


cover of leveraging data for economic recovery: A roadmap for statesREAD THE FULL REPORT


Policy makers need to decide how to respond to each new wave of the virus over the coming years. They’ll need to understand how separate social programs interact with one another, when cutting support to one system may overburden another. States should lean heavily on data to make these difficult decisions on the path toward economic recovery.

cover of Social Safety Net Benefits report
Beeck Center report on Social Safety Net benefits

States that have begun long-term recovery planning are doing so under a framework that was created after Hurricane Katrina nearly 15 years ago and predates the existence of state CDOs along with other modern data and digital service approaches. While we know that the pandemic has disproportionately affected poor communities and communities of color, we still don’t know what the long-term effects will be on these communities. By improving the way they use data, states can go beyond restoring the pre-pandemic conditions that enabled these disproportionate impacts to an environment that supports equity and mobility from poverty.

Leveraging Data for Economic Recovery: A Roadmap for States is a guide to rebuild the system to be better than it was before. The roadmap is initially focused on four main areas where data can be used in recovery efforts: workforce and education, health and benefits, neighborhood well-being, and budget reallocation. Each of these areas contains a series of use cases where states are uniquely positioned to leverage their data or policy making ability to improve recovery efforts. Some use cases outlined in the report should be feasible and actionable across states, while others require stronger enabling conditions that could shift the landscape of data use for economic recovery. Busting silos and enabling better statewide collaboration remains key to ensuring that public servants across agencies can build on and support each others’ efforts. This report not only points CDOs toward the future of their work, but outlines the powerful assets that CDOs already have at their disposal.

State CDOs play a critical role in advancing on the road to recovery. The role has proven essential to developing multi-agency emergency response functions to COVID-19 and will continue to be crucial in coordinating statewide data-driven plans for economic recovery. CDOs can implement the steps outlined in the roadmap by building more sustainable frameworks for collaboration and consulting on technical issues such as data integration, visualization, or privacy. However, CDOs need support. CDOs need comprehensive data sharing agreements and support in shifting states toward more data-driven culture to run successful data programs. Top-level leaders, including governors, must commit to leveraging data as critical infrastructure for COVID-19 response and recovery. This roadmap provides them with clear steps to take on that path.

Katya Abazajian is a researcher for the State Chief Data Officers Network, and an affiliate of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. Follow her at @katyaabaz.

Tyler Kleykamp is a Beeck Center Fellow and Director of the State Chief Data Officers Network. Follow him at @tkleykamp.

August 5, 2020 | Waldo Jaquith and Divjot Bawa

The database below has been created as a part of an ongoing effort to document examples of intergovernmental shared software. These examples have been produced by a government and both used and contributed to by other governments. This initiative acknowledges, that while the criteria for “contributed to” is, as of yet, undefined (e.g., does a single “commit” count, does the work of any one employee represent that government, etc.), collaboration may occur either in an informal way or may be formalized via, e.g., a non-profit organization with government agencies as members or an interstate compact. While many of the examples provided are from the United States, we also include excellent examples from other countries as well. 

This initiative has been developed through the work of the State Software Collaborative (SSC) which helps states collaboratively build and buy custom software and technical infrastructure, utilize modern software development and procurement practices, and develop shared processes to effectively deploy existing commercial software tools where ultimately, instead of 50 states buying 50 versions of near-identical, overpriced software, states can procure high-quality, fair-priced software just once and share it amongst themselves. With this objective in mind, the SSC believes it is imperative to “think out loud” and share our research as it is underway to not only obtain feedback while it is in progress but also publish and begin circulating this useful data as soon as possible. 

We are actively seeking out additional examples and encourage you to complete the following form if you would like to add to our growing repository. Once received, your submission(s) will be reviewed by the SSC project team and will be marked “Reviewed by the Beeck Center” within the Airtable. Additionally, this dynamic repository has been organized with several descriptors that allow users to easily navigate and sort through the database. If there are additional helpful data-points that you would like for the database to track, please leave us a note in the form.

Related Insights

August 3, 2020 | By Waldo Jaquith

We started the State Software Collaborative to facilitate sharing open source software between states, but the idea of governments sharing software is hardly novel. Governments around the world are sharing custom-built software already, and have done so for many years. It’s vital, cost-saving, and meets the needs of users.

Software can be shared via many different models. Here are a few examples that run the gamut, ranging from the deliberate and parochial clear to the incidental and popular.

Tax Appraisal Software

An important source of revenue for localities throughout the U.S. are taxes on real estate, and many have a similar tax on vehicles. Those taxes are on the current value of the property, which means that states and localities need to routinely reappraise the value of everything that they tax — every parcel of land, every car, every RV, every house. This means that every state has to maintain their own database of every taxable property — this “computer-assisted mass appraisal” software (or “CAMA”) has been around for decades, and there are several major vendors selling CAMA software.

But Georgia didn’t go the commercial route. In the late 1980s, before CAMA software was commonplace, Georgia wanted to modernize, but didn’t see a lot of options. So the Georgia Department of Revenue collaborated with the Tennessee Valley Authority and a Mississippi professor to build their own software to track the value of taxable property. They did this on a budget of just $20,000 ($43,000 in 2020 dollars), and in 1989 they deployed their Georgia Appraisal Program to 12 counties. The state continued to support the project for several years, in the form of technical staffing. They’ve evolved the software over the decades, and today the software travels under the name of WinGAP CAMA. This Windows-based software includes client software, runs on the desktop, and relies on a SQL Server back end. Every member county runs their own copy of the software with their own server.

screenshot of WinGAP CAMA data entry screen
Screenshot of WinGAP CAMA data entry screen.

Today, WinGAP CAMA is in use by 149 of Georgia’s 159 counties (the Atlanta metropolitan area uses commercial software) who collectively make up the membership of the GAP Group, a non-profit organization governed by a small executive board. Every member county pays modest dues of $1,500/year, which gets them both the software and access to the help desk. That $223,500 in annual dues — plus a state-operated help desk — is enough to fund everything.

The GAP Group attributes their success to their iterative development model and their relentless focus on the needs of end users. Going strong after 31 years, they’re a model of the value of user-centered design.

Public Transit Route Planning

Large cities need multimodal trip planning software — websites where people can plan travel via light rail, bus, bike share, etc. In 2009, there were three open source software programs that did portions of this. So TriMet, Portland OR’s transit agency, brought the creators of those programs together and persuaded them to collaborate, funded with a grant from Portland’s Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Two years later, the result was OpenTripPlanner, an independent, open source project that can be used by any transit agency to provide a public route-planning website.

Screenshot of Portland, OR TriMet Trip Planner
Screenshot of Portland, OR TriMet Trip Planner.

Today, the developers who created OpenTripPlanner have created a consultancy named Conveyal, where they continue to support OpenTripPlanner development.

The Java-based tool runs on a web server, consuming data feeds of routes and schedules. Over 100 people have contributed to the code in the past decade.

OpenTripPlanner isn’t a TriMet project. Its creation was fomented by TriMet, but today it’s used around the world, including by TriMet, and by New York and Vermont. The project has a documented governance process, with a project leadership committee that includes representatives from transit agencies around the world.

Mapping

Every government in the U.S. needs detailed maps, so they can track parcel ownership, where their water pipes are, the locations of their sidewalks and roads, even where every government-owned tree is. These are called Geographic Information Systems, and they can be enormously expensive.

And then there’s QGIS. This open source program was developed by Gary Sherman in 2002, and graduated to being housed by the Open Source Geospatial Foundation starting in 2007, and reached a version 1.0 milestone in 2009. As desktop software, it runs on Linux, macOS, Windows.

It’s a true community project — features have been contributed by hundreds of people over many years. But QGIS is essential to government, too — not only is it widely used at all levels of government throughout the world, but governments actively contribute to the advancement of the software.

Screenshot of QGIS Map
Screenshot of QGIS Map.

For example, sponsors of QGIS include Ireland’s Office of Public Works; the state of Vorarlberg, Austria; the municipality of Syddjurs, Denmark, Bathurst Regional Council, Australia; the Tasmanian Planning Commission; and City of Canning, Australia.

Governments also contribute to QGIS by sponsoring new features — paying to add functionality that they need. For example, the town of Megéve, France funded a new trim/extend feature, and the canton of Zug, Switzerland funded JSON support for GeoPackage files. By covering the development costs, Megéve and Zug got the functionality that they needed, but so did everybody else who uses QGIS.

It’s important to agencies that they be able to call somebody when their software breaks, and that sort of support is available for QGIS, via the dozens of private vendors that sell support contracts, many of whom are also contributors to QGIS.

QGIS did not originate with government, and it does not live within government now. But it is nonetheless software relied on by governments, shared between governments, and contributed to by governments, via mechanisms that exist entirely outside of government.

Conclusion

Intergovernmental software sharing is not new — as we can see here, this practice is decades old, quietly powering government right under our noses. There are different sharing models that make sense for different types of software, and these mature projects have all found the model that works for them.

This powerful, effective approach to software production and maintenance is a top-tier method of procuring software within government, at a cost 10–100 times cheaper than traditional methods of software procurement. Before they write a solicitation, agencies would be wise to research whether there is an existing shared software product they can use, or if they could team up with other agencies to share the cost of procuring software to address their collective needs.

 

Waldo Jaquith is a fellow at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation and the co-founder of the State Software Collaborative. Follow him at @waldojaquith.

Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation

Student Analyst – Unlocking Local Data

Job Description, Fall 2020

About the Beeck Center

The Beeck Center brings together experts and students to surface, accelerate, and scale promising social impact efforts that drive institutional-level change – that to us is impact at scale! These promising efforts are what we call “grasstop” level change in between “grassroot” efforts (such as a disruptive idea or advocacy efforts) and institutional efforts (such as government policy or corporate governance). 

To that end, we’re an experiential action hub at Georgetown University that helps accelerate positive and lasting social change through our projects within two main portfolio areas of fair finance and data + digital tools for the public interest technology community. All of our projects work with thought leaders (fellows) and students (our analysts) that provide an experiential hub to teach our scaling methodology. 

About this position

Student Analysts at the Beeck Center are motivated self-starters looking to drive social change at scale. They are passionate, responsible, detail-oriented, and intellectually curious. As an Analyst, you will be expected to contribute to team efforts, requiring flexibility and a strong work ethic. 

The Student Analyst – Unlocking Local Data position is part of our Data + Digital portfolio which includes a number of projects that support better data, design, technology, and innovation practices in government and the public interest fields. This project specifically will involve piloting a new project in three communities to co-create tools built on open civic data to solve problems. The student will support a fellow and project partners in designing the pilot project, coordinating with community and civic participants, and writing about the project. 

At the same time, you are charged to connect this work to the larger Beeck Center portfolio, which is focused on social impact by employing the tools of data, finance, and policy. While this position centers on the Digital Service Collaborative and its projects, it is important that this work integrates with the Beeck Center’s other areas of focus. 

We care deeply about the academic, professional, and personal development of our Student Analysts. The Student Analyst experience centers on experiential learning, where you learn through applying theory to your project-based work at our Center. We complement the experiential learning component with further professional development opportunities, such as conferences and workshops. Finally, you will participate in introspective exercises that are designed to help you discover and design your personal pathway as you embark on your career and (hopefully!) undertake a journey in the social impact space. 

Responsibilities

We are recruiting one (1) Student Analysts to work on the Unlocking Local Data project for 15-20 hours a week. You will work as part of the Beeck Center’s Data + Digital team which includes Director Cori Zarek, Deputy Director Taylor Campbell, and Program Associate Vandhana Ravi.

The Unlocking Local Data Student Analyst will:

  • Support the team to design and coordinate a six-month design sprint (inspired by The Opportunity Project model) where community leaders will work alongside city government partners and private sector technologists to develop tools that put data in the hands of communities to enable their recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Managing coordination with the city government partners, civic organization partners, and company partners who will participate in the sprint.
  • Documenting the process so other cities can replicate and scale this model.

In addition to the specific responsibilities related to the Digital Service Collaborative project outlined above, Student Analysts will integrate their work with the broader Beeck Center team and portfolio. Moreover, this position will assist with core functions such as communications, synthesis, and operational tasks related to the project. 

Eligibility

You must be a current or incoming undergraduate or graduate student at Georgetown University to apply. This position is the right fit for you if you are looking for a challenge and want to grow professionally. 

We are looking for candidates with a strong combination of skills and abilities, with an emphasis on strong writers and students with research and analytical skills and professional workplace experience. Applicants with an interest and experience (related coursework and/or employment) in data, business, and/or finance are encouraged to apply. This position is paid (details below) and students on work-study are encouraged to apply.

The Beeck Center strongly encourages those who hold the following intersecting identities to apply: Black, Native or Indigenous, People of Color, LGBTQIA+, non-binary, poor or working class, persons living with disabilities, neurodivergent, young, undocumented, speak English as a second language, and others with lived experience in overlooked and/or underestimated communities.

Qualifications

Ideal candidates are comfortable with a start-up work environment and strive to tackle social challenges greater than themselves. An understanding of the opportunities and challenges facing the social sector is preferred, but not required. Knowledge of ongoing efforts in areas such as policy innovation, digital service delivery, and data for social good is a plus. In addition, the following skills and abilities are desired:

  • Strong organizational, writing, analytical, speaking, and interpersonal skills; attention to detail is a must
  • High level of professionalism is a must
  • Strong technology and digital skills including familiarity with data sets and open government data
  • Prior experience in public, private, and/or nonprofit sectors
  • Project management and coordination skills
  • Experience as a writer or editor is a plus, particularly for communications-based roles
  • Event planning experience is a plus

***Positions involve access to confidential material. Discretion, maturity, and confidential management of all incidental information acquired on the job are essential.

Hours and Compensation

During the fall semester, student analysts can work up to 20 hours/week, though typically hours fall in the 10-15 hours/week range. Applicants must be able to commit a minimum of 10 hours per week. Wages for hourly student employees are based on Georgetown University’s Student Employment Office guidelines, starting at minimum wage for undergraduates ($15/hr) and $20/hour for graduates.

To Apply

Please submit your application through this Google Form. Please be sure to upload your (1) resume and (2) a writing sample (both required), as per the instructions of section II of this online application form. 

Applications will be considered on a rolling basis, with final applications due Sunday, August 9 at 9pm. Applicants are strongly encouraged to apply early. We are planning for a start date of September 14, though please note that this may be subject to change and your preferences, as identified in the survey, will be taken into account.

For questions, please check out our FAQ and if you don’t see the answer, you can send questions through our form, here. If you have any specific questions about this position, please contact Vandhana.Ravi@Georgetown.edu.

Location – Remote Work

Please also note that the Fall 2020 Student Analyst Program will take place in a remote and distributed work environment. The Beeck Center’s team, including students, will NOT have an on-campus presence in the fall semester. Applicants should be prepared to work in a remote environment and through this experience, you will learn how to effectively work on a distributed team.

APPLY NOW

Needs Assistance

If you are a qualified individual with a disability and need a reasonable accommodation for any part of the application and hiring process, please click here for more information, or contact the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Affirmative Action (IDEAA) at 202-687-4798 or ideaa@georgetown.edu.

Need some assistance with the application process? Please call 202-687-2500. For more information about the suite of benefits, professional development and community involvement opportunities that make up Georgetown’s commitment to its employees, please visit the Georgetown Works website.

EEO Statement

The Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation at Georgetown University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer fully dedicated to achieving a diverse faculty and staff. All qualified applicants are encouraged to apply and will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity and expression, and sexual orientation), disability status, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law.

Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation

Student Analyst – Social Safety Net Benefits

Job Description, Fall 2020

About the Beeck Center

The Beeck Center brings together experts and students to surface, accelerate, and scale promising social impact efforts that drive institutional-level change – that to us is impact at scale! These promising efforts are what we call “grasstop” level change in between “grassroot” efforts (such as a disruptive idea or advocacy efforts) and institutional efforts (such as government policy or corporate governance). 

To that end, we’re an experiential action hub at Georgetown University that helps accelerate positive and lasting social change through our projects within two main portfolio areas of fair finance and data + digital tools for the public interest technology community. All of our projects work with thought leaders (fellows) and students (our analysts) that provide an experiential hub to teach our scaling methodology. 

About this position

Student Analysts at the Beeck Center are motivated self-starters looking to drive social change at scale. They are passionate, responsible, detail-oriented, and intellectually curious. As an Analyst, you will be expected to contribute to team efforts, requiring flexibility and a strong work ethic. 

The Student Analyst – Social Safety Net Benefits position is designed to specifically support two of our Fellows focused on researching and disseminating leading data, design, and technology-enabled approaches that make it easier to deliver social safety net benefits. At the same time, you are charged to connect this work to the larger Beeck Center portfolio, which is focused on social impact by employing the tools of data, finance, and policy. While this position centers on action-oriented social safety net benefits research, it is important that this work integrates with the Beeck Center’s other areas of focus. 

We care deeply about the academic, professional, and personal development of our Student Analysts. The Student Analyst experience centers on experiential learning, where you learn through applying theory to your project-based work at our Center. We complement the experiential learning component with further professional development opportunities, such as conferences and workshops. Finally, you will participate in introspective exercises that are designed to help you discover and design your personal pathway as you embark on your career and (hopefully!) undertake a journey in the social impact space. 

Responsibilities

We are recruiting one (1) Student Analyst to work with Beeck Center’s Fellows, Chad Smith and Sara Soka.

The Student Analyst will support this research and evaluation as follows:

  • Conduct and organize research to inform our reports and recommendations on the growing field of tech-enabled solutions to increase access to safety net benefits.
  • With the Fellows, contribute written content for the reports and recommendations, based on interviews and research.
  • Develop interactive content in the form of presentations, blog posts, announcements, and other formats from the landscape analysis to help raise awareness of the work. 
  • With the Fellows, design, facilitate, and distill sessions to seek feedback and input from the project’s Advisory Working Group (subject matter experts from nonprofits, social benefit organizations, and government agencies at the forefront of modernizing social safety net benefits).
  • With the Fellows, prepare for and begin the next phase of the project, implementing select recommendations with Advisory Working Group members. Tasks involved may vary but will likely include assisting with project planning and grant-writing.

In addition to the specific responsibilities related to the Safety Net Benefits position outlined above, Student Analysts will integrate their work with the broader Beeck Center team and portfolio. Moreover, this position will assist with core functions such as communications, synthesis, and operational tasks, related to the Data + Digital portfolio. 

Eligibility

You must be a current or incoming undergraduate or graduate student at Georgetown University to apply. This position is the right fit for you if you are looking for a challenge and want to grow professionally. 

We are looking for candidates with a strong combination of skills and abilities, with an emphasis on strong writers and students with research and analytical skills and professional workplace experience. Applicants with an interest and experience (related coursework and/or employment) in data, business, and/or finance are encouraged to apply. This position is paid (details below) and students on work-study are encouraged to apply.

The Beeck Center strongly encourages those who hold the following intersecting identities to apply: Black, Native or Indigenous, People of Color, LGBTQIA+, non-binary, poor or working class, persons living with disabilities, neurodivergent, young, undocumented, speak English as a second language, and others with lived experience in overlooked and/or underestimated communities.second language, and others with lived experience in overlooked and/or underestimated communities.

Qualifications

Ideal candidates are comfortable with a start-up work environment and strive to tackle social challenges greater than themselves. An understanding of the opportunities and challenges facing the public sector is preferred, but not required. Knowledge of ongoing efforts in areas such as civic technology, policy/service research and design, and data for social good is a plus. 

In addition, the following skills and abilities are desired:

  • Strong organizational, writing, analytical, speaking, and interpersonal skills; attention to detail is a must
  • High level of professionalism is a must
  • Strong technological and digital literacy
  • Prior experience as a writer, editor, and/or researcher
  • Prior experience across government, nonprofit, and private sectors
  • Visual design abilities and experience with Adobe Creative Suite is a plus
  • Experience planning/facilitating events and meetings is a plus

***Positions involve access to confidential material. Discretion, maturity, and confidential management of all incidental information acquired on the job are essential.

Hours and Compensation

During the fall semester, student analysts can work up to 20 hours/week, though typically hours fall in the 10-15 hours/week range. Applicants must be able to commit a minimum of 10 hours per week. Wages for hourly student employees are based on Georgetown University’s Student Employment Office guidelines, starting at minimum wage for undergraduates ($15/hr) and $20/hour for graduates.

To Apply

Please submit your application through this Google Form. Please be sure to upload your (1) resume and (2) a writing sample (both required), as per the instructions of section II of this online application form. 

Applications will be considered on a rolling basis, with final applications due Sunday, August 9 at 9pm. Applicants are strongly encouraged to apply early. We are planning for a start date of September 14, though please note that this may be subject to change and your preferences, as identified in the survey, will be taken into account.

For questions, please check out our FAQ and if you don’t see the answer, you can send questions through our form, here. If you have any specific questions about this position, please contact Vandhana.Ravi@Georgetown.edu.

Location – Remote Work

Please also note that the Fall 2020 Student Analyst Program will take place in a remote and distributed work environment. The Beeck Center’s team, including students, will NOT have an on-campus presence in the fall semester. Applicants should be prepared to work in a remote environment and through this experience, you will learn how to effectively work on a distributed team.

APPLY NOW

Needs Assistance

If you are a qualified individual with a disability and need a reasonable accommodation for any part of the application and hiring process, please click here for more information, or contact the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Affirmative Action (IDEAA) at 202-687-4798 or ideaa@georgetown.edu.

Need some assistance with the application process? Please call 202-687-2500. For more information about the suite of benefits, professional development and community involvement opportunities that make up Georgetown’s commitment to its employees, please visit the Georgetown Works website.

EEO Statement

The Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation at Georgetown University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer fully dedicated to achieving a diverse faculty and staff. All qualified applicants are encouraged to apply and will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity and expression, and sexual orientation), disability status, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law.

Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation

Student Analyst – Data + Justice

Job Description, Fall 2020

About the Beeck Center

The Beeck Center brings together experts and students to surface, accelerate, and scale promising social impact efforts that drive institutional-level change – that to us is impact at scale! These promising efforts are what we call “grasstop” level change in between “grassroot” efforts (such as a disruptive idea or advocacy efforts) and institutional efforts (such as government policy or corporate governance). 

To that end, we’re an experiential action hub at Georgetown University that helps accelerate positive and lasting social change through our projects within two main portfolio areas of fair finance and data + digital tools for the public interest technology community. All of our projects work with thought leaders (fellows) and students (our analysts) that provide an experiential hub to teach our scaling methodology. 

About this position

Student Analysts at the Beeck Center are motivated self-starters looking to drive social change at scale. They are passionate, responsible, detail-oriented, and intellectually curious. As an Analyst, you will be expected to contribute to team efforts, requiring flexibility and a strong work ethic. 

The Student Analyst – Data + Justice position is designed to specifically support one of our Fellows who leads the Data + Justice project in partnership with the Justice Innovation Lab. The Justice Innovation Lab project provides data-driven, evidence-based analysis to prosecutors in order to reduce incarceration and racial disparities and improve effectiveness and fairness of justice in their jurisdictions. 

In this role, you will assist with research, data collection, qualitative interviews, and analysis of criminal justice systems, in particular, the decision-making processes and policies of prosecutors in our pilot jurisdiction. The Student Analyst will participate in interviews of criminal justice system actors (such as prosecutors, defense attorneys, and court personnel) and members of the community; will assist with creating and analyzing surveys of criminal justice system actors; will conduct analysis of existing policies, procedures, and relevant state and federal statutes; and assist in the authoring or reports, blog posts, and/or articles.

The Student Analyst will work with Beeck Center Fellow Jared Fishman, the founder of the Justice Innovation Lab (JIL). Prior to founding JIL, Jared Fishman served for 14 years as a federal prosecutor at the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, where he led investigations and prosecutions of complex, high-profile civil rights cases involving police misconduct, hate crimes, and human trafficking in over 20 jurisdictions across the United States and U.S. Territories. He handled some of the nation’s most significant prosecutions of police misconduct, including the successful prosecution of a South Carolina police officer for fatally shooting unarmed motorist Walter Scott, a case that brought renewed attention to criminal justice reform, and for which Jared received the DOJ Civil Rights Division’s highest award for excellence in advocacy.  

At the same time, you are charged to connect this work to the larger Beeck Center portfolio, which is focused on social impact by employing the tools of data, finance, and policy. While this position centers on state prosecutors, it is important that this work integrates with the Beeck Center’s other areas of focus. 

We care deeply about the academic, professional, and personal development of our Student Analysts. The Student Analyst experience centers on experiential learning, where you learn through applying theory to your project-based work at our Center. We complement the experiential learning component with further professional development opportunities, such as conferences and workshops. Finally, you will participate in introspective exercises that are designed to help you discover and design your personal pathway as you embark on your career and (hopefully!) undertake a journey in the social impact space. 

Responsibilities

The Student Analyst will support this research and evaluation as follows:

  • Research issues related to: organizational culture, prosecutorial decision making, the intersection of data and the criminal justice system, and criminal justice reform
  • Assist in interviewing (note-taking and asking questions) and surveying high-level criminal justice decision-makers, line prosecutors, the defense bar, the court system, and community members
  • Develop organization and case flowcharts documenting processes and procedures in the criminal justice system
  • Collect and analyze data relating to key criminal justice indicators, such as racial disparities in charging, plea offers, and sentences to determine the root causes and drivers of any existing disparities
  • Draft or author articles, social media posts, website content, or other documents related to prosecution and criminal justice reform
  • Assist in the development of a roadmap for prosecutor’s offices to leverage data for issues to improve justice results
  • Participate in and support regularly scheduled conference calls with partners and collaborator

In addition to the specific responsibilities related to the Justice Innovation Lab and outlined above, Student Analysts will integrate their work with the broader Beeck Center team and portfolio. Moreover, this position will assist with core functions such as communications, synthesis, and operational tasks, related to the data collaborative.

Eligibility

You must be a current or incoming undergraduate or graduate student at Georgetown University to apply. This position is the right fit for you if you are looking for a challenge and want to grow professionally. 

We are looking for candidates with a strong combination of skills and abilities, with an emphasis on strong writers and students with research and analytical skills and professional workplace experience. Applicants with an interest and experience (related coursework and/or employment) in data, business, and/or finance are encouraged to apply. This position is paid (details below) and students on work-study are encouraged to apply.

The Beeck Center strongly encourages those who hold the following intersecting identities to apply: Black, Native or Indigenous, People of Color, LGBTQIA+, non-binary, poor or working class, persons living with disabilities, neurodivergent, young, undocumented, speak English as a second language, and others with lived experience in overlooked and/or underestimated communities.

Qualifications

Ideal candidates are comfortable with a start-up work environment and strive to tackle social challenges greater than themselves. Background, prior experience or prior course work in criminal law and/or criminal justice is strongly preferred. Knowledge of ongoing efforts in areas such as policy innovation and data for social good is a plus. 

In addition, the following skills and abilities are desired:

  • Strong organizational, writing, analytical, speaking, and interpersonal skills; attention to detail
  • High level of professionalism
  • Prior experience of collecting and analyzing substantive information through oral interviews and surveys
  • Prior experience with data analytics
  • Prior experience working in the criminal justice sector
  • Comfort sharing interim work products, seeking feedback, and working collaboratively
  • Strong technology and digital skills
  • Visual design abilities are a plus
  • Experience as a writer or editor is a plus
  • Event planning experience is a plus
  • Experience with web site coding (HTML and Markdown) is a plus

***Positions involve access to confidential material. Discretion, maturity, and confidential management of all incidental information acquired on the job are essential.

Hours and Compensation

During the fall semester, student analysts can work up to 20 hours/week, though typically hours fall in the 10-15 hours/week range. Applicants must be able to commit a minimum of 10 hours per week. Wages for hourly student employees are based on Georgetown University’s Student Employment Office guidelines, starting at minimum wage for undergraduates ($15/hr) and $20/hour for graduates.

To Apply

Please submit your application through this Google Form. Please be sure to upload your (1) resume and (2) a writing sample (both required), as per the instructions of section II of this online application form. 

Applications will be considered on a rolling basis, with final applications due Sunday, August 9 at 9pm. Applicants are strongly encouraged to apply early. We are planning for a start date of September 14, though please note that this may be subject to change and your preferences, as identified in the survey, will be taken into account.

For questions, please check out our FAQ and if you don’t see the answer, you can send questions through our form, here. If you have any specific questions about this position, please contact Vandhana.Ravi@Georgetown.edu.

Location – Remote Work

Please also note that the Fall 2020 Student Analyst Program will take place in a remote and distributed work environment. The Beeck Center’s team, including students, will NOT have an on-campus presence in the fall semester. Applicants should be prepared to work in a remote environment and through this experience, you will learn how to effectively work on a distributed team.

 

APPLY NOW

 

Needs Assistance

If you are a qualified individual with a disability and need a reasonable accommodation for any part of the application and hiring process, please click here for more information, or contact the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Affirmative Action (IDEAA) at 202-687-4798 or ideaa@georgetown.edu.

Need some assistance with the application process? Please call 202-687-2500. For more information about the suite of benefits, professional development and community involvement opportunities that make up Georgetown’s commitment to its employees, please visit the Georgetown Works website.

EEO Statement

The Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation at Georgetown University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer fully dedicated to achieving a diverse faculty and staff. All qualified applicants are encouraged to apply and will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity and expression, and sexual orientation), disability status, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law.

 

Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation

Student Analyst – Public Interest Technology Workforce

Job Description, Fall 2020

About the Beeck Center

The Beeck Center brings together experts and students to surface, accelerate, and scale promising social impact efforts that drive institutional-level change – that to us is impact at scale! These promising efforts are what we call “grasstop” level change in between “grassroot” efforts (such as a disruptive idea or advocacy efforts) and institutional efforts (such as government policy or corporate governance). 

To that end, we’re an experiential action hub at Georgetown University that helps accelerate positive and lasting social change through our projects within two main portfolio areas of fair finance and data + digital tools for the public interest technology community. All of our projects work with thought leaders (fellows) and students (our analysts) that provide an experiential hub to teach our scaling methodology. 

About this position

Student Analysts at the Beeck Center are motivated self-starters looking to drive social change at scale. They are passionate, responsible, detail-oriented, and intellectually curious. As an Analyst, you will be expected to contribute to team efforts, requiring flexibility and a strong work ethic. 

The Student Analyst – Public Interest Technology Workforce position is part of our Data + Digital portfolio which includes a number of projects that support better data, design, technology, and innovation practices in government and the public interest fields. This project specifically will involve conducting research and making recommendations to support public interest technology workers and professionalization of the broader public interest technology field. 

At the same time, you are charged to connect this work to the larger Beeck Center portfolio, which is focused on social impact by employing the tools of data, finance, and policy. While this position centers on the Digital Service Collaborative and its projects, it is important that this work integrates with the Beeck Center’s other areas of focus. 

We care deeply about the academic, professional, and personal development of our Student Analysts. The Student Analyst experience centers on experiential learning, where you learn through applying theory to your project-based work at our Center. We complement the experiential learning component with further professional development opportunities, such as conferences and workshops. Finally, you will participate in introspective exercises that are designed to help you discover and design your personal pathway as you embark on your career and (hopefully!) undertake a journey in the social impact space. 

Responsibilities

We are recruiting one (1) Student Analysts to work on the Public Interest Technology Workforce project for 15-20 hours a week. You will work as part of the Beeck Center’s Data + Digital team which includes Director Cori Zarek, Deputy Director Taylor Campbell, and Program Associate Vandhana Ravi.

The Public Interest Technology Workforce Student Analyst will:

  • Conduct research to understand the career development needs of those who currently work or are seeking to work in the field of digital service, data, design, technology and/or innovation in government and public interest organizations
  • Help identify obstacles and achieved successes in digital service, data, design, technology and/or innovation careers in government and public interest organizations
  • Focus on the pathways and placement opportunities for entry-level or early-career workers in this space
  • Draft and edit content including blogs, reports, event materials, and prep materials such as research plans

In addition to the specific responsibilities related to the Public Interest Technology Workforce project outlined above, Student Analysts will integrate their work with the broader Beeck Center team and portfolio. Moreover, this position will assist with core functions such as communications, synthesis, and operational tasks related to the project. 

Eligibility

You must be a current or incoming undergraduate or graduate student at Georgetown University to apply. This position is the right fit for you if you are looking for a challenge and want to grow professionally. 

We are looking for candidates with a strong combination of skills and abilities, with an emphasis on strong writers and students with research and analytical skills and professional workplace experience. Applicants with an interest and experience (related coursework and/or employment) in data, business, and/or finance are encouraged to apply. This position is paid (details below) and students on work-study are encouraged to apply.

The Beeck Center strongly encourages those who hold the following intersecting identities to apply: Black, Native or Indigenous, People of Color, LGBTQIA+, non-binary, poor or working class, persons living with disabilities, neurodivergent, young, undocumented, speak English as a second language, and others with lived experience in overlooked and/or underestimated communities.

Qualifications

Ideal candidates are comfortable with a start-up work environment and strive to tackle social challenges greater than themselves. An understanding of the opportunities and challenges facing the social sector is preferred, but not required. Knowledge of ongoing efforts in areas such as policy innovation, digital service delivery, and data for social good is a plus. In addition, the following skills and abilities are desired:

  • Strong organizational, writing, analytical, speaking, and interpersonal skills; attention to detail is a must
  • High level of professionalism is a must
  • Strong technology and digital skills 
  • Prior experience in public, private, and/or nonprofit sectors
  • Project management and coordination skills
  • Familiarity with hiring and onboarding processes
  • Familiarity with career development, training, and skills building practices
  • Experience as a writer or editor is a plus, particularly for communications-based roles
  • Event planning experience is a plus

 ***Positions involve access to confidential material. Discretion, maturity, and confidential management of all incidental information acquired on the job are essential.

Hours and Compensation

During the fall semester, student analysts can work up to 20 hours/week, though typically hours fall in the 10-15 hours/week range. Applicants must be able to commit a minimum of 10 hours per week. Wages for hourly student employees are based on Georgetown University’s Student Employment Office guidelines, starting at minimum wage for undergraduates ($15/hr) and $20/hour for graduates.

To Apply

Please submit your application through this Google Form. Please be sure to upload your (1) resume and (2) a writing sample (both required), as per the instructions of section II of this online application form. 

Applications will be considered on a rolling basis, with final applications due Sunday, August 9 at 9pm. Applicants are strongly encouraged to apply early. We are planning for a start date of September 14, though please note that this may be subject to change and your preferences, as identified in the survey, will be taken into account.

For questions, please check out our FAQ and if you don’t see the answer, you can send questions through our form, here. If you have any specific questions about this position, please contact Vandhana.Ravi@Georgetown.edu.

Location – Remote Work

Please also note that the Fall 2020 Student Analyst Program will take place in a remote and distributed work environment. The Beeck Center’s team, including students, will NOT have an on-campus presence in the fall semester. Applicants should be prepared to work in a remote environment and through this experience, you will learn how to effectively work on a distributed team.

APPLY NOW

Needs Assistance

If you are a qualified individual with a disability and need a reasonable accommodation for any part of the application and hiring process, please click here for more information, or contact the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Affirmative Action (IDEAA) at 202-687-4798 or ideaa@georgetown.edu.

Need some assistance with the application process? Please call 202-687-2500. For more information about the suite of benefits, professional development and community involvement opportunities that make up Georgetown’s commitment to its employees, please visit the Georgetown Works website.

EEO Statement

The Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation at Georgetown University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer fully dedicated to achieving a diverse faculty and staff. All qualified applicants are encouraged to apply and will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity and expression, and sexual orientation), disability status, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law.

Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation

Student Analyst – Improving Foster Care

Job Description, Fall 2020

About the Beeck Center

The Beeck Center brings together experts and students to surface, accelerate, and scale promising social impact efforts that drive institutional-level change – that to us is impact at scale! These promising efforts are what we call “grasstop” level change in between “grassroot” efforts (such as a disruptive idea or advocacy efforts) and institutional efforts (such as government policy or corporate governance). 

To that end, we’re an experiential action hub at Georgetown University that helps accelerate positive and lasting social change through our projects within two main portfolio areas of fair finance and data + digital tools for the public interest technology community. All of our projects work with thought leaders (fellows) and students (our analysts) that provide an experiential hub to teach our scaling methodology. 

About this position

Student Analysts at the Beeck Center are motivated self-starters looking to drive social change at scale. They are passionate, responsible, detail-oriented, and intellectually curious. As an Analyst, you will be expected to contribute to team efforts, requiring flexibility and a strong work ethic. 

The Student Analyst – Improving Foster Care position is designed to specifically support one of our Fellows focused on the Improving Foster Care project under the Data + Digital portfolio. At the same time, you are charged to connect this work to the larger Beeck Center portfolio, which is focused on social impact by employing the tools of data, finance, and policy. 

We care deeply about the academic, professional, and personal development of our Student Analysts. The Student Analyst experience centers on experiential learning, where you learn through applying theory to your project-based work at our Center. We complement the experiential learning component with further professional development opportunities, such as conferences and workshops. Finally, you will participate in introspective exercises that are designed to help you discover and design your personal pathway as you embark on your career and (hopefully!) undertake a journey in the social impact space. 

Responsibilities

We are recruiting one (1) Student Analyst to work with Beeck Center’s Data + Digital Fellow Emily Tavoulareas and project collaborator Marina Nitze, a Public Interest Technology Fellow at New America.

The Child Welfare Playbook is a collection of creative practices that lead to tangible improvements and efficiencies in support of foster children and families, documenting proven best practices that can be easily replicated and scaled by practitioners across the country. These best practices are sourced from, and tested by, members of our Child Welfare Working Group–a growing group of people dedicated to improving how foster care works for children and families. We are looking for someone who can help us manage this growing group of people, and capture the best practices they identify.  

The Student Analyst will support this research and evaluation as follows:

  • Onboard new working group members
  • Schedule monthly working group calls and interviews 
  • Prep and manage the working group calls
  • Take (and share) detailed notes 
  • Analyze interview notes to identify best practices and other patterns
  • Design the working group deck (presentation of themes / patterns / insights from interviews)
  • Build on the playbook, adding new chapters after each month’s working group call

In addition to the specific responsibilities related to the Improving Foster Care project outlined above, Student Analysts will integrate their work with the broader Beeck Center team and portfolio. Moreover, this position will assist with core functions such as communications, synthesis, and operational tasks, related to the data collaborative. 

Eligibility

You must be a current or incoming undergraduate or graduate student at Georgetown University to apply. This position is the right fit for you if you are looking for a challenge and want to grow professionally. 

We are looking for candidates with a strong combination of skills and abilities, with an emphasis on strong writers and students with research and analytical skills and professional workplace experience. Applicants with an interest and experience (related coursework and/or employment) in data, business, and/or finance are encouraged to apply. This position is paid (details below) and students on work-study are encouraged to apply.

The Beeck Center strongly encourages those who hold the following intersecting identities to apply: Black, Native or Indigenous, People of Color, LGBTQIA+, non-binary, poor or working class, persons living with disabilities, neurodivergent, young, undocumented, speak English as a second language, and others with lived experience in overlooked and/or underestimated communities.

Qualifications

Ideal candidates are comfortable with a start-up work environment and strive to tackle social challenges greater than themselves. An understanding of the opportunities and challenges facing the social sector is preferred, but not required. Knowledge of ongoing efforts in areas such as policy innovation, innovative social finance, and data for social good is a plus. 

In addition, the following skills and abilities are desired:

  • Strong organizational, writing, analytical, speaking, and interpersonal skills; attention to detail is a must
  • High level of professionalism is a must
  • Strong technology and digital skills, and experience hosting webinars on Zoom is a must.
  • Experience with content strategy and writing for the web is a plus 
  • Visual design abilities and experience with Adobe Creative Suite is a plus
  • Programming skills are a plus
  • Prior experience in public, private, and nonprofit sectors is a plus

***Positions involve access to confidential material. Discretion, maturity, and confidential management of all incidental information acquired on the job are essential.

Hours and Compensation

During the fall semester, student analysts can work up to 20 hours/week, though typically hours fall in the 10-15 hours/week range. Applicants must be able to commit a minimum of 10 hours per week. Wages for hourly student employees are based on Georgetown University’s Student Employment Office guidelines, starting at minimum wage for undergraduates ($15/hr) and $20/hour for graduates.

To Apply

Please submit your application through this Google Form. Please be sure to upload your (1) resume and (2) a writing sample (both required), as per the instructions of section II of this online application form. 

Applications will be considered on a rolling basis, with final applications due Sunday, August 9 at 9pm. Applicants are strongly encouraged to apply early. We are planning for a start date of September 14, though please note that this may be subject to change and your preferences, as identified in the survey, will be taken into account.

For questions, please check out our FAQ and if you don’t see the answer, you can send questions through our form, here. If you have any specific questions about this position, please contact Vandhana.Ravi@Georgetown.edu.

Location – Remote Work

Please also note that the Fall 2020 Student Analyst Program will take place in a remote and distributed work environment. The Beeck Center’s team, including students, will NOT have an on-campus presence in the fall semester. Applicants should be prepared to work in a remote environment and through this experience, you will learn how to effectively work on a distributed team.

APPLY NOW

Needs Assistance

If you are a qualified individual with a disability and need a reasonable accommodation for any part of the application and hiring process, please click here for more information, or contact the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Affirmative Action (IDEAA) at 202-687-4798 or ideaa@georgetown.edu.

Need some assistance with the application process? Please call 202-687-2500. For more information about the suite of benefits, professional development and community involvement opportunities that make up Georgetown’s commitment to its employees, please visit the Georgetown Works website.

EEO Statement

The Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation at Georgetown University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer fully dedicated to achieving a diverse faculty and staff. All qualified applicants are encouraged to apply and will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity and expression, and sexual orientation), disability status, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law.

Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation

Student Analyst – Data + Digital Content

Job Description, Fall 2020

About the Beeck Center

The Beeck Center brings together experts and students to surface, accelerate, and scale promising social impact efforts that drive institutional-level change – that to us is impact at scale! These promising efforts are what we call “grasstop” level change in between “grassroot” efforts (such as a disruptive idea or advocacy efforts) and institutional efforts (such as government policy or corporate governance). 

To that end, we’re an experiential action hub at Georgetown University that helps accelerate positive and lasting social change through our projects within two main portfolio areas of fair finance and data + digital tools for the public interest technology community. All of our projects work with thought leaders (fellows) and students (our analysts) that provide an experiential hub to teach our scaling methodology. 

About this position

Student Analysts at the Beeck Center are motivated self-starters looking to drive social change at scale. They are passionate, responsible, detail-oriented, and intellectually curious. As an Analyst, you will be expected to contribute to team efforts, requiring flexibility and a strong work ethic. 

The Student Analyst – Data + Digital Content position will include developing content to publicly share the work taking place across our portfolio, which spans 10 different projects led by 15 expert fellows who conduct leading-edge research and convene the public interest technology network to collaborate on solutions and generally build a broader sense of community in the industry. 

At the same time, you are charged to connect this work to the larger Beeck Center portfolio, which is focused on social impact by employing the tools of data, finance, and policy. While this position centers on the Data + Digital portfolio and its projects, it is important that this work integrates with the work of the full Beeck Center including our communications team and aligns with their strategy for other areas of focus. 

We care deeply about the academic, professional, and personal development of our Student Analysts. The Student Analyst experience centers on experiential learning, where you learn through applying theory to your project-based work at our Center. We complement the experiential learning component with further professional development opportunities, such as conferences and workshops. Finally, you will participate in introspective exercises that are designed to help you discover and design your personal pathway as you embark on your career and (hopefully!) undertake a journey in the social impact space. 

Responsibilities

We are recruiting one Student Analyst to work with the Data + Digital portfolio team for 15-20 hours a week. The team includes Director Cori Zarek, Deputy Director Taylor Campbell, and Program Associate Vandhana Ravi.

The Data + Digital Content Student Analyst will work on:

  • Drafting and editing written content to support our projects and fellows including: 
    • Project reports
    • Blog posts 
    • Case studies
    • Social media posts
    • Guides, playbooks, and templates 
  • Conducting interviews and conversations with fellows to be transcribed and translated into shareable content
  • Creating video or other creative content
  • Event prep materials and support
  • Weekly strategy meetings
  • Weekly content briefings

In addition to the specific responsibilities outlined above, Student Analysts will integrate their work with the broader Beeck Center team and portfolio. 

Eligibility

You must be a current or incoming undergraduate or graduate student at Georgetown University to apply. This position is the right fit for you if you are looking for a challenge and want to grow professionally. 

We are looking for candidates with a strong combination of skills and abilities, with an emphasis on strong writers and students with research and analytical skills and professional workplace experience. Applicants with an interest and experience (related coursework and/or employment) in data, business, and/or finance are encouraged to apply. This position is paid (details below) and students on work-study are encouraged to apply.

The Beeck Center strongly encourages those who hold the following intersecting identities to apply: Black, Native or Indigenous, People of Color, LGBTQIA+, non-binary, poor or working class, persons living with disabilities, neurodivergent, young, undocumented, speak English as a second language, and others with lived experience in overlooked and/or underestimated communities.

Qualifications

Ideal candidates are comfortable with a start-up work environment and strive to tackle social challenges greater than themselves. An understanding of the opportunities and challenges facing the social sector is preferred, but not required. Knowledge of ongoing efforts in areas such as policy innovation, digital service delivery, and data for social good is a plus. 

In addition, the following skills and abilities are desired:

  • Excellent writing and editing, including for the web
  • Excellent ability to translate ideas into easily-understandable, shareable messaging and language
  • Strong organizational, writing, analytical, speaking, and interpersonal skills; attention to detail
  • High level of professionalism
  • Strong technology and digital skills, and experience working on Zoom
  • Experience with content or communications strategy
  • Visual design, graphic design, web design, layout design, illustration, abilities and experience with Adobe Creative Suite
  • Programming skills

***Positions involve access to confidential material. Discretion, maturity, and confidential management of all incidental information acquired on the job are essential.

Hours and Compensation

During the fall semester, student analysts can work up to 20 hours/week, though typically hours fall in the 10-15 hours/week range. Applicants must be able to commit a minimum of 10 hours per week. Wages for hourly student employees are based on Georgetown University’s Student Employment Office guidelines, starting at minimum wage for undergraduates ($15/hr) and $20/hour for graduates.

To Apply

Please submit your application through this Google Form. Please be sure to upload your (1) resume and (2) a writing sample (both required), as per the instructions of section II of this online application form. 

Applications will be considered on a rolling basis, with final applications due Sunday, August 9 at 9pm. Applicants are strongly encouraged to apply early. We are planning for a start date of September 14, though please note that this may be subject to change and your preferences, as identified in the survey, will be taken into account.

For questions, please check out our FAQ and if you don’t see the answer, you can send questions through our form, here. If you have any specific questions about this position, please contact Vandhana.Ravi@Georgetown.edu.

Location – Remote Work

Please also note that the Fall 2020 Student Analyst Program will take place in a remote and distributed work environment. The Beeck Center’s team, including students, will NOT have an on-campus presence in the fall semester. Applicants should be prepared to work in a remote environment and through this experience, you will learn how to effectively work on a distributed team.

APPLY NOW

Needs Assistance

If you are a qualified individual with a disability and need a reasonable accommodation for any part of the application and hiring process, please click here for more information, or contact the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Affirmative Action (IDEAA) at 202-687-4798 or ideaa@georgetown.edu.

Need some assistance with the application process? Please call 202-687-2500. For more information about the suite of benefits, professional development and community involvement opportunities that make up Georgetown’s commitment to its employees, please visit the Georgetown Works website.

EEO Statement

The Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation at Georgetown University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer fully dedicated to achieving a diverse faculty and staff. All qualified applicants are encouraged to apply and will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity and expression, and sexual orientation), disability status, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law.

** THIS POSITION IS NO LONGER AVAILABLE. PLEASE VISIT OUR CAREERS PAGE FOR OTHER OPENINGS **

Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation

Student Analyst – Digital Service Collaborative

Job Description, Fall 2020 

About the Beeck Center

The Beeck Center brings together experts and students to surface, accelerate, and scale promising social impact efforts that drive institutional-level change – that to us is impact at scale! These promising efforts are what we call “grasstop” level change in between “grassroot” efforts (such as a disruptive idea or advocacy efforts) and institutional efforts (such as government policy or corporate governance). 

To that end, we’re an experiential action hub at Georgetown University that helps accelerate positive and lasting social change through our projects within two main portfolio areas of fair finance and data + digital tools for the public interest technology community. All of our projects work with thought leaders (fellows) and students (our analysts) that provide an experiential hub to teach our scaling methodology. 

About this position

Student Analysts at the Beeck Center are motivated self-starters looking to drive social change at scale. They are passionate, responsible, detail-oriented, and intellectually curious. As an Analyst, you will be expected to contribute to team efforts, requiring flexibility and a strong work ethic. 

The Student Analyst – Digital Service Collaborative position is part of our Digital Service Collaborative project which focuses on building the network of people working on data, design, technology, and innovation in governments by conducting research, gathering resources, and cultivating community. This includes public interest technology projects that work to improve the social safety net benefits process, to support for new digital service teams at the state and local levels, to researching training curriculum and skills programs that can provide professional development for government digital service professionals. 

At the same time, you are charged to connect this work to the larger Beeck Center portfolio, which is focused on social impact by employing the tools of data, finance, and policy. While this position centers on the Digital Service Collaborative and its projects, it is important that this work integrates with the Beeck Center’s other areas of focus. 

We care deeply about the academic, professional, and personal development of our Student Analysts. The Student Analyst experience centers on experiential learning, where you learn through applying theory to your project-based work at our Center. We complement the experiential learning component with further professional development opportunities, such as conferences and workshops. Finally, you will participate in introspective exercises that are designed to help you discover and design your personal pathway as you embark on your career and (hopefully!) undertake a journey in the social impact space. 

Responsibilities

We are recruiting 1-2 Student Analysts to work with the Digital Service Collaborative team for 15-20 hours a week. The team includes Director Cori Zarek, Deputy Director Taylor Campbell, and Program Associate Vandhana Ravi.

Digital Service Collaborative Student Analysts will work to support multiple Data + Digital portfolio project research tasks including:

  • Desk research, scanning current events, and compiling findings
  • Creating spreadsheets and databases of related project information
  • Drafting research briefings for project teams
  • Facilitating research activities and meetings via virtual platforms (Zoom, Slack, Asana email)
  • Documenting meeting agendas, notes, timelines, and tasks

In addition to the specific responsibilities related to the Digital Service Collaborative project outlined above, Student Analysts will integrate their work with the broader Beeck Center team and portfolio. Moreover, this position will assist with core functions such as communications, synthesis, and operational tasks related to the project. 

Eligibility

You must be a current or incoming undergraduate or graduate student at Georgetown University to apply. This position is the right fit for you if you are looking for a challenge and want to grow professionally. 

We are looking for candidates with a strong combination of skills and abilities, with an emphasis on strong writers and students with research and analytical skills and professional workplace experience. Applicants with an interest and experience (related coursework and/or employment) in data, business, and/or finance are encouraged to apply. This position is paid (details below) and students on work-study are encouraged to apply.

The Beeck Center strongly encourages those who hold the following intersecting identities to apply: Black, Native or Indigenous, People of Color, LGBTQIA+, non-binary, poor or working class, persons living with disabilities, neurodivergent, young, undocumented, speak English as a second language, and others with lived experience in overlooked and/or underestimated communities.

Qualifications

Ideal candidates are comfortable with a start-up work environment and strive to tackle social challenges greater than themselves. An understanding of the opportunities and challenges facing the social sector is preferred, but not required. Knowledge of ongoing efforts in areas such as policy innovation, digital service delivery, and data for social good is a plus. 

In addition, the following skills and abilities are desired:

  • Strong organizational, writing, analytical, speaking, and interpersonal skills; attention to detail is a must
  • High level of professionalism is a must
  • Strong technology and digital skills
  • Prior experience in public, private, and nonprofit sectors
  • Experience as a writer or editor is a plus, particularly for communications-based roles
  • Event planning experience is a plus

***Positions involve access to confidential material. Discretion, maturity, and confidential management of all incidental information acquired on the job are essential.

Hours and Compensation

During the fall semester, student analysts can work up to 20 hours/week, though typically hours fall in the 10-15 hours/week range. Applicants must be able to commit a minimum of 10 hours per week. Wages for hourly student employees are based on Georgetown University’s Student Employment Office guidelines, starting at minimum wage for undergraduates ($15/hr) and $20/hour for graduates.

To Apply

Please submit your application through this Google Form. Please be sure to upload your (1) resume and (2) a writing sample (both required), as per the instructions of section II of this online application form. 

Applications will be considered on a rolling basis, with final applications due Sunday, August 9 at 9pm. Applicants are strongly encouraged to apply early. We are planning for a start date of September 14, though please note that this may be subject to change and your preferences, as identified in the survey, will be taken into account.

For questions, please check out our FAQ and if you don’t see the answer, you can send questions through our form, here. If you have any specific questions about this position, please contact Vandhana.Ravi@Georgetown.edu.

Location – Remote Work

Please also note that the Fall 2020 Student Analyst Program will take place in a remote and distributed work environment. The Beeck Center’s team, including students, will NOT have an on-campus presence in the fall semester. Applicants should be prepared to work in a remote environment and through this experience, you will learn how to effectively work on a distributed team.

APPLY NOW

Needs Assistance

If you are a qualified individual with a disability and need a reasonable accommodation for any part of the application and hiring process, please click here for more information, or contact the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Affirmative Action (IDEAA) at 202-687-4798 or ideaa@georgetown.edu.

Need some assistance with the application process? Please call 202-687-2500. For more information about the suite of benefits, professional development and community involvement opportunities that make up Georgetown’s commitment to its employees, please visit the Georgetown Works website.

EEO Statement

The Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation at Georgetown University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer fully dedicated to achieving a diverse faculty and staff. All qualified applicants are encouraged to apply and will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity and expression, and sexual orientation), disability status, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law.

July 24, 2020 – By Sara Soka + Chad Smith

“Build back better” is a phrase borrowed from disaster recovery. At its core it means when a system is damaged (or exposed as being damaged), the optimal repair uses all available resources to build back a stronger, more effective, and more resilient system. 

Federal social safety net programs provide basic economic, food, and housing support to millions of Americans, but their eligibility, enrollment, and delivery processes are notoriously difficult to navigate. As demand for benefits grew with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the insufficient capacity and burdensome processes of the social safety net became painfully apparent and widely publicized, though these conditions are not new. At the Beeck Center, we have been researching the leading-edge examples where data, design practices, and technology are being leveraged to more effectively deliver benefits. This ongoing research effort is showing what is possible and where governments, companies, and service-providing nonprofits are leaning into novel and ambitious approaches to help more people, faster, and for less cost.

Earlier this month, House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth led a Congressional hearing about the longstanding need for federal investment in modernizing state and federal IT systems, made more urgent in the wake of COVID-19. “State unemployment offices, already underfunded and understaffed, were left completely unprepared for the massive influx of need,” Rep. Yarmuth said. “The federal government has long sought to prioritize modern, secure, and shared IT solutions, but funding uncertainties, stemming from constrained discretionary funding under budget caps, shutdown threats, and continuing resolutions have made agencies more likely to update instead of modernize.”

cover of Social Safety Net Benefits report
Read the Complete Report

To support the ability of agencies to modernize at scale, our research details successful models for bringing social safety net benefit delivery up to contemporary standards. This living report — which we will update at regular intervals throughout 2020 — examines the data, design, technology, and innovation-enabled approaches that make it easier for eligible people to enroll in, and receive, federally-funded social safety net benefits. 

Through our research, we seek to understand what tools and processes exist, which can be replicated, and what experts identify as overarching needs. We will present what new approaches are possible and can be replicated and scaled, especially if there is the political and popular will to drive a large federal investment in a tech-enabled social safety net in the wake of COVID-19. We anticipate that this living report will be of particular interest to leaders able to take integrated, system-wide action, including government executives, policymakers, and philanthropic organizations. We also hope it promotes aligned efforts between the nonprofits, public benefit corporations, and government agencies that are changing benefit delivery for the better.

“We cannot afford to pour time, attention, and enormous sums of money into a process for building and buying software that hasn’t worked for decades.”

– Jennifer Pahlka, U.S. Digital Response

Jennifer Pahlka, founder of Code for America and co-founder of the U.S. Digital Service and U.S. Digital Response testified before the House Budget Committee, saying,

“We must invest in modernizing the technology that runs our services, but I am deeply concerned that the urgency of the moment will cause us to forget that we must also change how we make these investments. We cannot afford to pour time, attention, and enormous sums of money into a process for building and buying software that hasn’t worked for decades…. To fix this, Congress will need to be more than a checkbook. This body will have to become a staunch and visible ally of hybrid tech-policy teams who practice agile development and user-centered design wherever they exist.”

Our report highlights many organizations that have been developing tech-enabled approaches for years, including Alluma, Benefits Data Trust, Civilla, Code for America, Nava, and others. In gathering and presenting the hard-earned experience of innovators in this space, our report complements a forthcoming analysis of the scope and reach of organizations from the Aspen Institute Financial Security Program, as well as timely policy and process analysis from our colleagues at New America’s New Practice Lab

For too long, structural inequities based on race, class, gender, and other factors have kept many Americans struggling for economic security. These existing inequities have intensified the pandemic’s economic and health impacts, which have hit Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and immigrant households disproportionately hard. Design, data, and technology can make the social safety net faster and more reliable, providing a meaningful push toward equity and a more resilient system during crisis.  Going forward, we will keep sharing the work of innovative governments and organizations that are modernizing the social safety net in future installments of our report. We welcome your feedback and insights at sara [dot] soka [at] georgetown [dot] edu and cs1934 [at] georgetown [dot] edu.

Sara Soka and Chad Smith are fellows in the Digital Service Collaborative at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University.

June 30, 2020 – By Sixto Cancel, Sherry Lachman, Marina Nitze, Katie Sullivan, and Emily Tavoulareas

This content also appears on Foster America, New America, and Think of Us.

Carol* has been caring for her two young grandsons for the last six months because her daughter (their mother) is struggling with an opiate addiction. She is 63 and struggles to cover the costs of her grandchildren’s food, clothing, and school supplies with her job as a cashier at a local grocery. She knows a foster parent license would help her cover these costs, so she began the process in January. After providing a notarized divorce decree from her divorce 24 years ago, providing proof of her childhood immunizations, even though she is 64, and completing 35 hours of training, in person, with no childcare provided, she’s still waiting. And the final background check–from a state she briefly lived in four years ago–will take another year to complete. It feels like a struggle at every turn, and sometimes she just wants to give up.

In the United States, approximately one in 17 children will spend time in foster care. While the need for foster care services is great, in many states the process of licensing foster families can exceed 200 days largely because of cumbersome processes and outdated requirements. This leads children to spend time living in group homes or with strangers while waiting for relatives or other known adults to navigate a complex and often frustrating bureaucracy.

While these challenges are not new, the unique circumstances posed by COVID-19 are exacerbating complexities in the licensing process and adding to the delays. As families contend with the impacts of the virus, caretakers like Carol will need even more support and flexibility from foster care agencies.

In response to these existing and escalating challenges, the Beeck Center’s Digital Service Collaborative launched a partnership with Foster America and New America.** Together we created the Resource Family Working Group, which consists of representatives from 15 states and counties working with us on this effort to share best practices and test new ideas. Through this collaboration, the partnership created an actionable resource for anyone serving children in foster care and their families: the Child Welfare Playbook.

The Child Welfare Playbook outlines tangible, proven best practices that child welfare agencies can implement to improve their efficiency and impact, with an emphasis on low-cost, practical solutions that can be implemented in the short-term. It is written in plain language, designed to be as simple and usable as possible, and will be updated regularly with new practices. It is available to the public and can be freely replicated, adapted, and scaled by child welfare practitioners nationwide.

Today, we are pleased to digitally release the first four chapters of the Child Welfare Playbook:

While these tested practices or “plays” are often small changes to office workflow, information management, and employee training, they ultimately help agencies provide better and faster services. For people like Carol, this means that instead of spending hours trying to get a clear answer, she can call a phone number and receive a prompt return call from a social worker. That social worker can check disqualifying criminal history standards in her Background Assessment Guide (a playbook best practice), and then nonjudgmentally explain that her single shoplifting arrest will not disqualify her from licensure. As a result, both Carol and her grandchildren can be better served by the system.

Bringing this group together, opening the conversation, and sharing best practices across the country is a success in itself. In just a few months, the working group has shared a number of easily implemented ideas, captured in the playbook, including:

  • Safety inspection checklists, which have reduced the need for follow-up visits and helped one state cut licensing time by over half: from over 200 days to under 90.
  • A statute-aligned checklist that helps decision-makers clearly understand the source of a problem, asking if it should change the requirement or if the policy behind this requirement needs to be modernized. For example, one state requires foster parents to have a landline phone, creating an unnecessary obstacle to licensing.
  • Providing temporary licensing to deal with delays due to COVID-19 related state staffing shortages.

To develop solutions to more substantial challenges raised by states, working group members are collaborating on a number of licensing issues, like designing new home study tools that better account for the specific needs and realities of kin families. The best practices developed by these project groups will be incorporated into the playbook as they are created.

By making the Playbook openly available, we encourage other jurisdictions to join so we can capture a broader range of best practices and case studies to share back into this growing community of practice. By helping people understand how to better navigate the licensing process or complete background checks, we give the thousands of people like Carol the chance to get kids placed into homes more quickly with the people they know and love.

*Carol is a composite of various foster care parents.

**This work is also in partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation.

 

Sixto Cancel is the Founder and CEO of Think of Us.

Sherry Lachman is the Founder and Executive Director of Foster America.

Marina Nitze is a Public Interest Technology Fellow at New America.

Katie Sullivan is a Student Analyst at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation.

Emily Tavoulareas is a Fellow at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation.

Public Interest Technology Workforce Fellow

Beeck Center’s Digital Service Collaborative

The Beeck Center strongly encourages all people to apply (please circulate widely), especially those who hold the following intersecting identities: Black, Native or Indigenous, People of Color, LGBTQIA+, non-binary, poor or working class, persons living with disabilities, neurodivergent, young, undocumented, speak English as a second language, and others with lived experience in overlooked and/or underestimated communities.

If you have any questions about this fellowship’s objectives, requirements, and/or language used in this job description, please email Vandhana Ravi at vr381@georgetown.edu. If you have questions about what it’s like to be a fellow at the Beeck Center, visit the Fellowship FAQ page.

In recent years, governments have increasingly begun approaching service delivery with modern technology, software development, and service design principles. This has led to creation of digital teams in government as well as the need to designate specialized technologists to carry out the work, such as software developers, human-centered designers, user-experience researchers, and data scientists.

Because these teams and workers are still quite new to government, and the field of digital services or public interest technology is still relatively new overall, there are limited professional resources for workers and limited capacity for governments to meet their needs. For example, most U.S. government offices do not presently have standardized roles, position descriptions, career ladders, and training for digital service workers, and while there are some established professional associations or  activities outside the government, most aren’t currently designed for public interest technology workers.

To better understand the opportunity space including existing research and resources as well as gaps where solutions could be created, the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University, through the Digital Service Collaborative, is hiring a full-time researcher to conduct research and make recommendations to support public interest technology workers and professionalization of the broader public interest technology field. This work is funded by The Rockefeller Foundation and in partnership with the AGL Association, an emerging organization to support government public interest technology professionals.

Objective

The fellow will work to design and execute an action-oriented research project to:

  • Better understand the career development needs of those who currently work or are seeking to work in the field of digital service, data, design, technology and/or innovation in government
  • Identify obstacles and achieved successes in digital service, data, design, technology and/or innovation careers in government
  • Explore opportunities to formalize the delivery of career development resources in partnership with the AGL Association’s staff and board of directors

Scope of work

This action-oriented research project will be designed in partnership with Cori Zarek and Taylor Campbell, the Director and Deputy Director of the Data + Digital portfolio at the Beeck Center. The fellow will also work closely with the team at the AGL Association, including Aaron Pava

The fellow will be responsible for:

  • Defining research processes, methods, and outputs in partnership with the Beeck Center and AGL Association
  • Anticipating and managing risks, including methodological and ethical risks and organizational and logistical challenges 
  • Ensuring the collection and proper management of sufficient and appropriate data for analysis 
  • Selecting, working with, and managing student analysts hired to support the project
  • Drafting and editing content in partnership with the Beeck Center and AGL Association
  • Producing research outputs and deliverables as assigned
  • Communicating with key Beeck Center and AGL staff around updates, coordination points, and reporting expectations.

The Beeck Center will be responsible for:

  • Supporting the researchers as they identify sources for consultations and information gathering
  • Logistical and administrative support for project organization and events
  • Providing student analyst support to assist the fellow
  • Publishing research outputs and deliverables from the Beeck Center at Georgetown University and, as appropriate, with the AGL Association
  • Facilitating broader Georgetown University coordination efforts as part of the larger Initiative for Technology and Society

Outputs and deliverables will be determined between the Beeck Center, AGL Association, and the fellow based on recommendations made after initial fact finding. Those deliverables are likely to include:

  • A written report, in the style of a case study, white paper, or policy brief 
  • 2-3 blog posts documenting digital transformation processes and recommendations 
  • 2-3 ad hoc outputs, such as podcast interviews, conference presentations, slide decks, or large-scale convenings, webinars, as appropriate and as agreed

Fellow Qualifications 

The following qualifications are required:

  • Experience working in government digital service, data, design, technology and/or innovation
  • Demonstrated ability to produce research outputs in multiple formats and to tailor writing to multiple audiences 
  • Seeking out or being the representative public voice/advocate for the sustained career development of employees in government
  • Experience managing, delegating to, and mentoring junior-level support staff
  • Experience working with students and a commitment to promote their contributions and uplift their skills
  • Build relationships and initiate activities across stakeholder organizations and  individuals

In addition, the following qualifications are desirable:

  • Familiarity with hiring, human resources, management and leadership in government
  • Experience with human-centered design or user research
  • Experience at multiple levels levels of government and an understanding of how the needs and opportunities might vary across each

Salary, Benefits, and Employment Term

The fellow role is a nine-month appointment at Georgetown University. The stipend band for this fellowship is $80,000-$100,000, commensurate with experience, and includes full benefits. The fellowship period is for nine months from the start date, which is expected to begin September 2020, and the stipend will be paid monthly. There is no guarantee of continued employment beyond the nine-month appointment.

Needs Assistance

If you are a qualified individual with a disability and need a reasonable accommodation for any part of the application and hiring process, please click here for more information, or contact the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Affirmative Action (IDEAA) at 202-687-4798 or ideaa@georgetown.edu.

Need some assistance with the application process? Please call 202-687-2500. For more information about the suite of benefits, professional development and community involvement opportunities that make up Georgetown’s commitment to its employees, please visit the Georgetown Works website.

EEO Statement

The Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer fully dedicated to achieving a diverse faculty and staff. All qualified applicants are encouraged to apply and will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity and expression, and sexual orientation), disability status, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law.

APPLY NOW!

Unlocking Local Data Fellow


Beeck Center’s Digital Service Collaborative

The Beeck Center strongly encourages all people to apply (please circulate widely), especially those who hold the following intersecting identities: Black, Native or Indigenous, People of Color, LGBTQIA+, non-binary, poor or working class, persons living with disabilities, neurodivergent, young, undocumented, speak English as a second language, and others with lived experience in overlooked and/or underestimated communities.

If you have any questions about this fellowship’s objectives, requirements, and/or language used in this job description, please email Vandhana Ravi at vr381@georgetown.edu. If you have questions about what it’s like to be a fellow at the Beeck Center, visit the Fellowship FAQ page.

City residents best know their communities and the problems they face. When empowered, they can readily identify solutions that, if they existed, could improve life for them and their neighbors. Additionally, city governments have data that could turbocharge those solutions, but most residents don’t know where to find that data or how to use it. Conversely, government data leaders know their data well — including how it might help solve problems — but typically do not engage community residents in co-creation or problem-solving. Instead, they identify datasets they believe are valuable, open that data, and hope it will be used — often resulting in low utilization. 

The Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University, through the Digital Service Collaborative, is hiring a full-time fellow to lead a project that will support communities by co-creating tools that run on open data to solve problems. Especially as COVID-19 causes governments to rethink priorities and ways of working, we believe that co-creating data-driven solutions to address community problems — with a focus on equity and trust-building — will give cities new skills and tools for problem-solving with limited resources. This work is in partnership with the Centre for Public Impact, a not-for-profit that works with governments, public servants, and other changemakers to reimagine government.

Objective

The fellow will work to design and execute an action-oriented research project to:

  • Launch and manage a six-month design sprint (inspired by The Opportunity Project model) where community leaders will work alongside city government partners and private sector technologists to develop tools that put data in the hands of communities to enable their recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Plan and manage virtual demo days where tools and platforms developed by participating cities are shared with the general public and other interested cities that can replicate and scale the solutions.
  • Document program insights and solutions created and associated development costs for a microsite that will feature program content and an open-source toolkit that other cities can use to replicate solutions.

Scope of work

This project will be designed in partnership with Cori Zarek and Taylor Campbell, the Director and Deputy Director of the Beeck Center’s Data + Digital portfolio. The fellow will also work closely with the team at the Centre for Public Impact, including Dan Vogel and Josh Sorin.  

Outputs and deliverables will be determined between the Beeck Center, Centre for Public Impact, and the fellow based on recommendations made after initial landscaping. Those deliverables are likely to include:

  • Products: Leading the launch of minimum viable products that address a pressing issue related to COVID-19 in 3-5 cities 
  • Capability Building: Designing programs and partnerships for local government practitioners to build core capabilities in open data and human-centered design.
  • Documentation: Developing and disseminating an open-source toolkit for other cities to learn from and replicate the work done by the Knight cities through this program. 

The fellow will be responsible for:

  • Designing the sprint process, methods, and outputs in partnership with the Beeck Center and Centre for Public Impact
  • Leading coordination with the city government partners, civic organization partners, and company partners who will participate in the sprint
  • Coaching the partners on leveraging open data to achieve civic goals
  • Advising partners as they develop prototype tools, and testing those tools up through the demo day
  • Coordinating and executing the virtual demo day event
  • Documenting the process so other cities can replicate and scale this model

This will also include:

  • Anticipating and managing risks, including methodological and ethical risks and organizational and logistical challenges 
  • Ensuring the collection and proper management of sufficient and appropriate data for analysis 
  • Selecting, working with, and managing student analysts hired to support the project
  • Drafting and editing content in partnership with the Beeck Center and the Centre for Public Impact
  • Communicating with key Beeck Center and Centre for Public Impact staff around updates, coordination points, and reporting expectations.

The Beeck Center will be responsible for:

  • Supporting the fellow as they design the sprint, coordinate with partners, and carry out the project
  • Logistical and administrative support for project organization and events
  • Hiring student analyst support to assist the fellow
  • Publishing research outputs and deliverables from the Beeck Center at Georgetown University and, as appropriate, with the Centre for Public Impact
  • Facilitating broader Georgetown University coordination efforts as part of the larger Initiative for Technology and Society

Fellow Qualifications 

The following qualifications are required:

  • Expertise in open data, including designing technology tools or platforms powered by open data
  • Experience working in or with local government and an understanding of their data needs and opportunities.
  • Experience working in general government digital service, data, design, technology and/or innovation
  • Seeking out or being the representative public voice or advocate for the co-creation of data solutions between local government and the communities they serve.
  • Experience managing, delegating to, and mentoring junior-level support staff
  • Experience working with students and a commitment to promote their contributions and uplift their skills
  • Experience building relationships and initiate activities across stakeholder organizations and  individuals

In addition, the following qualifications are desirable:

  • Experience in community organizing and development.
  • Experience with human-centered design or user research
  • Demonstrated ability to produce research outputs in multiple formats and to tailor writing to multiple audiences 

Salary, Benefits, and Employment Term

The fellow role is a nine-month appointment at Georgetown University. The stipend band for this fellowship is $80,000-$100,000, commensurate with experience, and includes full benefits. The fellowship period is for nine months from the start date, which is expected to begin September 2020, and the stipend will be paid monthly. There is no guarantee of continued employment beyond the nine-month appointment.

Needs Assistance

If you are a qualified individual with a disability and need a reasonable accommodation for any part of the application and hiring process, please click here for more information, or contact the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Affirmative Action (IDEAA) at 202-687-4798 or ideaa@georgetown.edu.

Need some assistance with the application process? Please call 202-687-2500. For more information about the suite of benefits, professional development and community involvement opportunities that make up Georgetown’s commitment to its employees, please visit the Georgetown Works website.

EEO Statement

The Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer fully dedicated to achieving a diverse faculty and staff. All qualified applicants are encouraged to apply and will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity and expression, and sexual orientation), disability status, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law.

APPLY NOW!

June 29, 2020 – By Conor Carroll and Giuseppe Morgana

COVID-19 has made the work of government agencies more critical than ever. States are fostering greater inter-department collaboration, innovating with the public, and ensuring their services are accessible to people in need. 

Digital service teams are partnering closely with experts across the government to accelerate this work. The Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University launched a research project on these teams to learn from and share their approaches to implementing innovative methods. The State of New Jersey’s Office of Innovation is a partner in this project. The team’s work has informed this list of four important things to keep in mind for a faster, more coordinated COVID-19 response across government (whether or not your state has a formal digital service team).

#1: Design people-centered platforms for sharing information with the public

The COVID-19 crisis highlights the importance of our government’s communication with the public. As policies frequently change and impact people’s daily lives in unprecedented ways, widespread public compliance with COVID-19 precautions is made possible by clear and broadly-accessible public information. The Office of Innovation focused on this imperative early on, and prioritized collaborating across government, and with private sector and non-profit partners to develop the tools needed to connect New Jerseyans with consistent, plain-language information about COVID-19

screenshot of New Jersey's Innovation Hub website
New Jersey’s COVID-19 Information Hub – covid19.nj.gov


A parallel effort, in collaboration with the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), led to the creation of a user-friendly Q&A tool providing evidence-based information about COVID-19. This information was later integrated directly on New Jersey’s main COVID-19 Information Hub, and also made accessible to other government websites. Through a partnership with Yext, a cloud-based search provider which built the Information Hub with New Jersey, users are connected with the most relevant answers across these different sources via natural language search terms. To ensure the State’s websites reflected the latest policy updates, the Office of Innovation worked with the governor’s office and various other agencies to make the constant flow of updated information useful for the general public. Team members translated executive orders from complex “legalese” into easily-understandable answers to common questions, made content available in Spanish, and studied search analytics to determine which information to feature based on user demand. These content teams were able to coordinate effectively thanks to existing relationships from previous cross-agency projects catalyzed by the Office of Innovation.

This approach provided a great benefit to New Jersey as State employees focused on keeping State-specific information accurate and up-to-date, while also seamlessly providing fact-checked general information about COVID-19 directly on the site, powered by FAS through Ask a Scientist.


Translating an executive order to clear information for residents on covid19.nj.gov

Executive Order 107 mandated the closure of non-essential businesses. Examples of essential businesses could be found in the text of the order. 

screenshot of NJ Executive Order 107

 

The executive order was translated into a FAQ, easily searchable via covid19.nj.gov

Screenshot of NJ list of businesses that could remain open

The detailed information was translated into easy-to-understand responses, providing users immediate answers and enabling New Jersey to get the most accurate, current guidance directly to the public. 

Screenshot of "are pharmacies open" from NJ COVID-19 info page


#2: Identify and partner with external experts who can bring unique skills to augment internal capacity 

Unprecedented demand for public services and supplies, such as personal protective equipment (PPE), has put significant strain on existing IT and supply chain systems, requiring immediate responses. Traditional government processes for adopting new technologies and hiring new talent may not be designed for the urgency of these issues. But in this crisis environment, additional channels of support are available to augment and expand the capacity and capabilities of the public sector. 

The New Jersey team recognized the urgency of technology and supply chain shortfalls, and are addressing them with the support of skilled volunteers. Volunteers from the U.S. Digital Response, the national effort to provide data and digital support to all levels of U.S. government, were critical to developing the State’s Small Business Emergency Assistance Eligibility Wizard. Additionally, the innovation team worked closely with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority and Rutgers’ Business School to recruit a team of volunteer supply chain experts from the private sector to perform a rapid assessment of the state’s supply chain situation and recommend industry-proven approaches to pilot and improve the State’s ability to make proactive, data-driven decisions about purchasing supplies. A team from the United States Digital Service also recently joined forces with the Office of Innovation and the State’s Department of Labor to conduct interviews with individuals who filed for unemployment benefits and use the insights to modernize aspects of the Unemployment Insurance Weekly Certification website, including an upcoming improvement to make the site mobile-friendly. 


Small Business Assistance Eligibility Wizard

This tool helps business owners check their eligibility for multiple state and federal assistance programs by answering a series of simple questions

Screenshot of Small Business Eligibility Wizard tool



#3: Use the urgency to address tech and design debt so problems are solved long-term

Innovation teams should work with procurement colleagues who understand options that exist both in normal times and during this crisis to expand or develop impactful partnerships that are in the best interest of the state and its residents. Many private sector partners have made their products, talent, and services available to be deployed in innovative projects at no cost at this time. Innovation teams can add value by understanding these opportunities and performing the diligence to ensure they follow best practices in building modern, responsive technology and will not be detrimental to the state in the long-term. In New Jersey, this has translated to multiple engagements with trusted vendor partners, meaning the team was able to bring in new types of external help more quickly. 

This crisis has revealed the true cost of delayed human-centered modernization of the systems that power our public services. Administrative systems have collapsed under the weight of unprecedented demand for public services. It is through these systems that our government delivers the services that we have legislated and prioritized, making it incredibly important that we ensure they work effectively in good times as well as in times of crisis. Our technical systems are a primary vehicle through which residents experience and interact with their government. The capabilities of our systems directly correspond to our ability to be responsive to the needs of the public. 

Digital service teams should use this time to address long-standing technical issues that have been on their reform agendas for years. There is an opportunity to partner closely with public agencies across government to understand their needs at this time and concurrently address long-standing technical debt – including supporting teams that are already working on these challenges across government.. Depending on capacity and resources available, modernization efforts can roll out in phases. The New Jersey team is working to make public-facing improvements to the user experience of legacy systems during this crisis, such as building an updated mobile-friendly Unemployment Insurance certification website, while also looking ahead to deeper engagements in the future—with considerations to add more functionality and move applications to the cloud for improved scalability. 


The upcoming improved, mobile-friendly unemployment insurance certification website developed in collaboration with the Department of Labor and United States Digital Service

screenshots of old, new, and mobile versions of New Jersey weekly unemployment certification sites



#4: Empower agency partners to co-develop and own new solutions 

Strong agency partners, and specifically the front-line agency workers, are crucial to successful innovation projects, with or without a public crisis. These partners bring subject matter expertise, local knowledge, and the ability to grow the solution after it is implemented. As government becomes increasingly digital, the design and resiliency of technology systems often define how responsive government can be in delivering services to the public. Given how essential these systems are to an agency’s mission, the agency must be empowered to own and refine these systems. Even the most well-designed technology solution will need to adapt to changing user needs, policies, or on-the-ground circumstances, and it is critical that the owning agency partner is positioned to continue to iterate and make the changes needed to be responsive in the long-term.  

Acting on values central to leading civic tech organizations, the New Jersey innovation team takes the approach of building with, not for, partners and users. This means taking the time to understand partners’ priorities and know what other projects they are working on. Teams across government are doing critical work to respond to the crisis, and it is important that partnerships are respectful of colleagues’ other efforts. Office of Innovation staff collaborates not only with the staff directly overseeing the issue, but also with other important stakeholders, like IT, legal, and communications teams. This approach cultivates a sense of ownership among partners and develops their capacity to deliver future projects with less direct involvement from the innovation team. By being directly involved in the work, agency colleagues contribute their expertise, become aware of existing resources available to them and develop new skills for delivering projects.

Conor Carroll is a researcher with the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University, conducting research with the New Jersey Office of Innovation. 

Giuseppe Morgana is the Digital Director for the New Jersey State Office of Innovation.

Note: This post originally appeared in the Boston Globe. It is shared here with permission.

Radical transparency in policing would be an important departure from the status quo. Here are five data sets departments should start sharing widely.

June 15, 2020 – By Clarence Wardell and Denice Ross

Prompted by the recent police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, protestors are demanding a wide range of changes to policing, including abolition, shifting funds to other community services, and more tactical reforms. A common thread across these demands is that American policing must be held accountable to the communities it serves. Accountability, however, requires transparency — and transparency is a concrete step that local leaders can take right now.

After Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, the Obama administration launched the Police Data Initiative as part of a detailed national response to racialized police violence. At the time, few if any police departments in the country published data about their own actions in sufficient detail for community members to check for evidence of bias.

These days, information about police officers’ actions in addition to the arrests they make is more commonly released. But most of these data sets still lack key details and crucial context, such as corresponding body-camera footage, or published policies on what is allowed (and not) when officers use force. In most cases, the commitment to releasing data isn’t mandated by law; it depends on what leaders want to do. The Boston Police Department, for example, stopped publishing its annual data on stop-and-frisk incidents after 2016. It took months of public calls for transparency, public records requests, and finally a subpoena to restore the flow of data just last month. BPD’s excuse for the three-year gap in publishing data? Nobody had asked for it.

Americans shouldn’t have to beg for data from agencies that have such extraordinary powers. As Art Acevedo, then the police chief in Austin, Texas, and now the chief in Houston made clear five years ago: “This isn’t our data, it’s the people’s data.”

“This isn’t our data, it’s the people’s data.”

– Art Acevedo, Former Police Chief, Austin, Texas

Governments should lean into the idea of being held accountable by their community members in ways that would represent a radical departure from the status quo. It is necessary for both legitimacy and trust. Leaders can start immediately by ordering the release of these five data sets:

  1. Use of force, including shootings by officers. Is force more likely to be applied in communities of color, adjusting for other factors? What are the results from internal investigations into whether the force was justified? Seattle Police Department’s use-of-force data is updated automatically in near real-time, and Orlando’s officer-involved-shooting data includes detailed review letters from the State Attorney for each incident.
  2. Complaints against officers. What complaints are people filing about police officers? How are these complaints against officers resolved? The Citizen Complaint Authority in Cincinnati helps the public understand this data in graphs, charts, and maps, making it easier to devise better policies.
  3. Police force demographics. Does the police force look like the community it serves? Are they failing to retain women and people of color? Wallkill, N.Y., publishes an annual spreadsheet that details rank, years on the force, gender, and education levels of the 120 people in their department.
  4. “Stop-and-frisk.” Which populations are police most often stopping in the field, and for what reasons? The Boston Police Department’s newly liberated data includes the name of the officer and their supervisor. NYPD releases annual data with demographic details and the reason for the stop.
  5. Traffic stops. Are people of color disproportionately likely to be pulled over? Are police actions biased, whether they let someone off with a warning or ask to search the vehicle? The San Diego Police Department, in accordance with the California Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015, releases demographic details on the people stopped, as well as reasons for the stops and any actions taken by the officers.

Numbers alone won’t tell the whole story, though. Radical transparency will require police and other government agencies to publish complementary records and documents, such as the department’s policy handbook (including the rules on the use of force), police union contracts, prosecutorial and review board decisions, and internal disciplinary records. Departments should promptly make body-worn camera footage available when an incident is being reviewed to clarify, for example, whether a person “tripped” or was actually pushed by officers.

We need to also ensure that all data are released responsibly, protecting privacy so that victims of crimes and police misconduct feel comfortable reporting. Greater transparency will also, in some communities, require revisiting outdated laws and obstructionist police union contracts that are holding back data to which the public is entitled. Leadership is essential to breaking these logjams.

The lack of transparency has not only left our law enforcement apparatus unchecked and unaccountable to the community, but it also has made it harder to understand what actually works to reduce police violence. After the death of George Floyd, we learned Derek Chauvin had at least 18 citizen complaints filed against him. Accountability starts with transparency. We must face the difficult truths hiding in the unopened vault of police data.

Clarence Wardell is director of City Solutions for What Works Cities at Results for America, a research organization that advises governments.

Denice Ross is a fellow at the National Conference on Citizenship and Georgetown’s Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation. They co-founded the White House Police Data Initiative in 2015.

June 9, 2020 | By Tyler Kleykamp

As the world becomes increasingly digital, what’s become clear for both the public and private sector is that data needs a leader. Since 2010, states have been establishing Chief Data Officer (CDO) roles and most major cities and large federal agencies have them as well. As the number of CDOs has grown to over 25, and the size of their teams have increased, the role has evolved and matured from being primarily focused on open data, to ensuring data is shared and used effectively across their states.

The COVID-19 pandemic and recent protests against police brutality highlight the unique role the state government plays and how it directly impacts people’s lives. Data is already in the spotlight and will play a critical role in how states recover from the pandemic and address systemic racism if leveraged properly. For years, Connecticut has been collecting traffic stop data in an effort to determine whether drivers are being stopped due to racial profiling. A growing number of states are providing COVID-19 case data broken out by race, illuminating the disproportionate toll the virus has taken on communities of color. States must also recognize that years of systemic and structural racism has resulted in overrepresentation of racial and ethnic groups within their data systems. With their ability to engage across agencies and departments, the CDO will be a hub for state governments moving forward.

cover of report: The Evolving Role of the State Chief Data Officer
Read the full report

The goal of the State Chief Data Officers Network is to surface and scale best practices and opportunities for collaboration across states. We also aim to support states in the creation of a CDO role. This means we need to better define what the CDO roles and responsibilities are. While there are case studies and playbooks to support CDOs in various levels of government, most aren’t geared toward the unique challenges states face. City CDOs are often focused on open data and analytics. Federal CDOs roles are generally defined by the Foundations for Evidence Based Policy Act. To help states improve their use of data, the State CDO Network created a core framework to guide them in structuring effective data programs.

Through the insights collected from state CDOs since November, and drawing upon resources from the Pew Charitable Trusts and Results for America, six core elements of a successful state data program have emerged:

  • LEAD – Designate an executive level data leader as the Chief Data Officer
  • PLAN – Create a strategy, governance structure, and inventory of data
  • BUILD – Increase the capacity of stakeholders to effectively use data
  • SHARE – Establish clear and predictable processes for data sharing
  • ANALYZE – Provide mechanisms and platforms to enable data integration and analysis
  • SUSTAIN – Ensure ongoing support exists for data efforts

To implement this framework, we’ve created two tools states can use. The Evolving Role of a State Chief Data Officer will help policymakers and state CDOs alike shape the role and responsibility of a CDO. State Data Policy Options is a guidebook with examples of effective legislation from states that can be used to support efforts to implement this framework. The policy options will grow over time as states continue implementing effective solutions.

States don’t need to implement this framework all at once. Rather, it should be used as a roadmap to help them mature in their use of data over time. Just as the CDO role has evolved since its inception, it’s likely this framework will too. These tools will help get states moving in the right direction.

Tyler Kleykamp is a Beeck Center Fellow and Director of the State Chief Data Officers Network. Follow him at @tkleykamp.

May 27, 2020 | By Amen Ra Mashariki

In September 2015, I was sitting in the NYC Office of Emergency Management’s (NYCEM) famed “war room”. It was packed. Literally standing room only. Yet somehow the steady influx of important looking people into the room continued. Was the crisis an impending storm, or a blackout? Neither. This was a “Tabletop,” a simulated emergency situation. In this exercise, the Commissioners of most NYC agencies and their senior staff, some state personnel, and private sector entities (i.e. gas/electric utilities) gathered to review and discuss the actions they would take in a particular emergency, testing their emergency plan in an informal, low-stress environment. This made it easy for everyone to calmly rehearse their roles, ask questions, and troubleshoot problem areas.

people sitting around a conference table with projection of data behind them
NYC Emergency Management “tabletop” exercise. Photo by Amen Ra Mashariki

After 9/11, 2012’s Hurricane Sandy and the Legionnaires outbreak, we knew very well that it’s the unknown unknowns that hurt you the most. This is when I along with a few colleagues created data drills. Data drills help a city baseline where they are with citywide data practices. They also help improve a city’s ability to identify, understand, and use data to solve a challenge when requested. Data drills help a municipal data team move faster and better, but it’s also a very important tool to understand exactly where the holes and problems in your data operations are.

Why was I, the Chief Analytics Officer and Director of the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics (MODA) at a tabletop emergency management event? To understand, rewind to the beginning of summer 2015 and the outbreak of Legionnaires disease in the city.

Legionnaires—a type of pneumonia—was spreading in the Bronx and Manhattan through contaminated water in cooling towers sitting on top of buildings. My office was brought in to build a machine learning model to help find where every building with a cooling tower existed, and to count and track the registration and ultimately the cleaning of those towers. This was a citywide emergency effort, and because MODA played a key role in its successful conclusion, from that point on it was clear to city leadership that collecting data was key to emergency response efforts. Hence the invitation to the tabletop.

As I watched these agency heads work out their emergency response muscle so they could improve, I realized my former office, as well as the data teams or personnel in other agencies, should find a way to get better at finding, accessing, integrating, and sharing data during an emergency. Agency data leaders needed our own tabletop exercise, because when we weren’t thinking about using analytics to solve a particular problem, we needed to be thinking about data all the time.

We understood that there is data that we know we have, data that we know we don’t have, and data we know absolutely nothing about, including even the fact that it exists (Donald Rumsfeld’s famous “unknown unknowns”).


Related Links


In general, data drills are developed and conducted based on some operational challenge that involves data and will require multi-organizational cooperation to achieve a desired result. Drills can be designed for (but not limited to):

  • Specific scenario: hurricane flood zone, homeless counts, data center disruption
  • Capacity building: collecting data, learning how to operationalize a specific dataset
  • Operations development: down trees clean-up operations between two agencies
  • Testing Software: testing new features in a data sharing platform

Data drills help us take on that challenge by having organizations across the city surfacing, sharing and integrating data. A drill takes place with specified start and end times, forcing all participants to work within real life time constraints. Every data drill results in overall citywide-data I.Q. growing ever so slightly.

Data drill deliverables should be defined early in the planning phase. They may include (but not limited to):

  • Identification of data sets with metadata and data dictionaries
  • Organization-specific operational workflow relevant to data and use-case
  • Interagency workflow for operations, analysis and/or network infrastructure
  • List of organization contacts, roles and responsibilities
  • Documentation of activities and observations
  • Report with recommendations

NYC’s first interagency emergency data drill was conducted by MODA with assistance from NYCEM’s GIS and Training & Exercises divisions, and the 1st Deputy Mayor’s office, from October 14 – 16, 2015. It included an initial data call, assignments for agencies, and an in-person concluding session. Fourteen agencies were participants in the drill, and there were over 60 individual participants.

The scenario for drill play was an extended power outage in an area of downtown Brooklyn affecting 97,000 residents. Eleven agencies contributed data sets to test data sharing mechanisms and MODA’s data integration effort. Immediately after the completion of the drill, a post data drill review showed the drill successfully tested the capabilities it was designed to test.

Capability to TestGoalResult
Points of Contact (POCs)It is important to define and rely on data POCs for responding agencies so when an emergency happens you already know who to reach out to for data.In sending out invitations to the drill, we used a list of data POCs from the various agencies we had developed over the previous two months. In the course of the drill, additional POCs were identified.
Data Call
There must be an existing mechanism in place to convene data leaders across agencies so when a crisis breaks out, communication across data leaders can happen instantaneously.We successfully conducted an initial data call on the 14th and simulated a second data call “in-person” on the 16th.
Data Sharing Mechanism
The need to be able to swiftly share data during an emergency with metadata templates for tracking is key to executing a successful emergency response. A data sharing mechanism was successfully used by all participants.
Data Integration
Data integration is one of the most complex things to do in general, but when you attach this need to the timeliness and precision requirements that must be met during an emergency, data integration without planning, process and skill is almost impossible. MODA successfully integrated data from a large sample of the data sets provided by the agencies, even when given a few hours to complete the needed integration.
Reporting Metrics
Leaders within the city, first responders and other stakeholders during a crisis require immediate, accurate and consistent reporting during an emergency.MODA led the effort to work with agencies to propose draft reporting metrics. The 1st Deputy Mayor’s office reviewed and commented on the draft metrics.

A key takeaway from this blog is that we built the concept of data drills in NYC up from a simple idea to a very complex, citywide, highly impactful undertaking. This wasn’t just because it was a good idea. Good ideas come a dime a dozen.  This was an idea that every agency in NYC government felt was overdue. This was something that we all knew needed to happen. Therefore, high participation and ultimately impact was inevitable. For every city, domestic or international, data drills should be a key part of their data strategy. These drills should constantly be running in the background at a cadence that keeps the city’s data ready to be put into action. Data drills make the city smarter about their data, and that is key to being able to use data and analytics to make a city safer, smarter, healthier, more efficient, resilient, sustainable, and equitable.

COMING SOON: Executing a Data Drill


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May 21, 2020 | By Tyler Kleykamp

The COVID-19 pandemic affects each state differently, but data is a valuable asset and state Chief Data Officers are taking on increasingly central roles as the crisis evolves. Creating the dashboards that governors use everyday, troubleshooting state unemployment insurance systems, and even supporting secure access to data in the shift to remote work are just a few ways CDOs are scrubbing into COVID response.

Last week, the Beeck Center hosted its second convening of the State Chief Data Officers Network. Twenty-five of the nation’s state CDOs gathered from their home offices to share experiences and collaborate on ways to further leverage data to support recovery. In times of crisis, community support is critical. Deepening the connections with their peers builds morale knowing they’re not alone in their journey. “It’s good to know others are going through similar throes as I am” one CDO commented as we wrapped up.

screenshot of Zoom meeting with 24 attendees
Members of the State CDO Network gathered on May 12-13, 2020 to discuss their work in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

What’s happening in state-level data?
Every state is using data to communicate with the public using online dashboards and in governors’ briefings. Every number produced for the public represents infrastructure and analytical capabilities behind the scenes, often orchestrated by CDOs. What might be less noticeable is that state governments also had to ensure the integrity of state data as they quickly set up remote work environments for offices that were unaccustomed to operating remotely. Ensuring state employees had access to the data and systems they need to continue providing critical services was a key early focus. As the pandemic’s effects spread outside of the public health threat, the CDOs’ roles grew to supporting unemployment insurance call centers and small business loan applications. As states plan for reopening, CDOs are measuring economic impacts, supporting contact tracing efforts, and developing dashboards to show progress toward meeting reopening milestones.

“Map Everything!”
As in real estate, location may be the most critical aspect of the pandemic response, and one CDO’s advice was “map everything!” Creating the maps that show the spread of the disease, where vulnerable populations exist, and where to get tested have been central to state efforts. Beyond disease-specific issues, CDOs are supporting mapping of critical facilities like child care, transportation hubs, and food banks. These resources help both governments and the people they serve understand where services exist, where there are gaps, and how to support the people who need it most.

screenshot of Pennsylvania Hospital Preparedness Dashboard
Hospital Preparedness Dashboard from the Pennsylvania Department of Health

Coordination is Critical
As the pandemic grew across states, the use of data increased far beyond testing and case counts. Initially it was availability of personal protective equipment and documenting hospital capacity, but expanded to data on prisons, businesses, and employment. These data come from a variety of different departments in states, and having a CDO to coordinate across agencies has been vital. CDOs often found themselves in a coordination role, ensuring that subject-matter experts were able to access the data they needed to support their work. Some states have “agency data officers” who are a single point of contact for data issues in a department. This structure helps streamline data discovery and access in states. Where states lack this structure, CDOs facilitate conversations directly with the individuals that manage specific data sources within a department.

For state CDOs, the pandemic highlighted the need for umbrella data sharing agreements in states. COVID-19 didn’t wait for states to develop the legal infrastructure necessary to share data, and the next crisis won’t either.


cover of Sharing Data for Social Impact reportWant to learn how best to share data with other organizations? Download “Sharing Data for Social Impact: Guidebook for Sharing Responsible Governance Practices” from Beeck Center Fellow Natalie Evans Harris.


With an economic crisis bearing down and a second wave of the disease looming, data-driven decisions are now at the forefront of policies and actions taken by states. Arizona’s Jeff Wolkove pointed out, “the data ‘nice-to-haves’ of a few months ago are now mission critical and we should leverage this opportunity to build what we need for the future.” In particular, centralized access to data resources solved many challenges. State governments are also going to need to become more agile. We’re still learning about the diverse impacts on state operations resulting from the pandemic, and the ability to adapt quickly to changes will be imperative.

As states transition from response to recovery, and prepare for a potential additional waves of the pandemic, CDOs brainstormed ways they can support their states. This exercise generated nearly 300 ideas in under 20 minutes. Three themes emerged:

  1. Relationships matter. Data sharing is built on trust, and ensuring that the departments and individuals they work with trust them to use data responsibly will accelerate the state’s ability to share data.
  2. “Demos not memos.” This is the mantra of the Beeck Center’s State Software Collaborative, and it seems CDOs are of the same mindset. Quickly prototyping data dashboards on potential emerging issues can help state leaders understand what’s possible and help surface any underlying barriers so they can be addressed early on.
  3. Know your data. An inventory of what data each department collects, what information the data contains, and who can access the data will help states be better prepared. This information also lets states begin to map out various data sources and start developing processes and infrastructure necessary to pull data together in advance. For example, CDOs are expecting greater demand for data on economic impact, and vaccine distribution in the future.

State CDOs continue to step up and support their states in new ways, and at the Beeck Center we are committed to highlighting those efforts so they can be replicated across the country. We published best practices on using data for COVID response and are building a roadmap to address recovery related issues and use cases for states. The State CDO Network will continue to convene online and we look forward to meeting in-person when it’s safe to do so.

Tyler Kleykamp is a Beeck Center Fellow and Director of the State Chief Data Officers Network. He is the former Chief Data Officer for the State of Connecticut and you can follow him at @tkleykamp.

May 11, 2020 | By Alberto Rodríguez Álvarez, Dana Chisnell and Vivian Graubard 

Policymakers, lawmakers, and government leaders are increasingly exploring new ways to ensure that laws and policies are centered around people’s needs while improving how services are delivered to the public. In Mobile, Alabama, community involvement informed updates to blight reduction laws and, at the national level, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services worked directly with doctors and healthcare workers to improve the implementation and delivery of a new value-based healthcare law. 

To help policymakers interested in following these successful models, we are launching the first tool of the Delivering Better Outcomes Working Group from the Beeck Center, New America, and the National Conference on Citizenship: a User-Centered Policy Organization Assessment. It is our hope that teams crafting policy inside and outside government will use the assessment to center their policy-making activities around the people — or users — most impacted by their proposed programs and policy ideas.

In recent months, scholarship has emerged to explain and illustrate user-centered policymaking as a more effective and inclusive approach to crafting policy. At Harvard University, Nick Sinai, David Leftwich, and Ben McGuire examined human-centered policymaking in the context of medicare. Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs offers a graduate course to teach the concept. Code for America’s Jennifer Pahlka published a paper on delivery-driven policy, and the Public Interest Technology team at New America used a human centered design process to generate recommendations for the Farm Bill, adopted in 2018. Government organizations like the U.S. Digital Service and the UK government have been applying design thinking to policymaking and policy implementation as well, prioritizing agile and iterative methodology rather than the more traditional “waterfall” method of designing, building, and executing a policy without pausing for public input and pivots where needed.

Experienced design practitioners inherently employ user-centered methodology in their work, but newcomers may not know where to begin. This tool builds on the existing case studies, reports, and blogs, and gives policymakers actionable, concrete steps to shift their current approach slightly and put users at the center. We learned that the concept of user-centered policy making sounds great to many government leaders and this tool helps them know how and where to start.

There are some natural synergies between the policy design processes and human centered design practices. Grassroots organizers, for example, have long understood the importance of understanding the needs of communities at a human level. With this tool, policy teams can start to expand their outreach beyond experts and community organizations to reach people everywhere.  

This assessment provides public servants with a set of guiding questions that are designed to help teams understand the people who receive government services or benefits, the stakeholders involved in the policy, and the metrics that are being used to define success and measure progress. 

To create this tool, we started with a working group of more than 20 current and former policy makers — some were traditional subject-matter expert policy professionals, others were leaders in government technology, and some had specific design training and expertise. Most worked in the executive branches of their governments and some had legislative experience as well. We interviewed members from this working group between August and October 2019 to better understand their expert take on user-centered policymaking. 

The concept of user-centered policy is still being defined by a wide community of policy makers, designers, and innovators. The Deliver Better Outcomes working group landed on this definition: policy that is intentionally designed and implemented with the end user as a co-designer. In our project, end users are the people who receive a government service or benefit, or that are impacted by a specific policy. That makes users the ultimate experts on what the experience of interacting with the government is like. Our theory is that centering the policymaking process on these end users’ needs and including them directly in the policy design process produces better results, increases trust, and ensures that policies reach their intended outcomes with as few unintentional consequences as possible.

We created the User-Centered Policy Organization Assessment to foster more user-centered policies in government. This project is part of the Digital Service Collaborative at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation, which is strengthening the network of data and digital professionals in government through action-oriented research, tangible resources, and user-centered policies that can be shared and scaled throughout the network. 

This assessment tool is being tested now by members of the Deliver Better Outcomes working group in their policy processes. In true agile form, we will take what they learn to continue iterating on our tool. If you test it out in your own work, we want to hear about it so we can continue making improvements and providing useful resources.

Alberto Rodríguez Álvarez is a Beeck Center Student Analyst currently pursuing a Masters in Public Policy at Georgetown University. Prior to joining the Beeck Center he was an advisor to the National Digital Strategy at the Office of the President in Mexico. Follow him at @arodalv.

Dana Chisnell is a founder-partner at Project Redesign at NCoC.org, co-founder of the Center for Civic Design and served as a “generalist problem solver” for the United States Digital Service in the White House. Follow her at @danachis. 

Vivian Graubard is the Senior Advisor for Public Interest Technology at New America. Prior to joining New America, Graubard worked at the White House under President Obama where she was a founding member of the United States Digital Service and also served as a senior advisor and chief of staff to the United States Chief Technology Officer.

May 6, 2020 | By Robin Carnahan and Waldo Jaquith

Only 13% of major government software projects succeed, and the successful and failed ones alike cost 5–10 times more than they should. When those projects fail, so too do the public policy initiatives that depend on them: unemployment insurance, small business loans, paid family and medical leave, SNAP, Medicaid, etc.

As we’ve seen in the response to the COVID-19 crisis even if lawmakers move quickly to pass legislation to get money to laid-off workers, small businesses, and hospitals, those policies can’t be implemented effectively when the technology tools used to apply for, distribute, and track funds can’t be easily modified or don’t work.

This is an egregious state of affairs. But we know it doesn’t have to be this way. At a time when technology allows us to order a new pair of shoes on our phone and have them delivered the next day, it’s increasingly clear that technology isn’t the problem, but instead how government currently procures technology and uses it to deliver service to the public.

Today, in an effort to begin solving this problem, we are starting the State Software Collaborative at the Beeck Center, in partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation.

States need to take back control of the systems they rely on to fulfill their mission. Our goal is to help them do that, through a combination of teaching legislative staff about best practices to budget and provide oversight for major software projects, coaching agencies through using modern procurement practices, and teaching states how to center all of that work in modern software development practices (Agile software development, user-centered design, product thinking, DevOps, etc.)

By knitting together states’ agencies based on common needs, we can help states collaboratively procure, develop, and maintain the software they depend on, so instead of 50 states buying 50 versions of near-identical, overpriced software, they can procure high-quality, fair-priced software just once, and share it among themselves.

States’ needs differ substantially — because of different policies, laws, cultural norms, and technical environments — so it would be a mistake to expect as-is reuse of monolithic software projects. We expect the resulting software to be something like 80% complete, leaving room for the customization necessary to serve each state. We’ll coach states through procuring and managing scrum teams to complete the final 20%, documenting emergent best practices for other states to follow.

State governments have the subject-matter expertise, the funding, the technical knowledge, and the digital infrastructure that is necessary to deliver high-quality, technology-intermediated services to the public. They just need a little help bringing together that expertise from across states and establishing the processes and governance structure to execute on that promise, and that’s where the State Software Collaborative comes in.

We come to this project not as an academic exercise, but as practitioners with decades of experience in this subject. Robin is deeply familiar with government procurement processes from her time as Missouri’s Secretary of State and knows that states are the linchpin to our nation’s COVID-19 response, but as we’ve seen in the past few weeks, too often that work is made harder by old, hard to update and maintain legacy technology systems.

For the past four years we have helped state and local governments through our work at 18F, a tech consultancy inside the federal government General Services Administration, developing and promoting best practices for government procurement of custom software. At a time when states are on the front lines of the government’s COVID-19 response, they must take back control of systems they rely on to fulfill their mission.

The current crisis has shown how important it is for states to both learn from each other and work together in procuring critical supplies. We’ll continue to build on that collaborative spirit and states get the tools they need to support the country as we recover.

Robin Carnahan and Waldo Jaquith joined the Beeck Center as fellows in Spring 2020. They will support the State Software Collaborative project as part of the Data + Digital portfolio. Follow Robin on Twitter at @robincarnahan and Waldo at @waldojaquith.

Photos by Mackenzie Weber & Shahadat Rahman on Unsplash.

April 30, 2020 | By Tyler Kleykamp 

The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the critical role data plays in keeping the public informed and keeping ahead of the crisis. On a daily basis, governors report on new data related to COVID-19 cases, hospital caseload, and weekly jobless claims. The pandemic also shows the importance of integrating data sets across agencies and programs. For instance, the new Pandemic EBT program needs to match data so that families who are losing access to free and reduced-price meals at school can continue receiving important nutritional resources at home. 

The 25 state Chief Data Officers (CDOs) across the country who make up the State Chief Data Officers Network are stepping up to support their states’ efforts to use data. Whether accounting for supplies of personal protective equipment, noting which hospitals are nearing capacity, or reporting accurate testing data to the public, state CDOs play an important role in improving how data is shared and used.

Adopting effective practices in the COVID-19 response will help states move from crisis to recovery. Right now states are focused on sharing data about testing, infection rates in nursing homes and correctional facilities, and unemployment. In the future, state leaders will need the right data to inform policies on how to best reopen child care centers, economic sectors, and schools.

Our review of State of the State speeches found that data was rarely mentioned, and often not at all. Now, virtually every governor is basing their decisions on when to reopen state economies on data. If state leaders want to ensure that they have data readily available to support their decisions, the status quo won’t help them. We don’t have six months to negotiate one-off data sharing agreements, and we can’t continue keeping data in silos.

What can state leaders do to advance their use of data? The State CDO Network has issued a report on best practices to improve states’ ability to share and use data:

  1. If a state doesn't have a CDO role, appoint one. We've crafted guidance on establishing a CDO role and compiled a selection of sample job descriptions. We're available to support states, so please reach out.Coordinate data management. Establish an interagency data coordinating body, ideally led by the Chief Data Officer (CDO). 
  2. Remove barriers to data sharing. Several states like Arizona and California are leveraging enterprise memorandums of agreement (MOA) to create streamlined and transparent legal processes necessary for data sharing. 
  3. Make data discoverable. Even when data is protected, the information about what data each state agency has are generally not. Virginia recently released a public metadata catalog detailing the data holdings of many of its agencies
  4. Format data to be useful. Ensure any data exchanged is in a machine-readable format (searchable, sortable, and digital) at the finest level of granularity allowed by law that’s necessary for the intended use. 
  5. Centralize data access across agencies. Indiana and North Carolina have statewide data warehouses that can readily secure new sources of data and make them available to appropriate individuals for analysis. Data that can be shared within government should be accessible through a centralized clearinghouse or repository. 
  6. Publish public data as open data. When data is public, make sure it’s available through the state’s open data website. Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York are publishing COVID-19 and other related datasets on their open data portals.
    screenshot of Connecticut data site
    Map of Health Facilities in Connecticut. Via data.ct.gov

    PDFs and Dashboards are great for communicating top-level findings, but should be accompanied by machine-readable data.

  7. Lead with the analysis. Not everyone is comfortable with or has the time to work with raw data. State leaders and the public often need easily digestible information at their fingertips. Readily available reports and dashboards can help people answer questions quickly. Maryland’s COVID-19 website provides easy access to top level statistics.

With executive support, Chief Data Officers can play a critical role in supporting emergencies like COVID-19 by using their centralized position to get the right data to the right people in a timely fashion. As state governments adjust to remote work, these practices will improve the way agencies communicate about and use data. It will also better prepare states for any future outbreaks that may impact the people and families they serve. 

READ THE FULL REPORT

Tyler Kleykamp leads the State CDO Network for the Beeck Center, and is the former Chief Data Officer for the State of Connecticut. Follow him on Twitter at @TKleykamp

For many low-income children, school is where they get their meals. It is not just about education, but because it’s where they receive nutrition– free and reduced-price meals five days a week. Last month, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act which created a Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) emergency response program allowing families whose children qualify for those meals at school to receive funds on an EBT card to use at grocery stores. Each state administers these benefits differently and all needed to move quickly to get this support to families relying on it.

The Beeck Center launched our Social Safety Net Benefits project this year to study systems and tools being developed to make it easier for people to apply for benefits like food assistance, housing support, and healthcare. Our mission—to surface actionable recommendations for leveraging data, digital, and innovation-enabled solutions for eligibility screening and enrollment in federally-funded social safety net benefits—is now more important than ever as civic tech teams and government agencies race to meet the overwhelming demand. 

The Beeck Center’s Data + Digital Lead Cori Zarek also co-founded U.S. Digital Response (USDR) to provide pro bono data and tech support to governments as they respond to COVID-19. USDR has offered to help states implement P-EBT alongside existing EBT processes with data engineering support to manage the systems on the back end and a front-end web application built by Code for America, another organizational co-founder of USDR. The USDR coordination is being led by Beeck Fellow Sara Soka who co-leads the safety net research project.

Since it launched in mid-March, USDR has recruited nearly 5,000 volunteers from all 50 states and Washington, D.C. who bring skills in data science, engineering, design, operations, research, policy making, and more. USDR has talked to dozens of government teams to learn about their needs and matched volunteers to 150 projects including:

The USDR P-EBT project is actively rolling out in states this week starting with California. Beeck Fellows Robin Carnahan, Tyler Kleykamp, and staffer Taylor Campbell are supporting additional USDR projects, and student analyst Alberto Rodriguez Álvarez has worked with colleagues in his home country of Mexico to adapt a version of the effort called Brigada Digital.

April 24, 2020 | By Lorelei Kelly

Dodge City, Kansas is the American symbol of frontier lawlessness. Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and the gang from “Gunsmoke” all represent its storied history. It’s also where my mom’s homesteading ancestors landed in the USA from Switzerland. So it was with some irony that as I drove across the country to be with my mother during COVID-19, Dodge City served as the backdrop for what could be the future of America’s legislative process.

With members of Congress scattered across the country, and uncertainty over if and when they could return to D.C., our small Continuity-of-Congress working group organized a virtual mock hearing, the first of its kind in the U.S. as a test of remote systems that would allow for continuity of government during a crisis.  We were even able to secure bipartisan participation. Former Member Brian Baird (D, WA) and former Member Bob Inglis (R, SC) served as co chairs. 

“There were the usual teleconferencing woes. There were home-schooling background noises, and Johnson’s microphone echoed. But other issues were more specific and became apparent as the exercise proceeded – how were the participants playing staffers supposed to whisper guidance to the members of Congress they served? What was the best way to offer an amendment? Could the parliamentarian offer real-time feedback to the chair? Were people voting both yea and nay during voice votes, knowing they were off-screen and wouldn’t get caught? What if a member yelled “point of order”—a parliamentary move that can force a crucial stop in proceedings—and the chair simply refused to hit “unmute”?

Still, to a reporter watching from home, it felt a lot like the real-world activity it was meant to simulate: a congressional hearing and bill markup.” – Why Is Congress Still Meeting In Person? [Politico]

Since that first test run, it has become clear that social distancing guidelines and critical health precautions should preclude Congress from travelling and meeting en-masse, in person until medical professionals determine that it is safe. Equally urgent is a technically-enabled solution that enables the legislative branch to carry on. Last week, we worked with American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institution, Bipartisan Policy Center, Congressional Management Foundation, GovLab at New York University, Lincoln Network, and POPVOX to host an even larger event, led by former members of Congress (and +60 former members as participants).  We heard testimony from retired Army General David Petraeus, representatives from Microsoft and Zoom, and a member of the U.K. Parliament, which just shed over 700 years of tradition to hold its first session online. Per normal committee prep, we created a Briefing Book for the mock hearing that provides deep background and context on Congress’ options and democratic continuity. 

Watch the mock hearing. YouTube

Tomorrow, I will be providing testimony in a virtual hearing in the Subcommittee on Investigations of the Senate’s Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. While the vital debate continues about remote voting and the Constitution, the deliberative process of committees is moving on. Committee hearings, after all, are how the “business” of Congress that is referred to in the Constitution–is carried out.  Hearings are a vital bridge to the American public. They provide the due diligence for policymaking and they must continue to inform, discuss and account for national priorities, even during a pandemic. 

This upcoming hearing and others that follow will demonstrate resilience; that our elected leaders can pivot and surge using popular platforms until we have the rules in place for a system built for Congress and all its unique needs. Looking to the future, this progress brought about by COVID-19 is evidence that modernizing Congress is possible and that it is gaining support every day.

I’m now home with my family in Northern New Mexico. Out here in San Juan County, I’m having the full rural broadband experience (it’s not great!)  High-speed internet access is something that I’ve known about and advocated for but never actually had to worry about from my fully wired workplaces in Washington, DC. Nonetheless, I’ve figured out a way to make my internet more consistent by commandeering a Nest camera on a work shed near the horse corral.  Indeed, as people across the country have found solutions allowing them to continue working, so should the world’s most powerful national legislature. 

Here are my workmates:

dog sniffing flower horse in stall

And my office:

brick workshed

Photos courtesy Lorelei Kelly. Header image courtesy Rory Kelly Denman.

April 28, 2020 | By Amen Ra Mashariki

Governments should protect the data and privacy rights of their communities even during emergencies. It is a false trade-off to require more data without protection. We can and should do both — collect the appropriate data and protect it. Establishing and protecting the data rights and privacy of our communities’ underserved, underrepresented, disabled, and vulnerable residents is the only way we can combat the negative impact of COVID-19 or any other crisis.

Building trust is critical. Governments can strengthen data privacy protocols, beef up transparency mechanisms, and protect the public’s data rights in the name of building trust — especially with the most vulnerable populations. Otherwise, residents will opt out of engaging with government, and without their information, leaders like first responders will be blind to their existence when making decisions and responding to emergencies, as we are seeing with COVID-19.

As Chief Analytics Officer of New York City, I often remembered the words of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, especially with regards to using data during emergencies, that there are “known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns, and we will always get hurt by the unknown unknowns.” Meaning the things we didn’t know — the data that we didn’t have — was always going to be what hurt us during times of emergencies.

“City officials admitted at trial that there were no emergency plans specific to evacuating or providing life-saving services to the most vulnerable population during disasters.” – Disability Rights Advocates, dralegal.org

Case in point, after 2013’s Hurricane Sandy, a federal court ruled that New York City discriminated against vulnerable populations including people experiencing homelessness, the elderly, and disabled in its failure to plan for their needs in large scale disasters. John Watson, a resident of the Coney Island Housing Projects in Brooklyn, testified about living on the ground floor of the housing development, and being flooded during the storm. After his family got rid of all of their soaked belongings they “endured living in a moldy apartment for over two months until the New York City Housing Authority finally moved them into a hotel to make repairs.” Or, like the many stories coming out of Brooklyn’s Gowanus projects, also in a predominantly African-American and Latino neighborhood, where Paula Diaz spoke of how she and other residents, many who were elderly and disabled, were “forcibly confined” to their apartments because the projects went without electricity for weeks. According to a release from Disability Rights Advocates, “expert witnesses testified about major deficiencies in the city’s planning for a wide range of emergencies, including such events as explosions, terrorist attacks, and hurricanes. City officials admitted at trial that there were no emergency plans specific to evacuating or providing life-saving services to the most vulnerable population during disasters.”

It was clear that while the city may have responded to this catastrophe, the leadership knew little about the most vulnerable in the community, including where they lived, their needs and services needed. There could be many reasons for this gap, including 1) limited data sharing capabilities, 2) overly stringent data regulations, and 3) lack of trust in government leaders having access to their information. However, more could have been done before and during that crisis to protect the vulnerable and ultimately have a successful and complete response to the challenges NYC faced during Hurricane Sandy.

There are three key steps that governments can do right now to use data most effectively to respond to emergencies — both for COVID-19 and in the future.

Seek Open Data First

In times of crisis and emergencies, many believe that government and private entities, either purposefully or inadvertently, are willing to trample on the data rights of the public in the name of appropriate crisis response. This should not be a trade-off. We can respond to crises while keeping data privacy and data rights in the forefront of our minds. Rather than dismissing data rights, governments can start using data that is already openly available. This seems like a simple step, but it does two very important things. First, it forces you to understand the data that is already available in your jurisdiction. Second, it grows your ability to fill the gaps with respect to what you know about the city by looking outside of city government. How do you do this?

  • Start with what is on your open data portal and extend to the data that city/state agencies may host on their websites.
  • Look at data from academic institutions in your community that is already public (i.e, research papers, web portals, etc.).
  • Reach out to county, state and federal government partners to get their public data.
  • Work with NGOs in your municipality, who likely have publicly available data.
  • Work with private companies that can make their data available (e.g. Mastercard, Zillow).

The advantage of prioritizing open data is there are already stewards of this information, and it’s likely been used before, or has been vetted to maximize “responsible use.” By using open data during emergencies governments can both improve effectiveness and accountability without infringing rights.

Show Your Work

Reporting to communities how data is being used puts accountability into action and builds trust. It also shows the public how open data can be useful and effective. But, transparency should not just be about open data, but also when using closed or private data sets. This data has been managed or purchased over time. By showing communities and citizens how their data is being used starts to build grounds for trust. Reporting ALL data use on a consistent basis should be a best practice and it will help cross the chasm of trust between citizens and their governments.

Learn from First Responders – Practice, Practice, Practice

First responders constantly train for emergencies. They don’t just create processes to respond to emergencies. They run preparedness drills to understand the best tools, processes, and tactics to utilize during emergencies. They continue to refine these steps; practice further; and report publicly on their efforts. We should do the same for data during emergencies.

I learned this when I participated in a tabletop (simulation) exercise with the Mayor’s office and the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) in NYC. This exercise is a simulated emergency situation where leadership across all city agencies review and discuss the actions they would take in a particular emergency, testing their emergency plan in an informal, low-stress environment. With that in mind, my office, the Office of Data Analytics, developed a concept called “data drills” in conjunction with OEM. A data drill is a multi-agency collaboration exercise that is used to gain greater insight into how a city collectively thinks about, manages, shares, and uses data.

Data drills help cities create a baseline on types of data available, how well agencies work together and build city-wide data practices. Done well, these drills help cities improve their ability to identify, understand, and use data to solve city’s challenges as needed. Data drills also help address privacy concerns around data sharing. It shows which data will likely be used, the data rights implications of that data, and the best way to use it while remaining transparent and accountable. Through practice, we can know when and how to manage data privacy and protect the rights of citizens.

It is not acceptable that the most vulnerable members of our communities remain invisible during emergencies and crises. Government can restore trust with residents to ensure that their data rights are protected and data privacy is taken into consideration — both on a daily basis and during emergencies. This is an important first step to closing the chasm of trust that exists between residents and governments.

Amen Ra Mashariki is a Fellow at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation and is the Global Director of the Data Lab at the World Resources Institute. He is the former Chief Analytics Officer of New York City. Follow him at @amashariki.

Photo by Lianhao Qu on Unsplash

April 24, 2020 | By Elaina Faust

Economic impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak have challenged America’s social safety net in unexpected and unprecedented ways. Temporary closures of non-essential businesses across the country have led to large-scale layoffs, and as a result the country is experiencing record-breaking numbers of unemployment claims. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as “food stamps,” is also facing a rapid increase in demand, overwhelming government service delivery systems.

The Beeck Center launched our Social Safety Net Benefits project this year to study systems and tools being developed to make it easier for people to apply for benefits. Our mission—to surface actionable recommendations for leveraging data, digital, and innovation-enabled solutions for eligibility screening and enrollment in federally-funded social safety net benefits—is now more important than ever as civic tech teams and government agencies race to meet the overwhelming demand.

In response to the outbreak, the federal government is putting billions of dollars into the safety net through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Together, these two measures extend the time limits on SNAP and WIC (food assistance for Women, Infants, and Children), boost the amount of unemployment insurance available per week, and open unemployment eligibility to self-employed and gig workers who ordinarily wouldn’t receive these.

Additional changes are happening at the state level to waive work requirements and automatically extend existing benefits, postponing the need for in-person renewal meetings.

This unprecedented test of the system reveals important lessons and highlights strengths and weaknesses in current eligibility screening and enrollment practices. Here are a few lessons COVID-19 has taught us:

Remote eligibility screening, application, and enrollment tools are must-haves, not nice-to-haves.

Tools for online eligibility screening and safety net benefits enrollment have begun to emerge in recent years, yet, according to research by Code for America’s Integrated Benefits Initiative, at least 30% of benefits applications still aren’t available online. In this era of physical distancing and stay-at-home orders, the ability to remotely apply for and enroll in social safety net benefits is essential for applicants to access the assistance they need without putting themselves and their communities at risk. State governments should take advantage of newly-available opportunities to waive or delay in-person application requirements if they have not already, and continue to expand online alternatives to paper-based applications.

Mobile-first solutions are needed to reach low-income populations.

In the United States, 17% of adults rely on a smartphone as their only means of accessing the internet at home. Smartphone dependence is disproportionately high among low-income individuals, impacting more than a quarter of those earning less than $30,000 a year. With public libraries, coffee shops, and other public internet sources closed in an effort to flatten the curve, accessing the internet is even harder for those without a broadband connection at home. Organizations creating digitally-enabled tools for applicants and participants of safety net benefits programs must design and optimize their solutions for use on mobile devices. Likewise, state government officials must favor mobile-friendly technology in vendor and product selection processes if they are to reach the most vulnerable among their target populations.

Digital solutions must be equipped to handle increased volume in times of crisis.

Unprecedented levels of traffic crashed unemployment application websites across the country in recent weeks, evoking painful memories of the 2013 launch of Healthcare.gov. New York State experienced an almost 900% increase in web traffic, leading the government to request that New Yorkers file for unemployment only on designated days of the week, assigned alphabetically. Illinois implemented a similar system in an effort to keep existing resources up and running. Whether online application systems are designed by internal government teams or by external vendors, system designers—and those managing the systems—should equip them to handle increases in volume where budgets allow. When budgets are lacking, state governments should at least establish non-tech-driven protocols for distributing website traffic to prevent undue added stress for applicants during difficult and scary times.

Self-service digitally-accessible information saves time for applicants and administrators alike.

As millions work through the benefits application process, many are navigating it for the very first time. Organizations that connect eligible individuals with safety net benefits are experiencing huge upticks in call center volumes in addition to increased online traffic, and applicants are spending hours on hold waiting to be helped, if they can get through at all. Resources allowing benefit applicants or participants to locate relevant information quickly and easily on their own are critical to lowering wait times and decreasing demand on overwhelmed administrators. Up-to-date online guides to the benefits application process, such as One Degree’s COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Resource Guide, allow applicants to find the answers they need, without the wait time. Mobile push notifications or in-app updates can help program participants understand how they are affected by updated legislation and help them navigate the recertification process.

In times of crisis, it can be difficult to find time for reflection. But learning from the challenges we face today is an essential part of creating a stronger and more resilient social safety net for tomorrow.

Elaina Faust is a student analyst at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation working on the Social Safety Net Benefits Research Project. She is a first-year graduate student in the Global Human Development program.


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April 20, 2020 | By Alberto Rodrìguez Álvarez and Margarita Arguello

Have you ever needed a copy of your birth certificate, but realized it was stuck in a box hundreds of miles away? Or have you forgotten your wallet at home, only to need your ID for something? These are common problems around the world, and as digital technology is improving, governments are setting innovation hubs to develop groundbreaking solutions to broaden their reach and streamline the delivery of citizen services. 

From digitizing medical records to creating entire government portals, public sector technologists are continuously working to incorporate data and design into their operations. They are applying agile methods learned from the tech industry to deliver better services and using human-centered design techniques to transform programs and services. And they are doing this all over the world. Over the past several months, we conducted in-depth research in our home region of Latin America to better understand and document two case studies showing digital government transformation in action: digitizing driver’s licenses in Argentina and digitizing birth certificates in Mexico. These efforts show that other nations are ahead of the United States, and demonstrate that innovative solutions are available from a variety of sources.

One of the co-authors discusses Argentina’s Digital Drivers License during her 2019 Capstone Presentation

Our case studies were conducted as part of the Beeck Center’s Digital Service Collaborative, a project in partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation, and describe both the political transformations that accompany new digital services, as well as the services themselves.

In both case studies, while the design and execution of the specific digital services is the focus of the reports, we also describe the broader digital transformation strategies that were needed for these national governments to take major digitization efforts to two services that touch most, if not all, residents in a society.

cover of online birth certificate case study
Download the Online Birth Certificate Case Study

Argentina and Mexico are two of many countries that have begun national digital transformation efforts and enabling these innovations has required diverse strategies. Some countries started by embedding small teams into key offices with high-level political support, as is seen with the Government Digital Service (GDS) in the UK (part of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Office), or the U.S. Digital Service team embedded in the White House. These teams have successfully deployed digital service solutions with both national and local governments copying their models. 

We have also seen councils and committees formed across national governments with digital mandates, like in Estonia and Finland, who jointly launched the first international data exchange between commercial business registers and are renowned for their digital government efforts.

In Latin America, there is a middle ground. Countries have created ad-hoc ministries and agencies with broad directives to drive digital transformation efforts. Uruguay’s AGESIC and Brazil’s Secretariat of Digital Government are great examples of teams that are implementing national digital systems like digital identification and digital government dashboards. Latin America is also at the forefront of international cooperation among digital governments, with the Digital Government Network of Latin America convening annually for digital ministries to share best practices. 

cover of Digital Drivers License Case Study
Download the Digital Driver’s License Case Study

Despite these successes, in order to have successful results, governments everywhere need to overcome internal barriers to innovation such as outdated practices, restrictive regulatory frameworks, and resistance to change by public servants and decision makers. It is not uncommon to see failed deployment of digital technologies because governments have not undertaken the reforms and negotiations needed to introduce tools that are already standard in other sectors. Public innovation is not only achieved by using new technologies, but by understanding the particular obstacles that every political ecosystem must overcome to enable transformational change. 

Overcoming political barriers should be as important a priority as any final innovation product; since it provides a sort of multiplier effect. When government innovation hubs succeed in this, they transform the underlying legal and political frameworks of agencies and offices and open the door to further digital services. These teams set rules, standards, and even interoperability schemas along their process, which then create roadmaps for future innovation everywhere. 

Alberto Rodrìguez Álvarez is a Beeck Center Student Analyst currently pursuing a Masters in Public Policy at Georgetown University. Follow him on Twitter at @arodalv

Margarita Arguello is a Beeck Center Student Analyst currently pursuing a Masters in Public Policy at Georgetown University.

Photo by Hector Iván Patricio Moreno on Unsplash

April 7, 2020 | By Lorelei Kelly

Last month, as Congress was navigating pressing priorities from COVID-19, the U.S. House of Representatives took action for the first time in 50 years in passing a reform bill to help Congress itself work better for all Americans. 

The Moving our Democracy and Congressional Operations Towards Modernization (MODCOM) resolution, H.Res.756, includes 30 of the recommendations made by the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. It addresses vital needs such as cybersecurity training, staff diversity, and technology upgrades. 

“The House just showed that bipartisan work is possible, and that it can produce important bipartisan reforms that will begin to give Americans the 21st century Congress they deserve.” – Issue One Executive Director Meredith McGehee

Here at the Beeck Center, our guiding mission is to provide impact at scale. Our research looks at the roles of government, the private sector, and nonprofits in achieving positive societal outcomes. In practice, it means we identify methods and interventions that include and increase beneficial results for more people. At the policy level, this could mean updating a public service, evaluating the balance between public good and private profit, or figuring out a sustainable business model for social mission nonprofits. 

At the institutional level, such as with Congress, it means we are working with methods that are part of a centuries-old, out-of-date institution. In Congress, the rule of law is the process, and scaling social good requires changing the communications systems of democracy itself. Over the past three years at Beeck Center, this has been our priority in research we’ve led to help modernize the U.S. Congress. 

There is no better way to scale social good than to change the law. And there’s no better way to scale a systems change than by reconfiguring how democratic institutions govern themselves. The MODCOM legislation is historic in that it is the first time since the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 that a reform bill has succeeded. Even more groundbreaking, it also takes vital first steps toward building a more informed, effective and responsive governance model for one of our nation’s cornerstone institutions. 

For nearly two decades, I’ve worked with a small group of individuals inside and outside of Congress including members of Congress, the Congressional Management Foundation, the Democracy Fund and my tech partner, Popvox. We are collaborating to build modern information sharing capacity within our national legislature so it can serve the highest ideals of American democracy. The Beeck Center’s Data + Digital portfolio surfaced at exactly the right time to tip the balance of this collaborative effort. The urgent need for action is conveyed in the stark introduction to our recent report:

Congress is knowledge incapacitated, physically disconnected and technologically obsolete. In this condition, it cannot fulfill its First Branch duties as laid out in Article I of the U.S. Constitution.

But all of these challenges could be vastly eased if we act now to implement durable changes in Congress’ digital infrastructure. 

Our ability to productively surge into the institutional gray area revealed by COVID-19 is because of our focus on scaling social good. But our ability to move with speed and confidence is due to long-standing investment in trust and relationship building. In just hours, our modernizing Congress team pulled together an online expert briefing for Hill staff on Continuity of Congress. Within the same week, we helped organize a “mock” committee hearing. We were even able to secure retired Democrat and Republican members of Congress to roleplay the committee chairs.  

Meanwhile, Congress itself is taking steps to adapt new digital infrastructure and distance methods for its operations. COVID-19 is a difficult and scary time, but the silver lining can be an improved democracy that serves all Americans. We will keep working to make it so.

Lorelei Kelly is a Fellow at the Beeck Center on the Data + Digital Team. She is an expert on building inclusive and informed democratic systems and leads the Resilient Democracy Coalition (RDC), which assesses how data, technology and new engagement methods can help build a trustworthy modern legislature–specifically focused on the U.S. Congress. Follow her on Twitter at @LoreleiKelly.

April 2, 2020 | By Kyla Fullenwider

In the midst of the pandemic responding to the Census from home has never been more important.

As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across the world, our everyday lives have been interrupted in ways that most of us have never experienced before. And as we all rush to respond through physical distancing and other means, government services and their day-to-day functions must carry on, adjusted and sometimes delayed, but not cancelled. Our trash is still being picked up, the United States Postal Service continues to deliver our mail, and the Census — America’s largest non-wartime mobilization — will continue its mission to count everyone in the nation.

As the former Chief Innovation Officer of the U.S. Census Bureau, I understand that the 2020 Census may feel less urgent than trash collection or mail delivery, but I also know census data impacts how our country operates every day. Census data are used broadly and throughout government, determining how many seats each state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives and how more than $800 billion in federal funding is distributed annually for critical infrastructure including hospitals, roads, schools and social safety net programs. This includes funds for emergency preparedness and disaster response, programs we’re seeing on the front lines now. The census you filled out ten years ago is shaping the coronavirus crisis response right now, in real time, because we need an accurate population count to know how and where to distribute federal dollars.

Our civil servants are doing heroic work in this unprecedented time, and they need all of us to step up and do what we can — filling out the Census is an urgent, important way to do your part. The good news is that it’s easy to participate, and people are. According to the Census Bureau’s real time response rate map nearly one in three households have already responded online or by phone. However, response is below where it was at this time in 2010 and average daily increases in response rates are lagging. And the Census still needs to send hundreds of thousands of employees across the country to knock on doors of households that don’t self-respond. In an age of social distancing, this is not only a challenge, but it is counter to the recommendations of public health experts. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Census Bureau has hit pause, delaying its door-to-door operations.

This is why it’s never been more important to respond early and on your own: we need to maximize self-response to minimize interaction. The more of us who respond now, the fewer home visits the Census Bureau will need to make, and consequently, fewer in-person interactions as we all work to flatten the curve and reduce the spread of coronavirus.

So how can you help?

First, stay home and take the Census. Just as we’re discovering new ways to stay connected with FaceTime, Zoom and Skype, the Census Bureau is deploying new technology that will make it easier for everyone to respond from the comfort of their own home. This year’s “digital first” Census is the first time the US Census Bureau is asking the vast majority of us to respond online at 2020census.govNot keen on the internet or have connectivity issues? That’s ok. Use the phone option instead — the Census Bureau is providing support in 15 languages. And if you prefer to respond by mail, that’s ok too.

Second, commit to reminding at least ten of your family, friends, and community members to respond. In a period when trust in the federal government is at historic lows, research shows the most “trusted voices” are the ones you know. Importantly, in a sea of misinformation you can share trusted resources such as this one from the Census Bureau. And remember the rule of ten: The Census is ten questions, takes about ten minutes, and impacts ten years.

Finally, share why the Census matters across your networks online. While it may not feel urgent in the middle of a global pandemic, now is the perfect time to show why facts and data matter both in responding to crises and in informing everyday life.

In my time at the U.S. Census Bureau, I worked alongside some of the most dedicated civil servants in our country. The statisticians, data scientists, and field workers, care deeply about a complete and accurate count and have been meticulously planning for years to ensure we are all counted in this year’s census. But as this moment is reminding all of us: even the best laid plans often go awry. The Census has been conducted in challenging circumstances across its 230-year history- on horseback, during war time, in hurricanes, and now, in the midst of a pandemic. I’m confident that we will get through this and we will get it through it together.

As we continue to see an incredible outpouring of civic spirit and activity across the country in response to this crisis, remember that your country and your community needs you to stay home, and to take the Census.

To learn more about how the Census is responding to COVID-19 : https://2020census.gov/en/news-events/press-kits/covid-19.html

April 1, 2020 | By Cori Zarek

About two weeks ago, as the realization of what COVID-19 might mean started to sink in, many of us instinctively checked in on our networks of family and friends. “Are you ok?” “Are you prepared to stay home for awhile?” “How about a Zoom catch-up?” “Do you have enough toilet paper?” 

The same was true for the network of civic-minded technologists we’re part of at the Beeck Center, only the calls were a bit different. Apart from checking on each other’s well-being (and toilet paper supply), our questions were more like this: “Are you ok?” “How bad is this going to be on our government systems?” And, perhaps most important, “What can we do?”

Most technologists in our network are not healthcare experts, epidemiologists, or otherwise qualified to opine on what front-line healthcare workers or average citizens should do to respond to COVID-19, but we are well equipped to understand the systems, websites, and people who keep our governments running and what they’re up against in a crisis like this. Many of us have spent time in government, navigating crises that strained or even shut down our websites and systems. We know the questions to ask, the decisions that need to be made, and where we can (and can’t) add value.

That’s why a handful of us formed U.S. Digital Response two weeks ago to support governments as they respond to COVID-19, to help them keep their websites and systems up and running so they can provide uninterrupted services like unemployment benefits, small business loans, or food stamps to people relying on government day in and day out. In just two weeks, 3,000 data scientists, engineers, human-centered designers and other tech leaders across the country have raised their hands to pitch in. 

Drawing on a trusted, well-networked coalition of organizations and individuals can set you up for greater success at any time, not just during a crisis. Over the past year at the Beeck Center, we have approached the public interest tech field as a coordinator and convener, bringing together data and digital leaders working in and around governments to collaborate on solving shared problems and scaling solutions back into the network in a project called the Digital Service Collaborative launched with The Rockefeller Foundation. Public interest technology projects — like many projects — draw partners who run fast at problems and work toward rapid solutions and, once solved, quickly turn to the next. This approach is understandable given government structures and the need to keep critical services running, but can inadvertently lead to problem solving in silos and doesn’t incentivize collaboration and information sharing. It can sometimes leave behind more vulnerable communities as well. 

At the Beeck Center, we are working to fill that gap in collaboration, information sharing, and trust building through all of our work. From streamlining the foster family licensing process to providing easier enrollment in safety net programs to standing up new user-focused service delivery teams, the projects we select and the networks we build around them intentionally identify government partners — both subject-matter experts and more traditional tech leaders — and bring together the organizations, researchers, and even companies working to advance the public interest aspects of the work. With a dedicated, action-oriented network around each project, we document what steps these leaders are taking, distill it into recommendations for them and other stakeholders, and cycle those learnings back throughout our networks for continued application and improvement.

Having this established model for organized strategy around networks is powerful in an ordinary setting to test ideas, advance strategies, and compare follow-through. It’s downright crucial when we need to rapidly organize around what’s working so we can share and scale solutions as quickly as possible when lives and livelihood are on the line.

U.S. Digital Response launched quickly by drawing on networks created through the Beeck Center and the longstanding efforts by other leaders in this field including Code for America’s 10 years of networked civic technologists in more than 80 brigades all across the country. Because our networks are organized around areas of expertise, region, government size or structure, and more, we could quickly scan across them to see what early lessons could be distilled and shared back with one another. And for networks such as these to work well together, we rely on some — often unspoken — shared principles and norms.

Put people first: In every problem to solve or issue to advance, people should be at the center and should be directly asked what they want and need and how a particular solution might impact them. Talk to people; put them first.

Scout, then scale: If you’re working on an important problem, chances are someone else is also working on it — or has already solved it. Before starting anything, look around, ask around, and understand who else is already on it. When you find them, consider joining forces or lifting up their work and moving on to something else altogether — there’s plenty else to do.

Work in the open: Only when your work can be easily found and accessed can it be useful to others. Using APIs (application programming interfaces) and sharing resources like software code as open source and information as open data allows others to find your work, adapt it for their own purposes, and improve upon it. 

Come for the work, not for the credit: Working in the public interest is about helping people. It’s about doing the work, or, if you can’t, then getting out of the way and supporting those who can. It’s not about thought leadership, getting credit, or anything other than helping people in need.

The Beeck Center’s mission of impact at scale underpins our efforts with U.S. Digital Response. Government organizations at all levels are under strain and will continue to be tested in the weeks and months ahead — and the same is true for friends and neighbors. We will need people openly sharing what is working and actively helping others to keep both our networks of family and friends and our government systems online and running.

Cori Zarek is the Director of Data + Digital at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University. She is a former Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer and worked in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy from 2013-2017. Follow at @corizarek.

March 5, 2020 | By Amen Ra Mashariki

Pursuing impact is at the core of everything I’ve done in my career since my nephew Sam was diagnosed with leukemia 18 years ago. I left my job as a software engineer at Motorola and enrolled in a Ph.D. program with a focus in bioinformatics and cancer research. In the course of that research I developed open source software that I called System Agnostic Medical Middleware (S.A.M.M.) in honor of my nephew. From that moment on, I have only sought work where my science and tech skill set would be used to make lives better. I am excited to take all of those experiences, best practices, and lessons learned over the past 18 years and apply them to big, complex, timely, and meaningful problems as a fellow at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University.

young boy and man standing in office
The author and his nephew Sam at the Univ. of Chicago Cancer Research Center.

I’ve lived my entire life in communities where residents experienced any number of socioeconomic challenges — I grew up in New York City, and over the past 20 years I have lived, worked, and gone to school in Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. I have experienced the variety of challenges these different communities faced, and the ways government, academic, non-profit, and private sector organizations have attempted to solve complex issues facing these modern, fast-growing communities. 

At the Beeck Center, I will work at the forefront of the movement to utilize data and data science to ameliorate many of these issues. I look forward to researching and writing about the current landscape of how we can use data science and artificial intelligence to make lives better for people across the world in many different circumstances. And as the use of data and data science to solve problems grows in the social justice space, I will delve into new challenges and work with institutions and organizations to identify novel and appropriate solutions. I also look forward to spending time discerning, defining and documenting the difference between analytics, data science, and artificial intelligence, and when, where and how it can be used in these sectors in order to maximize impact.

As a presidentially-appointed White House Fellow in 2012, and subsequently the Chief Technology Officer for a federal agency, I had a front row seat to how public sector leadership took on challenges facing people in communities across this nation. Later, while serving as the Chief Analytics Officer of New York City, I had the opportunity to tackle the myriad of challenges facing local residents head on and learn how data and data science could be harnessed as an effective solution to local problems. These experiences, along with my time as an urban analytics executive at a large tech company engaging with international municipal leadership around the world, gave me a deeper understanding of core issues facing today’s communities and how governments leadership can use data-driven solutions to address them. 

Over the last few years I’ve published articles, blogs, and thought leadership pieces that illustrate how data science can have a clear and quantitative impact on government services, covering topics such as, developing a data-driven approach to solving homelessness in your city, how a chief analytics officer can strengthen the quality of services in local government, and how open data can connect citizens to their government. I am looking forward to taking those thoughts off of paper and putting them to action by shaping policy conversations with Tyler Kleykamp and the State Chief Data Officers Network housed at the Beeck Center. I will also collaborate with other fellows on the Beeck Center’s Data + Digital team to consider data-focused solutions that can address some of society’s most challenging issues and to support civic engagement with public institutions.

In everything we do in life, community is key. But when looking to be a catalyst for building non-trivial solutions to complex societal challenges, community is imperative. The Beeck Center community is one where I can contribute thoughtful insight that will no doubt have an impact on society at large, but most importantly,it is a community where I can listen, learn, and foster strong relationships. I am more than excited to grow as a member of the Beeck Center community while driving the technology and data science toward greater social impact. 

Amen Ra Mashariki joined the Beeck Center as a fellow in February 2020. He will support data projects as part of the Data + Digital portfolio. Follow him on Twitter at @AMashariki


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Starting with the states of Colorado and New Jersey, this project will document lessons learned to scale throughout the digital service network.

March 4, 2020

The Beeck Center’s Digital Service Collaborative (DSC), in partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation, is launching a project to pair researchers with new government digital service teams to capture early steps, decisions, and strategies to understand what they are learning as they form and to serve as actionable resources for other governments establishing digital service teams.

In recent years, governments have increasingly begun advancing service delivery with modern technology, software development, and service design principles. As these efforts take shape, government teams are pioneering new approaches and adapting from their experiences. The DSC launched in April 2019 to bring together leaders in the government digital service ecosystem to conduct action-oriented research, share successful strategies, and work together to develop solutions that we can scale throughout this network. 

For this project, the DSC is launching its first phase with two researchers who will collaborate with state offices focused on digital transformation. The researchers will work alongside government teams to understand the decisions and strategies that arise in the early days of this work. This includes the barriers and challenges faced by public servants, policy makers, external partners, and recipients; the technical processes and decisions involved; and the key indicators being used to measure success both internally and externally. Research outputs will be highlighted through policy briefs, playbooks, blog posts, and other useful products for the DSC network. 

Colorado and New Jersey have joined for this first phase of the project. The Colorado Digital Service is a new team within the Governor’s Office of Information Technology. This small team of senior engineers, designers, and product managers work alongside dedicated civil servants in state agencies to develop user-centered solutions to Colorado’s most pressing technical challenges. Founded with a mandate to improve the lives of New Jerseyans by designing and deploying more effective and efficient government services, the New Jersey Office of Innovation works in partnership with the Governor’s office and state agencies to create innovative policies and technologies that address complex public problems by working differently. 

This work will join the DSC’s existing portfolio of projects ranging from developing a playbook on streamlining the foster care licensing process in states to bringing together data ethicists to develop a model to responsibly share data between the public and private sectors for better outcomes. 

This project will be led by Cori Zarek, Director of the DSC, and supported by the Beeck Center’s team of staff, fellows and students. The DSC is actively recruiting new digital service teams set to launch in U.S. cities and states to be part of a second phase of this project for later this year.

Two researchers are joining the DSC to support this project. 

Conor Carroll is a State of New Jersey Researcher with the Digital Service Collaborative. He is also a social impact fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for High Impact Philanthropy where he was lead researcher and author of a report on philanthropy and democracy. Previously, Conor worked as a senior research analyst with Gartner, where he managed a budget and staffing benchmark survey. He is an AmeriCorps alum and has served in research roles at the U.S. Treasury Department, and the Joint Economic Committee. Conor received his BA cum laude from Penn State University and his MPA from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University where he concentrated in economics and public policy.

Yeri Kim is a State of Colorado Researcher with the Digital Service Collaborative. Yeri is working with the newly announced Colorado Digital Service to analyze the team’s projects and processes to support the strategic design of similar innovation initiatives in other state and local governments. Yeri’s experience is in human-centered design research and strategy, specializing in making complex systems work for the people that use them. Her approach is informed by psychology & behavioral science, community development, and business strategy. Previously, Yeri was a Senior Design Researcher at IA Collaborative, a global design & innovation consulting firm, where she led teams to solve clients’ most complex problems such as new market entry, product & service development, customer experience design, and platform innovation. She has broad experience working in partnership with Fortune 500 companies, start-ups, and social enterprises on challenges in healthcare, finance, education, and housing & homelessness.


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Harnessing user-centered design and digital technology to improve the efficiency of licensing for foster families.

March 3, 2020

An estimated one in 17 American children will spend at least one day in foster care in their lives. Many end up separated from relatives, in group homes, or in poorly matched foster homes in part because the foster family licensing process, including for relatives, is cumbersome and often takes more than 200 days. To simplify this process, the Beeck Center’s Digital Service Collaborative (DSC), in partnership with Foster America and New America, is creating a playbook for states to make it faster and easier for foster children to be placed with people they already know. 

In most states, the process is especially problematic for kin families, as children can languish for months living with strangers or in group homes while waiting for adults who already know and love them to be approved as foster parents. Recruitment typically relies on roadside billboards and word of mouth instead of data. And the sense of urgency to safely place a child on a moment’s notice means initial placements are often not with family members or based on the child’s specific needs. 

Several states have been experimenting with creative practices that lead to tangible improvements and efficiencies in their support of foster children and families. Rhode Island, for example, significantly streamlined its process and was able to license more than 100 families over a single weekend. The DSC and its project partners are bringing together 12 states on the cutting edge of this work — starting with Indiana, Michigan, Washington, and Maryland — to create a public, actionable playbook documenting proven best practices that can be replicated and scaled by others. The playbook will document practices that create measurable improvements, such as reducing the time it takes for foster families to be vetted and matched with children, impacting the lives of thousands of foster children. 

Using practices rooted in user-centered design and digital technology, the project will improve the efficiency of licensing foster families, with a focus on making relatives available as placements for children in need, as well as how states match children in foster care with families. Through incremental and realistic changes to the foster care system, this joint effort will demonstrate the opportunity for new policy models that can improve children’s lives and will look beyond technology-first solutions to a more holistic assessment of systems, bureaucracy, and people.

This work will join the DSC’s existing portfolio of projects ranging from using human-centered design to deliver better policy outcomes, to bringing together data ethicists to develop a model to responsibly share data among the public and private sectors for better outcomes. The DSC is a project in partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation that is activating the global network of public interest technologists to collaborate on solutions to improve people’s lives and scale those solutions back through the network.

Our fellows will be supported by Cori Zarek, the Director of the DSC, along with the Beeck Center’s team of staff, fellows, and students.

Emily Tavoulareas is a Beeck Center fellow who uses design and technology to make things—products, experiences, programs, policies, organizations—work better for people. From 2013-2018 she worked with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the White House to modernize the way the federal government delivers services to the public. From co-founding the first agency-level team of the U.S. Digital Service and modernizing the veterans application for healthcare, to piloting and scaling the human-centered design methodology with an intrepid team at the VA Center for Innovation, and serving as Senior Policy Advisor to the U.S. Chief Technology Officer at the White House, she has experienced first hand what it takes to modernize and transform large and complex organizations.

She is currently a Fellow at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation, teaching at Columbia University, an affiliate of Public Digital, and working as an independent advisor, helping leaders across industries effectively navigate the complex process of improving their product/service/organization. 

Katie Sullivan is a Student Analyst at the Beeck Center who works on this project with Emily Tavoulareas. She’s drawn to the Beeck Center’s innovative, multidisciplinary approach to promoting scalable and sustainable social impact. The U.S. is at a crucial moment when advances in data and technology have the potential to improve governance and livelihoods. However, these innovations may also cause harm if implemented without care and foresight. She’s excited for the opportunity to learn from the Beeck Center’s Data + Digital team while also working to amplify participation and resilience in the upcoming U.S. digital Census.


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February 24, 2020 | By Alberto Rodriguez Alvarez

So, why did you choose to apply for the Beeck Center Student Analyst position? As a grad student at the McCourt School of Public Policy, I get asked this question pretty often. And the answer is always the same: “Because it is and continues to be the best place to learn new skills as a student, while working to make an impact with the skills you already have”. I’ve been working as a Student Analyst at the Beeck Center since February of 2019, participating in four cohorts and supporting a variety of projects and initiatives. While the focus of my work has shifted over time, what has remained constant is that I’ve had the opportunity to learn and contribute in impactful ways. 

My work in the Beeck Center is within a project called the Digital Service Collaborative which is part of the center’s Data + Digital Portfolio. In this project, I lead action-oriented research on how governments are approaching digital transformation across the United States and around the world. My initial project was under the Exploratory phase of the Beeck Center framework and allowed me to tag along on more than 40 interviews with leaders in federal, state, and local governments who have been part of digital transformation efforts. I learned as they explained how digital tools were transforming their work, identified their pain points on using technology in public service, and developed an understanding of their views of how the government would adapt in the future. 


Related Story: Work With Purpose – The Student Analyst Program


Before coming to Georgetown, I worked in the Office of the President of Mexico at the National Digital Strategy supporting digital transformation efforts in my own government. My work at the Beeck Center offered me a chance to use my past experience to analyze and contextualize our findings and experience a level of access and direct engagement that is difficult to get in any job, let alone on a part-time position or an internship. But at the Center, the process went even further: under the guidance of my supervisors — expert practitioners in the public interest technology field including designers, data scientists, policy makers, and more — I learned human-centered design techniques to synthesize the data and information we collected from more than 70 interviews and turn it into a concise set of learnings and recommendations now published in Setting the Stage for Transformation: Frontline Reflections on Technology in American Government.  

Last summer, I had the opportunity to work at the Beeck Center full-time with new student analysts from other schools across the country who were also excited to work on making an impact through public interest tech. Being a part of this team allowed me to immerse myself in the civic tech ecosystem, this time on the Incubation phase of the Center’s framework. This started with the formal launch of the Digital Service Collaborative. To say that it was one of the best experiences I’ve had as a student is frankly an understatement. I piloted and used the HCD techniques that I’ve previously learned, I got to meet amazing teams doing great work, but most importantly I was pushed to create tools that could help other people, both inside and outside government, to enact change using digital tools for government. I even got to build a strategy around case studies to document how governments in Latin America are approaching policy innovation and speak in a national conference on Decolonizing Civic Tech which started a conversation still taking place today. 

All of this work takes place under the guidance of the Beeck Center Fellows who coach us every step of the way, and Beeck Center staff that hold workshops to teach us new skills and provide space to reflect on our journey towards social impact, through offerings like the Discern & Digest series where students gather each week to reflect on our unique journeys through school, work, and life.

As I complete my last semester as a student in Georgetown I am also finishing my journey in the Beeck Center, this time with the opportunity to lead a working group made up of government professionals, leaders from civil society, companies, and academia focused on Delivering Better Outcomes through User-Centered Policy Making, in partnership with New America’s Public Interest Technology team, the National Conference on Citizenship, and The Rockefeller Foundation. This working group now lets me apply skills that I acquired both in my classes as a Master’s in Public Policy Student and in my time working at the Center, all in the service of creating tools for public servants who want to have a greater impact on their communities.

As I look back and try to synthesize my journey at the Beeck Center, I find myself truly grateful for the opportunity to be in a space where great ideas are discussed, talents are fostered, and friends are made. I also see myself challenged by a cohort of experts and learners that perfectly complement my time as a student, without losing sight of working purposely to achieving a positive impact. And I honestly think there is nowhere else I could’ve done that. 

Alberto Rodriguez Alvarez is a Student Analyst, currently pursuing a Masters in Public Policy at Georgetown University. Follow him on Twitter at @arodalv

 

New Grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for Action-Oriented Stakeholder Recommendations

February 21, 2020

Every day, millions of Americans apply for public benefits, the critical funds they need to pay for housing, food, or transportation. But the process of completing applications and obtaining approval is complex and time consuming — it’s often paper-based and can require in-person filings with long lines. As a result, many people abandon applications or don’t bother at all and don’t get benefits they’re eligible to receive. 

New solutions leveraging data and technology have emerged in recent years to make it easier for people to apply for and enroll in these safety net benefits. To understand these existing tools as well as opportunities where new products and services can be developed, Georgetown University’s Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation is partnering with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to launch an action-oriented research project to detail data and technology-enabled solutions that can close the gap to give more people better access to priority federal public benefits. 

This new project will result in recommendations for a variety of stakeholders to increase enrollment of federal safety net benefits by leveraging data, design, technology, and innovation. It is part of the Beeck Center’s Digital Service Collaborative (DSC). 

The field of technology-enabled solutions that eligible individuals can use to efficiently navigate services available to them as they pursue greater economic security is small but growing. Organizations such as Code for America and the Benefits Data Trust are conducting research and developing products that simplify the process for both the applicant and the government workers processing applications. For example, Code for America’s GetCalFresh reduced the application time for Californians to apply for nutrition assistance from 45 minutes down to eight, helping close the gap of the 2 million Californians who are eligible for these benefits but not receiving them.  

Despite these successes, it is still early in the development and application of data and technology-enabled solutions in the public benefits space. This research project will: 

  • Map the early actors in this space to understand their work 
  • Identify gaps where activity is not yet taking place
  • Determine where to prioritize further resources and action 

The project joins the portfolio of the DSC which launched in April 2019 in partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation. The DSC’s mission is to cultivate the network of people working on data, design, technology, and innovation in governments, and activate them to co-create and scale solutions to help advance their work, while documenting it so others can use it as well. The DSC’s existing portfolio of projects range from developing a playbook to help states modernize their foster care licensing processes to bringing together data ethicists to develop a guide for responsibly sharing data between the public and private sectors for better social outcomes. 

This portfolio of work is led by Cori Zarek, the Director of the DSC, with support from the Beeck Center’s team of staff, fellows and students. “There’s a range of critical public benefits from healthcare to nutrition assistance to transportation support that can be improved for all residents by leveraging data and technology to improve access and enrollment,” Zarek said. “Great work is already happening out there, and by bringing ecosystem players together, we hope to scale their efforts and ultimately help more people access the services they need to thrive.” 

Two research fellows have joined the DSC to lead the public benefits project: 

Chad Smith researches the operational, technological, and ethical practices of integrating continuous client data into programs offered by social services departments and providers. He is currently the founder of YourSeat, a data platform for collecting, measuring and reporting behavior change in Family First Prevention Services Act programs. Prior to YourSeat, Chad led human-centered design engagements for Accenture’s public, healthcare, telecommunication, and financial services clients undergoing internal system modernization efforts. Chad currently lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area. He earned a B.A in Political Science from Hampton University and regularly volunteers at Digital Pioneers Academy. 

Sara Soka is an advocate for human-centered policy, implementation, and service design. Sara brings a background in applied qualitative research and network leadership spanning public health issues, plus substantial experience in community engagement and strategic communication. She managed Berkeley, California’s successful soda tax campaign, the first to pass in the U.S., with resident-led policymaking, locally resonant messaging, and participatory budgeting as guiding principles. As a consultant and a Vice President of Policy for a national public health nonprofit, she monitored iterations of this policy and its implementation, the related impacts, and implications for equity. Recently, she gained experience in UX research, and has consulted as a policy analyst for Code for America.

February 7, 2020 | By Kyla Fullenwider & Katie Sullivan 

Cover of 2020 Census Digital Preparedness Playbook
Download the Playbook

Last month, the 2020 Census kicked off in Toksook Bay, a remote Alaskan fishing village, as the head of the U.S. Census Bureau, Steven Dillingham, arrived to personally interview the village elder and start the decennial process. While Bureau workers will travel around Alaska “on bush planes, snow machines, or snowmobiles, and dog sleds to get to villages,” this year, for the first time, millions of U.S. residents will have the option to respond to the decennial census online or over the phone, alongside the traditional mail-in form. Federal workers will use handheld mobile devices to conduct the count and social media channels will catalyze rapid, real-time sharing of census news and information. 

Though the first “digital” census presents an opportunity for a more participatory count, it also raises a number of obstacles that may threaten the completeness and accuracy of the 2020 Census. An incomplete census count leads to unrepresentative distribution of federal funding and political power while raising inaccuracies within the foundational dataset that is used by planners, policymakers, and researchers nationwide. An accurate census count is vital in ensuring the integrity of our democratic institutions for the next decade and beyond.


For the first time, issues such as data security, digital access and literacy, online form navigation, and social media driven misinformation and disinformation campaigns must be addressed.


Since the last decennial count in 2010, the political and technological landscapes of the United States have changed dramatically. While some challenges such as an increase in “hard to reach” populations persist across census counts, the digital nature of the 2020 Census raises new threats. For the first time, issues such as data security, digital access and literacy, online form navigation, and social media driven misinformation and disinformation campaigns must be addressed. With historic levels of distrust in the federal government, city and local governments will play a critical role in ensuring a complete count of their constituents. City leaders understand the importance of the census in allocating dollars and political representation to their most vulnerable communities. However, many cities lack sufficient preparation and resources to lead the charge in promoting an inclusive and accurate 2020 Census count. 

Today we are pleased to publish the 2020 Census Digital Preparedness Playbook which helps address some of these challenges by providing a set of practical resources and explainers on some of the most challenging issues facing local governments as they prepare for the 2020 Census. The playbook provides:

  • A framework city leaders can use to understand the unique challenges posed by the 2020 Census including disinformation, cybersecurity, the digital divide, and data privacy. 
  • Accessible one-page overviews giving decision makers information they need to recognize threats to the census’ integrity.
  • In-depth how-to resources helping city leaders plan their response, avoid digital census pitfalls, and increase participation. 
  • Comprehensive answers to commonly-asked questions about new issues in the 2020 Census including the internet response option. 
  • A series of case studies highlighting how cities like Baltimore, Los Angeles, and Indianapolis are developing new and innovative approaches fostering census participation.

The 2020 Census Digital Preparedness Playbook was drafted in close collaboration with city officials, subject matter experts, and in partnership with the National League of Cities, Code for America Brigades and National Conference on Citizenship. We invite you to read and share the playbook to better understand the challenges ahead and to help ensure that everyone counts in 2020.

Additional Resources

The rollout of the 2020 Census Digital Preparedness Playbook complements other Beeck Center efforts to support an accurate and inclusive 2020 Census count. 

 

Kyla Fullenwider is a Beeck Center Fellow leading our work around the digital implications of the 2020 Census, specifically, what local governments, journalists, leading digital platforms, and the public can do to prepare and participate in this crucial function of our democracy. She previously served as the first Chief Innovation Officer of the U.S. Census Bureau. Follow her on Twitter at @KylaFullenwider

Katie Sullivan is a Beeck Center Student Analyst, currently pursuing a Masters in Global Human Development at Georgetown University. Follow her on LinkedIn or email her. 

January 30, 2020 | By Natalie Evans Harris

Society uses data for just about everything. Every day we hear about different ways organizations collect data about us for marketing purposes, insurance decisions, and improved delivery of social services including housing, education, and mental health. We also hear about data being used to deny home loans, set outsized bail, and often exacerbate existing biases within our social systems. It’s no question that, good or bad, data drives decisions by large organizations, small nonprofits, government officials, and everyone in-between. 

Through this expansive approach to using data, many government agencies are also experiencing the pains of governing how that data is shared, resulting in practices that are unsustainable, ineffective, and not forward-thinking. There is a fundamental need to evolve these practices into a governance approach that balances the need to protect people’s data with the need to uncover opportunities to better serve communities through data. 

As we head into 2020, it is already clear that a shift in how we make decisions with data is underway. The Federal Data Strategy Action Plan makes data governance processes a top priority. The California Consumer Privacy Act went into effect Jan 1, 2020, requiring entities to fundamentally change how they handle data with data governance standards as a main focus. And Congress continues to work on national privacy legislation that influences data governance standards, including nearly 10 bills under consideration for regulating the collection and use of personal data, individual consent, and even defining what constitutes personal data. Simply put, new data governance strategies are being developed and policy improvements are driving this conversation.

At the Beeck Center, I spent the past year leading a research effort to gather best practices and lessons learned on data sharing. In partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation, I hosted collaborative discussions with multiple stakeholders and practitioners, conducted independent research with dozens of organizations, companies, and government teams, and drew on my nearly 20 years leading data practices. We are excited today to launch a new resource based on that research: Sharing Data for Social Impact: a Guidebook to Establishing Responsible Governance Practices.

cover of Sharing Data for Social Impact report

Thankfully, we aren’t starting from scratch as many government agencies have well-established use cases for sharing data in pursuit of improved social service delivery in areas such as K–12 education, public transportation, and healthcare. For example: 

  • In 2017, Florida’s Broward County saw the number of children moving into their Kinship Care Program — where kids live with grandparents or other non-parental relatives — had increased significantly. To improve services for these kinship providers, the county took data from a variety of sources — the public schools, Department of Children and Families, Department of Juvenile Justice, and others — and worked with the community to analyze the information, then put it into practice. This engagement of stakeholders and participants created community feedback loops on shared data between families and agencies, strengthening family outcomes through a decision making process that emphasizes collaboration, transparency, and shared interest in positive results.  
  • On the other side of the country, Los Angeles County wanted to study the effectiveness of a number of social service programs for people experiencing homelessness. While the data was available, it was trapped in individual agencies, making it difficult to understand if an individual used services outside a single agency. As a way to combat this siloing of data and link social service organizations, researchers created an integrated data system. This system, launched in 2015, “provided agencies with a comprehensive picture of the [homeless population] and their needs and helped these agencies consider different models for service delivery… The project was relatively easy to execute with the [integrated] data, but would have been impossible without it.” By not only linking data from several agencies but also outlining data-use practices and procedures for each agency, Los Angeles County is ensuring the delivery of vital services to a vulnerable population.

Another recent trend is private companies, governments, and nonprofits forming cross-sector data-sharing collaboratives in support of the social good, but these can be hampered by organizational rules restricting the availability of data to external actors. In an environment where data are only used for making funding decisions or to narrowly evaluate programs, this model can work well. But in pursuit of innovation or improved social service delivery, this model is less encouraging. I discussed the need to shift to a more equitable and sustainable governance process in a previous blog. 

As the amount of data and methods for collecting it increase, so have opportunities for drawing insights about society. Bringing together diverse data sources is crucial to ensuring that insights promote equitable growth. And as promising as data sharing is for improving societal outcomes, the analysis of integrated data (especially through predictive analytics) can easily repeat inequities learned from past service delivery. Contextualizing data analysis with methods used by social sciences and ongoing community engagement is crucial to ensuring data analytics do not replicate or worsen inequitable outcomes.

Through our research, we found three key phases critical to establishing equitable and sustainable data sharing governance practices for social impact. Our guidebook helps individuals and teams seeking a primer to better understand the key legal, technical, and cultural components to data sharing governance. The guidebook provides a holistic process detailing each phase and extensive resources to aid stakeholders.

Stages of Data Sharing Governance

Build the collective

Get everyone on board. Start with the policy problem. Identify stakeholders. Take stock of capacity, motivations, barriers, and potential data solutions. Demonstrate value and reduce uncertainty to generate buy-in. Establish a minimum viable coalition and enshrine your shared vision in a charter. 

Data Sharing - Build the Collective graphic

Define the operations

Get everyone in line. Create the governance framework tied to the charter. Design a feedback loop and integrate it into the governance framework. Formalize those two elements into a data-sharing agreement. Launch the operations of the minimum viable coalition.

Drive impact

Get everyone to improve and share. Re-evaluate assumptions, approach, and metrics. Survey impacted communities and stakeholders. Use feedback loops to enact iterative improvements to the governance structure. Repeat this process until feedback becomes minimal. Scale up. 

We recognize that many different actors will be involved in this process and that each one faces unique challenges, goals, motivations, and opportunities. This guidebook is for people looking to leverage data and data sharing towards evidence-based policy making. Moreover, it can be used by policy makers and organizations interested in giving agency to individuals over their data along with organizations interested in ethically and responsibly sharing data. 

Data Sharing Driving Impact graphic

While data use can sometimes lead to harmful outcomes, what will never change is that data can, should, and will be used for good. Because data plays such a large role in society, it is imperative that organizations and governments use and share it responsibly. While there are resources out there to do this, our Guidebook delivers the perfect framework with resources, advice and practical examples for tackling the complexities of data sharing going forward. We look forward to supporting organizations as they activate the lessons we captured and will continue recording and sharing good practices through that process.

Natalie Evans Harris is a Beeck Center Fellow and a sought-after thought leader on the ethical and responsible use of data after nearly 20 years advancing the public sector’s strategic use of data. Follow her on Twitter @QuietStormNat

 

January 7, 2020

2020 is the last year of the millennium’s first decade (fight me), and promises to be an interesting one with a presidential election, Brexit, 50th anniversary of the start of the disco era, and whatever other surprises will surely arise.

We asked ourselves what we might see in the year ahead in the social impact space, here’s what we see in our crystal balls.

Impact at Scale Means Accelerating Movements

Today, scaling impact is too often conflated with scaling programs or organizations. No single program or organization, no matter how great it may be, can truly solve the complex social ills vexing the world. Rather it will take a coordinated effort across numerous sectors– from social ventures to policymakers to local social service providers. 

In 2020 and beyond, we’ll observe a sea change as funders and impact organizations alike tackle intractable social problems through a coordinated ecosystem lens rather than scaling pointed solutions in silos. Donor collaboratives like the Tipping Point Fund (a $12.5M coalition of nine foundations and family offices) and radical coordination like Imperative 21 (a business-led coalition of 72,000 businesses across 80 countries) will continue to increase as more investment in field building is needed to sustain the impact we want to see long-term. We believe grassroot efforts need to reach institutions where change can be more widely adopted and ultimately create the intended positive impact for all.

For the Beeck Center, that means playing the necessary role as a “grasstop” player, linking grassroot and institutional efforts poised for action, and putting our efforts toward the messy infrastructure work that can accelerate and sustain positive social impact movements.

– Nate Wong, Interim Executive Director 

Thoughts from Outside the Center

CEOs Will be Judged Both as Commercial Leaders and as Social Architects

It is clear the current dynamic business environment, combined with evolving social, economic, and political realities, the role of the CEO is transforming faster than many had expected for both public and private concerns. Specifically, CEOs are realizing the need to take more active and/or vocal roles around stakeholder issues such as healthcare, education and retraining, climate change, affordable housing and the like. The most effective and most successful CEOs for the near future will need to be both strong commercial leaders as well as courageous social architects to ensure that the community of stakeholders they serve is as engaged and productive as possible.

– Tierney Remick, Vice Chairman and Co-Leader, Board & CEO Services, Korn Ferry. 20 Predictions for Business & Society

person holding clear glass ball

Photo by Jenni Jones on Unsplash

Students Want a More Hands-On Approach to their Education

Experiential Learning will continue to play an increasingly prominent role in higher education, with further blending of the curricular and co-curricular in equipping students for careers in social impact.

The Beeck Center will continue to break down silos at Georgetown, accelerating collaboration across campus as we’ll work with different schools and student groups to better educate students for social impact leadership.

Matt Fortier, Director, Sustainable Student Impact

Thoughts from Outside the Center

Rising Student Voice Will Prompt a Paradigm Shift among Professors

Today, students enter business school increasingly aware and concerned about the critical issues of our day. Faculty – charged with equipping these students with the context and skills to make responsible business decisions – will face louder questions about how the concepts they are teaching relate to issues like climate change and inequality.  These collective student voices will be hard to ignore, forcing faculty to make a conscious choice between teaching the seemingly discrete theories and models in the same siloed manner or exploring these challenging questions by looking at business concepts through a broader, more multi-faceted lens.

– Jaime Bettcher, Program Manager, Aspen Institute Business & Society Program, 20 Predictions for Business & Society

gray and yellow tape measures and rulers

Photo by William Warby on Unsplash

A Demand for Results Means a Need for Tools to Measure Impact

We launched our Fair Finance initiative last year with the goal of righting the rules for shared prosperity, and we expect to see more partners engaged in our efforts as the year progresses.

Impact management practices and processes will converge as companies and investors increasingly look not only for measurable results, but for standard guidelines, commonly accepted tools and aligned frameworks to achieve positive and sustainable impact in communities.

If unemployment stays low, awareness of the need and opportunity to employ refugees and immigrants will increase.

The legislation that created Opportunity Zones (OZs) has only been in place for a short time, and as early movers begin to develop projects, more positive narratives about OZs will continue to emerge.

For us at the Beeck Center, we’ll bring together more of the key stakeholders in these areas as we convene our OZ Investor Council and complete a landscape analysis of workforce training opportunities for refugees and immigrants.

Lisa Hall, Director, Fair Finance 

Thoughts from Outside the Center

Move Beyond Gender to Include Broader Diversity

Gender equality and the inclusion of women on boards and founding teams has been a big theme over the past year and will continue to be an important agenda item.

However, as more investors recognize that diversity translates into more representative, better informed teams, we’re likely to see a bigger drive to redefine diversity beyond gender alone.

When it comes to diversity, there is still a lot of work to do and we shouldn’t limit this scope to gender alone.

– Karma Impact: Top 10 Impact Investing Trends for 2020

 

person holding clear glass ball with QR code background

Photo by Mitya Ivanov on Unsplash

Public Sector Workforce Grows Its Digital Skillset

In 2020 and beyond, data and technology will continue to drive the way our society builds systems and delivers services and we will need a workforce in the public interest and public sector—not just the private sector—that is equipped with the hard skills and policy expertise to leverage the tools of data and digital to deliver better outcomes. We need technologists in government to buy smarter so we don’t keep spending taxpayers dollars on software and products that vendors can’t or won’t deliver. We need technical skills at the policy making table in the public interest community and in government so major initiatives consider data opportunities and risks as well as tech implications in their design and also plan for rollout and implementation from the start. 

At the Beeck Center, I predict we will continue identifying ways that society can invest in the public interest technology community to ensure a workforce that meets our needs, and investing in projects and partnerships to drive forward the changing future we want to see. 

Cori Zarek, Director, Data + Digital

Thoughts from Outside the Center

Companies Will Expand CSR to Include CDR

More and more companies will embed data responsibility principles into the way they do business — and embrace corporate data responsibility, or CDR. The acronym may be new, but in a digital world, it’s the logical next step for companies committed to meeting their responsibilities to individuals, one another and society as a whole. For the Center for Inclusive Growth that means leveraging Mastercard expertise, data, technology and philanthropy to help ensure the digital economy happens for people, not to them.

– Shamina Singh, Founder and President, Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, EVP, Sustainability, Mastercard, and member, Beeck Center Advisory Board, 20 Predictions for Business & Society

In addition to our thoughts, here’s some of the predictions we’re seeing from outside our offices:

December 20, 2019 | By Margarita Arguello

As anyone choosing a college knows, finding the right balance of academic strength and affordability is incredibly difficult. In September 2015, in the midst of rising college costs and a changing U.S economy, the Obama administration launched the College Scorecard — a tool to help American families make decisions about college attendance by providing them “clear, reliable, open data on college affordability and value.” 

By pooling together data from various government agencies and conducting hundreds of interviews with potential users, government teams from the Department of Education, 18F, and the United States Digital Service (USDS) created something so useful, that within a year, 1.5 million unique users had accessed it and Google integrated its data so that it appears front and center when users conduct college-related searches. 

screen capture of google search for Georgetown University
In this screen capture from a Google search, the data fields including “Average cost after aid,” “Graduation rate,” and “Acceptance rate” draw from data collected by the U.S. Department of Education that is made available as open data through the College Scorecard project.

The College Scorecard is one example of how, throughout the past decade, the U.S. government has worked to leverage the tools of technology, data, and design to create digital products and services that directly impact the lives of people across the country. 

As evidenced by the College Scorecard, data and digital are already proving to be powerful drivers of social impact. However, there is still much to figure out in terms of how to best use these tools to create solutions that actually work for people, while also being mindful of user privacy and safety concerns. This is what the Beeck Center’s Digital Service Collaborative and the Georgetown Technology Policy Initiative sought to explore this fall through its Data, Digital + Social Impact Seminar Series. Over five seminars, experts in the field joined Georgetown students to deconstruct the nuances behind digital transformations in government  and delved deep into the topics of open data, privacy, ethics, and design for social good. Providing students an opportunity to learn practical solutions for delivering positive social impact is a key element of the Center’s mission, and one way it generates impact at scale.

The kick-off seminar provided students with a basic understanding of the building-blocks of data and examples of how social impact leaders have worked to improve the lives of people around the world through the use of open data initiatives that is, by releasing data to the public in digestible formats that allows anyone to access the data, use it and republish it. For example, Beeck Center Fellow Denice Ross, who was previously a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow and before that led open data for the City of New Orleans, talked about how emergency planners in the city of New Orleans now use open data from various federal and state government agencies to better coordinate their hurricane response efforts to prevent disastrous scenarios like those seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. 

Similarly Erica Hagen, co-founder and director at GroundTruth Initiative,  spoke about her experience leading Map Kibera — a project that aimed to create a map of Kibera, a previously unmapped slum in the Kenyan city of Nairobi. By using GIS mapping technology and enlisting the help of the people of Kibera, Hagen and her team were able to produce a map giving residents of this neighborhood access to accurate and useful information, such as the location of clinics and pharmacies within the community.

These conversations raised the important question of how to use data to design policy solutions that actually work for the people they are intended to serve. During later seminars, the expert speakers weighed in on this issue and discussed basic frameworks for effective policy making in an era of rapidly changing digital technologies. 

 

Students sit around a conference table
Beeck Center Fellow Natalie Evans Harris discusses privacy implications of data use on Oct. 8, 2019.

The most prominent ideas that the experts proposed for solving this problem involved adopting some of the popular practices of the tech sector into the policy-making process. These include conducting thorough rounds of user research in the early stages of the policy-making process, designing experimental solutions that can eventually be brought to scale, creating a “Minimum Viable Product” and then iterating to improve it, and using tech-enabled methods to incorporate the views, habits and feedback of the people that their products and services are intended to help. 

Throughout every session of the series, the experts walked students through case studies that exemplify how these concepts have been applied in real life. For example, USDS founding member Erie Meyer, who is now a tech advisor at the Federal Trade Commission, talked about how, in leading the College Scorecard project, her team took a user-centered approach that involved conducting extensive user research and collecting feedback along every step of the process. 

Likewise, Rebellion Defense co-founder Chris Lynch spoke about his experience working to improve the lives of U.S. troops in Afghanistan through his work leading the Defense Digital Service at the U.S. Department of Defense. In this role, Lynch and his team revamped and reinvented the tools and practices that the DoD uses on the ground.

Although the conversations in these five seminars shed light on the complex processes that have made digital solutions like the College Scorecard a promising reality in the United States, much work remains to be done as policy makers and scholars alike navigate the process of digitizing social services. For this reason, the Beeck Center continues to explore the topics of data governance, digital service delivery, and tech policy through its Data + Digital portfolio. 

 

Margarita Arguello is a student analyst at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation. She is a master’s student in the McCourt School of Public Policy and will graduate in May 2020.

December 10, 2019 | By Ben Lang

For someone interested in working at the intersection of cities and data, I didn’t find a clear pathway for either classwork or experiential learning here at Georgetown, at first. There simply is no guide for students to work in cities and data unlike the vast amount of resources on social impact at a national level. 

To fill this gap, I researched these types of opportunities and interviewed expert practitioners in this field to create the basis of a resource guide for students like myself seeking to formulate a career path through data and impact in cities.


“Lead your search with causes you’re passionate about, rather than working within data itself.”

– Natalie Evans Harris


As a starting point, I visited Georgetown’s Cawley Career Center last year to better understand what to prioritize when choosing a career. They gave me good input and a helpful framework. That led to a summer internship in my hometown of Atlanta working at a nonprofit devoted to community investment, social impact, and the leadership of Downtown Atlanta.

This semester, I came to the Beeck Center, where I’m working with fellows and partners who have built their careers working in this exact area. Current fellow and former director of Enterprise Information for the City of New Orleans Denice Ross shared with me the importance of finding local leadership that values the same type of innovation as you do.

I’m also supporting fellow Natalie Evans Harris, a former Senior Advisor to the U.S. Chief Technology Officer and data expert for the National Security Agency, as we finalize a guidebook on responsible data practices. Through the process, I’ve learned the importance of engaging the community and data stakeholders every step of the way to help drive impact. On a more specific level, she’s shared with me the importance of leading your search with causes you’re passionate about, rather than work within data itself. 

As expected, despite my hours of research and interviewing, I did not come up with a one-size-fits-all solution. Luckily, I was able to formulate a few best practices along with a basic framework of where students can enter the field at a local level. 

First, because at the local level you are directly engaging with a community, it is imperative to be aware of your own internal biases. Resources like “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” and “Building Technology With, Not for Communities” are just the tip of the iceberg on the necessary perspectives to keep in mind when working inside any community. To effectively provide equitable solutions, we need to fully understand why and how data work will drive impact.

Second, we should try to find opportunities in impact that fulfill our own personal values before leading with data as a whole. Drawing on the framework I learned from Cawley to formulate my career path (prioritizing your values, interests, personality, and skills), if you do not recognize and pursue opportunities that engage all four categories, what you might gain in external recognition you will likely lack in personal drive. Additionally, the Beeck Center’s own Social Impact Navigator is a great tool for self-assessment before starting a career in social impact. 

With that in mind, here are three attainable ways for students and young professionals to get involved at the local level: 

  • Getting involved with your local Code for America Brigade
    • In cities all across America, the brigades meet regularly to educate, discuss and create tools for local government and impact. Involving yourself with these opportunities allows you to network and grow on a professional and local level.
  • Opportunities in city governments through data, technology, and innovation offices such as offices of CIOs, CTOs and CDOs
    • These offices of government provide the foremost opportunity to manage and use data for public impact from entry-level positions all they to the top. Moreover, outside of data offices, one can take advantage of data in many departments of local government like sustainability, transportation, and education.
  • Careers at nonprofits and foundations like Downtown Improvement Districts (DID) and the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP)
    • Every city has different types of nonprofits, but most cities have organizations committed to data-driven approaches for government efficiency, community investment or simply data for the greater good. DID’s are tax-funded organizations that provide economic development and other services to bridge the gap between the public and private sectors. The International Downtown Association(linked above) is a national organization that helps organize these DIDs. The NNIP is another example of local nonprofits working to use data for the common good.

Working with local data gives people the opportunity to think creatively about new solutions without suffering from as many bureaucratic issues at the national or even state level. One can look to examples from Broward County and New Orleans to see the fantastic innovation done at the local level. This research provides a brief introduction to the important and extensive opportunities for students and professionals to engage with data at a local level and drive impact. 

In the future, I look forward to pursuing opportunities in my hometown to help Atlanta run as effectively, equitably, and efficiently as possible. For me, this means actively searching for roles that balance data and service. While I cannot say specifically what this will lead to, I can already see a more defined framework of paths to follow as I go into my final three semesters at Georgetown and begin the job hunt. 

Ben Lang is a Fall 2019 Student Analyst at the Beeck Center studying Economics and German in the Georgetown College. Contact him at bel46@georgetown.edu or follow him on Twitter at @blang716.

The digital transformation of government is a powerful idea. It has sparked great enthusiasm and speculation about how technology and data might revolutionize government efficiency, policy-making and service delivery. But despite significant investments and innovations, these promises have not yet delivered at scale.

To better understand the limits and potential of digital technologies in American government, the Digital Service Collaborative (DSC) at Georgetown University’s Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation1The Digital Service Collaborative (DSC) is a program designed to develop research around government digital services, create tangible resources for practitioners, cultivate the community of digital service leaders in governments to share and scale efforts, and explore policy considerations including ethics and privacy. The DSC team is based out of the Beeck Center at Georgetown University, supporting public and private sector efforts to responsibly share and use data to address some of society’s most challenging issues and to support civic engagement with public institutions. See https://beeckcenter.georgetown.edu/project/digital-service-collaborative-building-capacity-for-digital-transformation-in-government/, accessed 21 October 2019. spent five months talking with people working at the frontlines of digital transformation in US cities, counties, states, and federal agencies.

A full description of background, methods and findings from this research are presented in the 37-page report: Setting the Stage for Transformation: Frontline Reflections on Technology in American Government.

Key findings and recommendations are presented here, including the following recommendations:

table of 14 recommendations

A summary of these recommendations and the research on which they are based is presented below in three sections. 

  • The first section describes how people working on the frontlines of American government experience the limits and potential of technology more generally. 
  • The second section describes the above recommendations in greater detail. 
  • The final section provides a brief description of the research methodology and context in which this should be considered. 

Understanding Transformation

18F defines digital transformation according to three characteristics of a transformed government institution: the connectedness of staff to an agency’s mission, the application of technology toward that mission, and agency commitment to continued improvement.2Pandel et al., “Best Practices in Government Digital Transformation: Preliminary Report.” Responses to this research supported that view, but also described digital transformation as more of a journey than a destination. This is best summarized in the following three arguments: 

  1. Digital transformation is an iterative and evolutionary process, in which new tools and strategies are applied and demonstrate value incrementally, opening space and interest for additional tools. No single tool or strategy ever immediately transforms an institution.
  2. Digital technologies are an instrument for improving government and not an end in themselves. The objective behind implementing any digital tool, product or associated process is and should always be providing better government and better government services to the public. 
  3. Digital technology is embedded in contemporary governance; it cannot be avoided, nor should it be fetishized. As a descriptive term, “digital government” makes as little sense as “paper government.” To effectively adapt to the new technological context in which they necessarily operate requires government institutions to acknowledge that using digital tools is the new normal. 

In keeping with these arguments, respondents viewed digital transformation as something that could and should be managed by people working in government, in order to improve government and the services it provides. In particular, respondents described multiple benefits and contributions that the smart use of technology and data could provide to (a) civic interaction and service delivery; (b) data, evidence and analytics; and (c) efficiency and resources.  Respondents also described numerous specific obstacles and barriers posed by (a) insufficient capacities or resources, (b) formal rules and institutional structures, and (c) institutional cultures and preconceptions. 

Respondents described an interaction between short term benefits of using technology, and the long-term changes to institutional practice and culture that would enable more scaled and widespread use of technology to improve outcomes. This interaction is how respondents described processes of digital transformation in government institutions. 

When describing what enables such processes, respondents described three broad institutional conditions:

  1. Explicit support for cross-functional technical expertise
  2. Deliberate professionalization of technical expertise, and 
  3. Open and engaged institutions. 

In order to facilitate these conditions, and set the stage for meaningful digital transformation in government institutions, this analysis makes fourteen recommendations to policy-makers, implementers, and external stakeholders.

Recommendations

Recommendations for policy makers 

  1. Lead with curiosity. There is often an esoteric quality to the types of tools and strategies referenced in this report. This makes them easy to dismiss, underestimate, or in some cases, it can inflate expectations. Leaders in government should take time to explore and understand the roles, skills and ways of working that are associated with the strategies described here, and the value that they can add to policy and service delivery. Doing so helps to maximize their value, and to signal that value across institutions, while also strengthening coherence across teams and setting realistic expectations.
  2. Initiate an explicit institutional discussion. This might take any number of forms, including an audit of existing practices, setting up a task force to review opportunities, or simply asking technical staff to begin holding brown bag lunches. The important thing is to create a space in which new ideas and approaches can be suggested and considered, with a real potential for implementation. The context of this discussion could also vary widely. A good checklist can be drawn from the “seven lenses of transformation” proposed for defining and benchmarking transformation by the 7 UK Government Digital Service.3Vickerstaff and Cunnington, “How to Set up Transformation Projects That Could Shape Our Future.”
  3. Budget creatively. The cost of technology can be inhibitive. Engage technical staff to identify ways in which implementing digital can cut costs elsewhere. What processes could be automated to free human resources? What paper processes can be digitized to eliminate printing and transporting costs?
  4. Build cross-functional teams. Identify ways to avoid responsive silos of technical expertise by integrating technical and non-technical expertise in teams and processes. Create opportunities for technical and policy experts to collaborate across project cycles, from planning to evaluation, even in projects where technology or data play a minor role. When possible, aim to establish cross-functional and co-located teams in order to strengthen learning and cross-pollination between technical and policy expertise.
  5. Demystify technology and cultivate tech-normal institutional cultures. Identify opportunities for trainings, hosting events, or inviting speakers that can communicate the nuts and bolts of relevant data and technology. Cultivate an institutional environment that values frank conversations about technology and its limits, and that does not fetishize technical expertise at the expense of other expertise. 
  6. Avoid exploitative procurement. One of the most profound ways to limit the cost of technology programs is to avoid overpaying on technology procurement. Contacting peer institutions that have made comparable investments and conducting more thorough market research can help.4Brethauer, “Announcing OASIS Discovery: Making Market Research Easier.” It may also be possible to pursue cooperative procurement,5See, for example https://www.nigp.org/home/find-procurement-resources/directories/cooperative-purchasing-programs, accessed 21 October 2019. modular contracting,6Jaquith, “Prerequisites for Modular Contracting.” or to piggyback on existing contracts with other government agencies or institutions.7See https://www.coprocure.us/about.html, accessed 21 October 2019. 
  7. Foster environments for responsible experimentation. Attention to the novel risks that accompany technology and data often focus on challenges to privacy and consent, but also involve more subtle ethical risks, such as poorly informed policy or the opportunity cost of wasted technology budgets and processes. Explicit institutional processes and attention during planning and analysis phases can help to identify and mitigate these risks, and can be integrated into several of the other recommendations presented here.8For a detailed description of a process-based approach to managing risks associated with government data, see Wilson, 2018. For a collection of applied tools, see the Responsible Research and Innovation Toolkit at  https://www.rri-tools.eu/about-rri, accessed 21 October 2019. 

Recommendations for implementers and doers

  1. Document and share digital and data-driven projects and processes. The demand for storytelling and experience sharing is widespread and consistent across the front lines of digital transformation. Conferences and events provide a much-needed forum for inspiration and “therapy” — as well as learning and education — but there remains a need for technical documentation for the types of projects that are implemented in multiple jurisdictions. Make a point of documenting technical specifications, steps taken, challenges and processes along the way. Share this. 
  2. Don’t reinvent the wheel, the interface, or the database. There is a significant degree of replication in government technology. Conduct market research to determine what similar platforms and products have been created by others.9The Federal Source Code Policy supports reuse and public access to custom-developed Federal source code, which is published at https://code.gov/about/overview/introduction. Organizations like 18F and Code for America also often publish detailed documentation and descriptions of digital tools (see https://18f.gsa.gov/2016/04/06/take-our-code-18f-projects-you-can-reuse/ and https://www.codeforamerica.org/news, accessed 21 October 2019.). International resources, like the International Development Bank’s repository of off-the-shelf technology solutions may also be useful (see https://code.iadb.org/en, accessed 21 October 2019). Modify and adapt open source solutions when appropriate. Produce and share open source solutions whenever possible. 
  3. Create feedback loops between the public and government. Most digital services imply an opportunity to solicit feedback from users. Leverage this to collect input for continually improving those services. Ensure that users can see how their input is received and that they feel heard. Look for opportunities to publicly respond to feedback, building confidence and trust in government. 
  4. Several of the above recommendations for policy makers can also be relevant, especially regarding procurement, creative budgeting, demystification, and responsible experimentation. 

Recommendations for external stakeholders

  1. Fund the “boring stuff“. Grants and resources tend to flow toward what seem to be the most novel and exciting projects, like blockchain and machine learning products, which are often untested, unproven and not what government leaders will say they need most urgently. Often, the kinds of digital and data-driven innovations with the greatest potential to transform government and government services can sound a lot less exciting, and struggle to find support. Developing common data identifiers across agencies or moving data from servers in a closet into a secure cloud environment are examples of work with revolutionary potential, but for which it is difficult to secure funding. 
  2. Support everyday superheroes. Several respondents pointed out that the most important and transformative work isn’t always being done by the usual suspects on the civic technology conference circuit. Some of the most impactful support may involve doing research to discover who is already naturally advancing digital transformation in state and local government, without recognition, and what kind of support they need to scale their successes. In the words of one respondent, discussing the limits of support to CIOs, CTOs, and CDOs, “C-suite only gets you so far. You need to focus on the people in the field.”
  3. Build an ecosystem for social support. Dedicated support to specific projects is important, but much of the work to enable digital transformation involves more sharing and learning across institutions. To the degree that this is already happening, it is happening organically. Gatherings such as the annual Code for America Summit10See https://www.codeforamerica.org/events/summit, accessed 21 October 2019. provide prominent fora for digital service professionals to gather and share, as do internationally focused events and communities, like those surrounding the Open Government Partnership11See https://www.opengovpartnership.org/ accessed 21 October 2019. and the international open data community.12Christopher Wilson, “Open Data Stakeholders: Civil Society.” The movement of experienced digital service experts through the agencies and institutions they support is also seen as an important, if limited, mechanism for building community and spreading awareness. The digital service delivery community should create more opportunities and modalities for government champions to engage with and learn from their peers, both in person and online. 

About this research

This research was designed based on the conviction that the individuals doing hands-on work to bring technology into government best understand technology’s potential and limitations. These individuals do the hard work transforming government. Their work isn’t always the most exciting or shareable, i. It sometimes results in compromise and failure. But it is from this perspective that we can best understand what technology can do to improve government, and how to manage the risks and challenges along the way. 

To better understand the perspectives, the DSC team collected data and conducted interviews between November 2018 and March 2019. This included a desk review of more than 80 articles, reports, and policy briefs, semi-structured interviews with more than 70 individuals, and informal consultation and planning conversations with more than a dozen professionals and organizations. The data collected from this process was reviewed during a three-day synthesis workshop in March 2019. A detailed description of the methodology is provided in the full report: Setting the Stage for Transformation: Frontline Reflections on Technology in American Government.

A note on the research context for digital government transformation

This research builds directly on the foundational efforts of New American Foundation’s work on Public Interest Technology and government innovation,13Schank and Hudson, “Getting the Work Done : What Government Innovation Really Looks Like”; Muñoz et al., “Public Interest Technology: Closing out Year One and Looking Forward to Year Two.” by focusing specifically on the experiences of front-line civil servants and policy makers. It makes an effort to deepen that work by attending to the role of individuals at multiple levels of government and in multiple policy areas. 

In doing so, this analysis departs most research on the digital transformation of government, which adopts a global perspective and emphasizes the work of national level digital service teams.14Bracken and Greenway, “How to Achieve Sustain Gov. Digit. Transform.”; Eaves and McGuire, “2018 State of Digital Transformation.” Much of that work is also relevant to this analysis, however, and should be considered in future research transformation processes in American institutions. In particular, recent work by Ines Mergel and colleagues has suggested a conceptual model for linking the drivers, objects, processes, and outcomes of digital transformation,15Mergel, Edelmann, and Haug, “Defining Digital Transformation: Results from Expert Interviews.” and four propositions regarding the sustainability and impact of digital service teams.16Mergel, “Digital Service Teams in Government,” 10–11. A summary of the four propositions suggests that the effectiveness of digital service teams is related to their centralization of decision authority, that the duplication of practice across teams increases the likelihood of adoption elsewhere, that increased formalization of teams increases their capacity to scale and likelihood of standardization of practice, and that the acceleration of organizational change increases the likelihood of standardized and successful innovation practice. These may provide useful frameworks for designing and evaluating specific applications of technology to institutional processes in future research.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 9, 2019 | By Christopher Wilson

Digital tools and strategies have a tremendous potential to transform government: improving services, boosting efficiency, and strengthening ties to the public. The last decade has seen several important milestones as data and technology have been leveraged to solve specific challenges across the vast scope of government in the United States. 

But despite the best efforts of technologists, visionaries, and institutional champions, the full potential of these tools has been slow to materialize at scale.  

To better understand why, the Beeck Center spent several months in early 2019 conducting research and interviewing experts working in and around tech in government. We spoke to people on the front lines of digital transformation, doing the hard work of making technology useful for government, and making government better. More than 70 people leading or supporting the novel use of technology or data in federal, state, and local government in the United States told us about how these tools could best add value to government, what was obstructing their work, and what they needed to do their work better. 

Their stories confirmed that there are a lot of hopes and concerns surrounding government technology, and that there are big differences in how the opportunities and challenges play out across different policy areas and levels of government. But there are also common threads, and one message was clear: 

Technology and data are the new normal, and governments have no choice but to address how they impact the core work of government. This has tremendous potential to improve government and government services. But technology is no magic bullet, and never catalyzes government transformation on its own.

People working at the front lines of government technology and innovation rather describe digital transformation as an iterative and evolutionary process. They describe a variety of ways in which it can be supported, challenged, and leveraged to facilitate lasting transformation. 

cover of Setting the Stage for Transformation report
Download the Report

Drawing on those perspectives, the Beeck Center is rolling out a new report documenting the perspectives and needs from the frontlines of digital transformation.

Setting the Stage for Transformation: Frontline Reflections on Technology in Government reviews what we learned, and suggests that there are three broad institutional conditions that facilitate digital transformation by using technology-related tools and strategies to add value to specific programs and processes. 

  1. Explicit support for cross-functional technical expertise
  2. Deliberate professionalization of technical expertise, and 
  3. Open and engaged institutions. 

In considering how to establish those conditions and set the stage for digital transformation in government institutions, the report also makes specific recommendations to policy-makers, implementers, and external stakeholders. 

table of 14 recommendations
To review the full results of this research, you can download the full report, including detailed methodologies, findings and analysis, or read the report highlights that presents the main findings and conclusions.

This analysis builds directly on foundational work done by researchers from the Public Interest Technology team at New America and the digital HKS project at Harvard University, as well as practitioners currently and formerly on government teams. We hope that it advances both research and practice in the field, and enables more of the good work already being done to improve government through the use of new tools, technologies, and approaches.

Christopher Wilson is a fellow at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation.  His research focuses on open government, citizen participation, and the influence of international norms on government practice. He is based out of Oslo, Norway. He blogs about research and methods for assessing civic technology at https://methodicalsnark.org.

November 22, 2019 | By Tyler Kleykamp

In an era where states often compete with one another for jobs, economic development, or federal funding, the spirit of cooperation was at the forefront last week as the Beeck Center gathered the nation’s state Chief Data Officers (CDOs) together for the first time. States are increasingly naming CDOs to serve in executive roles to influence the way states collect, maintain, and operationalize data to improve services for the public as well as to build efficiencies and effectiveness into internal systems. 

At Georgetown, the CDOs spent two days sharing challenges and successes and identifying opportunities to collaborate with one another. While they had been meeting monthly via conference call for years, this is the first time they had all been together in person. Sixteen CDOs attended, representing all but one state that has a formally established CDO role, and including one CDO who had only been on the job for five days. 

Group shot of state CDOs
State CDOs met in person for the first time at Georgetown on Nov. 12-13, 2019.

“You have to lead with value.”

The CDOs opened the meeting by sharing successes from the previous year. Examples included technology implementations like data integration platforms and improving public availability of data as well as cultural changes such as creating agency data officers and enhancing data literacy. They also discussed broad issues related to their core responsibilities and how they’ve overcome some of the challenges associated with the job, resulting in some central themes. First, relationships matter. It was clear that building trust with their partner agencies is critical and CDOs must demonstrate that they are enabling the agencies and personnel they work with to better leverage data. As one CDO said, “You have to lead with value.” Mandates and more heavy-handed approaches to data sharing can easily make their job more challenging, but they must also demonstrate the ability to handle data in responsible and legally compliant ways. 

A second theme was the amount of friction that occurs in sharing and using data. Much of this is necessary to ensure that sensitive data remains protected and that its use is legally compliant, while other issues are related to the data itself. Issues like data quality, lack of standards, or common identifiers present challenges. CDOs shared how they’ve streamlined or standardized legal agreements and ways they’ve dealt with more technical challenges — but it was clear that more can be done. One solution was having dedicated legal support for CDOs. “Having an attorney who ‘gets it’ and can speak the language of other attorneys has been critical,” shared one CDO.

A primary goal of the convening was to strengthen personal connections among CDOs in additional to building their professional relationships. A rapid-fire question-and-answer session allowed CDOs to explore emerging data issues like artificial intelligence, geospatial data, and new data protection laws. This matchmaking exercise quickly identified common issues they are thinking about so they could follow up afterward. Another mechanism to encourage more personal relationships was through “speed networking,” pairing people for short one-on-one meetings, providing an opportunity for individual conversations in a less formal setting, and setting them up to feel more comfortable working collaboratively in the future.

woman and man standing in conversation
CDOs Ed Kelly (Texas) and Julia Fischer (Maryland) engaged in conversation during an afternoon break.

A CDO’s job is big, but they consistently expressed a need to start small. They discussed surfacing discrete use cases and immediate steps they can take in their states to equip them with techniques they can apply immediately. For example, pulling together public data into a GIS map to better understand risks to children, or conducting an inventory of data that can inform an issue are great places to start. 

Another approach was to break the CDOs into smaller groups to identify specific policy areas important to their states to identify common priorities which surfaced issues like workforce opportunities, reducing opioid-related deaths, and improving child welfare. The groups established ways they can leverage their role or data to make a positive impact immediately, and identified opportunities that may be more challenging where additional support and facilitation from partners like the Beeck Center could move the needle further. 

Woman sits between two men at a round table in conversation
CDOs John Correllus (North Carolina) and Rhonda Lehman (Delaware) discuss public policy priorities with Eric Sweden of the National Association of Chief Information Officers.

Working collaboratively with the Beeck Center team, CDOs identified a broad array of high impact items that can boost their work including: 

  • templates for data sharing agreements or data inventories
  • repositories of documents or information
  • more in-depth research on technology solutions and best practices 

The exercise demonstrated the value that the Beeck Center can bring to this emerging field and allows us to prioritize the creation of high impact tools.

Sticky notes on easel paper to represent a matrix
At the convening, CDOs identified tools that could support their efforts and ranked them based on the impact they could have and the effort necessary to produce them.

Another approach with this group was to include expert lightning talks to demonstrate big ideas to use data for social impact including better serving the most vulnerable individuals in emergencies, reducing recidivism, preventing lead poisoning, improving elections, and enhancing child welfare. These plug-and-play solutions have shown promise in some jurisdictions and are ready for wider adoption by other states. Additionally, a panel of city, state, and federal government officials explored opportunities for collaboration and discussed where states can make a unique impact with data including through improvements in educational outcomes and access to jobs.

State CDOs are doing incredible work in their states, and at the Beeck Center we are committed to highlighting those successes so they can be replicated across the country. We’re getting started immediately on building a CDO toolkit that will include resources both highlighted at this convening and activated elsewhere and will support CDOs in their commitments to sharing resources such as legal agreements with the network. 

The Beeck Center will continue to convene this network both in person and online through webinars and other touchpoints and we look forward to welcoming in the next wave of CDOs as seven states recruit for these roles and hopefully join the network. The role of the State CDO Network will remain focused on keeping the momentum going until we meet again, which one CDO declared, “…is absolutely the one event I have to go to.”

 

Tyler Kleykamp is the Director of the State Chief Data Officers Network at the Beeck Center. He was previously the CDO for the State of Connecticut from 2014-2019 and led many of the early calls and connections among state CDOs.


Related Stories

November 20, 2019 | By Robert Roussel 

A great idea is a terrible thing to waste, and people do it all the time. 

In academia and policy institutions, research is often regarded as a key analytical asset. However, research alone has limited utility. Research needs to be resourced with practices and structures in order for that research to be activated, iterated upon, and deployed. Failing to do so shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of research—a failure to understand that research is a means and not an end. This approach begins with how we train students and I worry that, all too often, academic training has entrenched problematic approaches to teaching aspiring professionals what the value of research actually is.

I went to graduate school to learn how to evaluate and implement public policies, which, at the end of the day, was about translating statistics and analysis into writing. My peers and I considered writing both our biggest pain point and our most powerful asset. I was reminded of this recently as I sorted through old papers and memos to pick a writing sample when applying for a job that would, in part, pay me to write. I started remembering all of the topics and arguments I had so eloquently and passionately inked onto a digital page. Undeniably, my graduate program taught us how to write and think logically and persuasively but as I perused my hard drive for old papers, I could not shake the feeling that my new ‘ideal’ job at a think tank — the one I’ve been wanting for years — would relegate my writing to a fate similar to my academic exercises: gathering dust, and longing for eyeballs.

Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash

To businesses and consultancies, the idea that research without applications is useless is obvious. In academia, this culture is not always the norm. At Georgetown, I had the privilege of practicing valuable quantitative and analytical skills through thoughtful exercises led by experts in their fields. Even at this institution, however, I couldn’t help feeling that some professors often seemed quite willing to ignore the need for a more applied approach to teaching, tacitly implying that an efficient division of labor within the policy-making ecosystem would translate our clever and thoughtful words into action.

Researchers in academic settings need to be rewarded for being consulted by policy makers, not cited by fellow researchers.

Researchers in academic settings need to be rewarded for being consulted by policy makers, not cited by fellow researchers. Even when professors were practitioners themselves, their in-class behaviors often failed to reflect that fact. It seems more likely than not that this approach is not just borne out of convenience, but a culture rooted in academic tradition. Though universities like to talk big about their cutting-edge research, often their approaches to pedagogy seem remarkably risk-averse. Academic culture is very slow to change, and the incentives for taking such a large departure are just not there. This culture shift will likely need to occur from the bottom-up, as students demand to be more involved in the activation of research—meaning that any education should be as much about writing words as it is about resourcing those words in clever intentional ways that help, rather than hope, words to translate to actions and actions translate to impact.

How to ‘Activate’ Research: A Brief Case Study

During my time at the Beeck Center, I noticed that the leadership was placing a lot of emphasis on activities other than research, such as convenings, workshops, interviews, or meetings. One of my projects was to design a framework and resource repository for establishing responsible data-sharing practices for social impact. Many third-party organizations have emerged to help facilitate data-sharing for social impact but the resources for sharers and the bandwidth of these facilitators are limited. From the start, it was clear this research was just a launching point and not the end product. We were also going to build a community around this research product that would help activate it and keep it alive, constantly open to change as new best practices and case studies emerge. To me, this approach — one that is both highly collaborative and constantly seeking input — is exactly the way we should be approaching public problems.

One of the most often given pieces of advice is that people should spend 99% of their time understanding the problem and that, if working this way, finding a solution should be so obvious that it takes just the remaining 1% to solve. If that is true, we need to be extra sure that we are solving the right problem or else our deployed solution might not be all that useful. The cleverness of keeping the Beeck Center’s data-sharing guidebook ‘alive’ was that it made the guidebook both a solution and a problem exploration process at the same time. Certainly, it aimed to create a solution to a problem but its openness serves as a way to constantly re-evaluate this solution. That malleability and that openness to collaborate is what will activate the research in the guidebook.

This is a smart approach to making sure that research is activated, but it might not go far enough. With the resources and bandwidth of stakeholders being limited, there are clearly gaps in capacity that limit the scalability of this project. While being careful of the hubris of applying a ‘there’s an app for that’ mentality to complex social problems, I proposed a solution that can help activate the guidebook and resource guide. This solution was borne out of a seemingly impossible trade-off between brevity and usefulness. A shorter guidebook would have recommendations that are more digestible but would have to be more generic, and by extension, not useful beyond a surface level. 

My answer, which is an answer I urge researchers facing problems of activation to consider, is a customizable tool (a ‘wizard’, if you remember Windows ’98) that creates unique guidebooks and resource-repositories for each ‘bin’ of users, reflecting the variety of resources, motivations, and barriers or different stakeholders. When it comes to translating research into action, this approach would significantly help constrained organizations that may not have the resources to discover new approaches wade through the literature and see how it might apply to them.

Advice for Policy Students and Researchers

Seen in the most generous of lights, writing academic papers and memos is training for conducting professional research in the real world. I fear, however, that many students will trip on these bad habits as they enter the professional research world—and that those worlds are comprised of ex-students with similar tendencies. With so many vital issues facing the social sector, we need to be sure that our research efforts build out our ability to generate actionable recommendations and tangible impact. A relevant internship or part-time job while in school could be one possible step forward here, but many students complain that their time is spent on passive class assignments and papers that remain all too often unread and unused. Opportunities that give students a real taste of what it is like to see research applied are lacking — and this is a role that academia needs to fill. In my opinion, applied graduate programs should be thoroughly experiential, matching students with real clients in real teams to solve real problems. Across the country, universities are experimenting with this model, but this new approach is a heavy lift and would require a major revamping of the tenure model — an unlikely proposition in many settings.

Unlike coursework, research doesn’t end when a paper is handed to a superior. If you believe that, by handing someone a memo, you have just handed that person everything they need to know for them to get the job done, you are likely mistaken. You dove deep and you need to be intimately involved in applying that research. The term policy maker is a catch-all term and its vagueness makes it rather difficult to understand when the research stops and the policy creation begins. I urge policy students to reject the suspicions borne out of the structure of their academic program that see a clear demarcation between these two fields. Only when we are deeply involved in a project from ‘start’ to ‘finish’ can we effectively suggest action that is researchable and create research that is actionable.

Don’t let your great ideas gather dust in the cloud; have them gather stardust.

 

Robert Roussel was a student analyst at the Beeck Center in Summer 2019. He is a 2019 graduate of the Georgetown University McCourt School for Public Policy and is currently working at Accenture Federal Services as a tech analyst.

The Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University today announced a new initiative to support state governments in their efforts to better use data in support of public policy and service delivery with the creation of the State Chief Data Officer Network. The Network connects top-level data leadership, facilitating sharing best practices in the use of data at the state level.

The Chief Data Officer (CDO) position is relatively new in state government. Colorado was the first to create the position in 2011, and today 25 states and the District of Columbia have a CDO or comparable position. As a first step in launching the network, the Beeck Center is hosting all of the current state CDOs on campus at Georgetown University for two days of robust discussions and knowledge sharing.

“The Beeck Center focuses on scaling promising grassroot efforts so they will ultimately change systems and institutions,” said Nate Wong, Executive Director, Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University. “The value of data officers in public technology has been understated. Bringing State CDOs together under one roof will create stronger ideas, improved coordination, and ultimately showcase the need for this role in all 50 states.”

Beeck Center Fellow Tyler Kleykamp, the former CDO of Connecticut, joined Georgetown University in September to lead the State CDO Network. “Using data to identify areas to target solutions for social issues like opioid addiction, child welfare, and economic mobility is a growing need across the country, and the members of this network bring a wealth of experience and success to share with each other.” 

Without strong data management and oversight, information can’t be put to its strongest purpose. Connecting State CDOs, creates a consistent vehicle to communicate emerging successes and exchange effective strategies related to the cultural, legal, and technological challenges associated with leveraging data as a strategic asset, ultimately providing better services to the public. For example:

  • Indiana built a data display providing access to local, regional and statewide data to inform talent attraction, development, and connection strategies
  • Utah published 6 years of executive office spending into Spending.Utah.gov and provided 10 years of checkbook data from cities, counties, school districts, universities and other public entities on OpenData.Utah.gov
  • Washington, DC completed an Open Data Handbook for DC Agencies to follow 
screenshot of Indiana's 21st Century Talent Regions Data Display
View of Indiana’s 21st Century Talent Regions Data Display

The State CDO Network is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Schmidt Futures, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and in partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation, and aims to:

  • Identify successful efforts and strategies used by states to leverage and integrate data that might scale to other states
  • Discover priority issues in states where data can be better utilized to drive policy and service delivery
  • Support the work state CDOs produce through playbooks, templates, models, or toolkits
  • Inspire other states to adopt the role of CDO

The State CDO Network is part of the Beeck Center’s Digital Service Collaborative, a project in partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation that is supporting efforts focused on leveraging data and digital services for better outcomes.

November 6, 2019 | By Vandhana Ravi

Working within a large, academic establishment, it is hard to ignore that we live in an era of cynicism. You can almost smell the distrust in our institutions of power in the drafty libraries and sweaty hallways. This shouldn’t be surprising; according to a Pew Research study, 75% of Americans believe that their trust in government is declining and perhaps even scarier, 64% of Americans believe their trust in each other has been shrinking as well. What hasn’t wavered, despite the depth of American skepticism, is our belief in the power of our communities to lead the charge in revitalizing our institutions from the bottom up. This value of service and civic participation is what drives the National Day of Civic Hacking, a movement organized seven years ago and hosted annually by Code for America.

The National Day of Civic Hacking brings together coders, technologists, and designers with policymakers, lawyers, advocates, students, and regular community members to put their heads together and help local governments provide better services for everyone. This year’s event on Sept. 21, 2019 was in partnership with National Expungement Week and focused on the record clearance process by teaming local brigades with expungement clinics and criminal justice lawyers. Our local Code for DC brigade partnered with the Rising for Justice Expungement Clinic, which is one of the only places in Washington, D.C. where anyone with a criminal record will be provided free legal counsel and representation to seal their criminal record, which makes their record inaccessible to the public without a court order.

The legal levers of record sealing and expungement can be powerful tools for restorative justice. It helps aid economic empowerment by removing barriers of access in obtaining a new job, finding a home, applying for a loan, or even accessing higher education programs. Having your record sealed can also be mentally healing as it provides a clean slate and the confidence to embrace a new beginning. The Code for DC team’s focus for the day was to develop a web form, as part of a larger Expungement Eligibility Guide app, that would automate the tedious and labor-intensive documentation process for the Rising for Justice lawyers, giving them more time to spend on providing services to exponentially more clients. The hope is that the web form (and the app as a whole) will help the Rising for Justice team seal more records, with the same resourcing and staff.

Code for DC team standing and having a discussion
Code for DC team brainstorm with Gwen Washington from Rising for Justice during the National Day of Civic Hacking. Photo courtesy Code for DC.

As someone who works within a traditional educational institution, I was amazed by how much this event was also a space for civic learning and digital literacy. Throughout the day, there was a lot of space intentionally created for both formal and informal moments of education around the legal frameworks of expungement in D.C., the histories of D.C.’s neighborhoods and its politics or even the poetic metaphors of the interface of Github, the collaborative coding website used to manage the project. A lot of this stemmed from the variety of people in the room: from stay-at-home moms to professional content designers to high school students. Their commitment to civic participation and bravery in embedding their perspectives into the project and this movement as a whole is what makes it so powerful.

The team’s emphasis on education and commitment was a reminder that this event was not just a once-a-year event, and instead, a call-to-action for all of us to be more thoughtful and deliberate in how we engage in, with, and for our communities as well as our institutions of power. And while there are many paths to civic change, here are a few ways to get us all started:

  1. Get to know your local officials and representatives
    It is important to know who our elected officials and what they stand for. We should make sure to have our voices and opinions heard about legislation and policy in our communities. Here is a great tool that provides a script to read on these calls based on various issues.
  2. Census 2020
    The Census is the bedrock of our democracy and the 2020 Census is going to be our first-ever digital census. This is our opportunity to ensure that we get as accurate and representative of a count as we can. Here are some ways we can help make that happen.
  3. Check out your local Code for America brigade
    The Code for America brigades are “a national alliance of community organizers, developers, and designers that are putting technology to work in service of our local communities”. Their meetups are open for anyone to join, regardless of knowledge about software code. The Code for DC team meets weekly on Wednesdays. Joining their Slack team is a great way to get started.
  4. Get involved with your local community organizations
    Democracy building happens in our communities every day and with each one of us that joins in, the stronger our entire communities become. Whether it’s volunteering with the local library, organizing for affordable housing, or serving at a local free clinic, there are so many community organizations powered by volunteers that are always looking for more support.

September 2019

We are well into the fall semester here at the Beeck Center and we are grateful to our six student analysts who spent their summer with us for all of the energy, passion and thoughtfulness that they put into the Data + Digital Portfolio. From their first explorations of the digital government space to becoming active participants in this movement, our student analysts spent their last month of the summer strengthening relationships and building their community(ies). They rounded it out by engaging more deeply in the larger D.C community, fostering cross-collaboration in the civic innovation space, and finishing up their summer capstone projects.

The Beeck Center’s Data + Digital work includes supporting efforts in the public and private sectors to responsibly share and use data to address some of society’s most challenging issues, as well as creating tangible resources and cultivating the community for government digital service leaders to help them share and scale efforts. Our student analysts led research projects around data governance, digital service product rollouts, and service design as a tool for career planning. Learning these skills is a vital part of our mission to create social impact leaders of tomorrow, and we’re excited to have the students share their experiences.

—Vandhana Ravi, Data + Digital Program Associate

August was the final month of our stint at the Beeck Center, which meant we were especially busy as we worked on finishing and polishing our different projects and initiatives. A large part of the month was also dedicated to documenting all our learnings in order to both showcase our work but also paving the road for the next team of student analysts joining the Beeck Center in the fall.

Learning and orienting within a larger community

The opportunity to experience social impact firsthand was one of the highlights of August. We were able to participate in social programs in the Washington, D.C. community and see the impact that organizations can have in local communities. In August, we volunteered for Martha’s Table and the DC Dream Center, nonprofit organizations that support communities through access to quality education programs and familial support. Through volunteering and community immersion we learned that it’s not just helping, but integrating techniques of administration and logistics that really make a difference.


Beeck Center Student Analysts at a Martha’s Table Summer Food Market Program in Washington, D.C. on August 13, 2019. Photo by Alberto Rodriguez.

We were also able to see the power of community building first hand, through our continued collaboration with Coding it Forward, an organization that places students into federal government agencies for summer-long fellowships to use their technical skills to improve government practices. The student fellows came from backgrounds such as design, data science, and computer science and the hosting organizations were as varied as the Department of Labor and the National Institutes of Health. On August 8, these Fellows gathered for a ‘Demo Day’ that included a series of presentations and panels discussing their summer fellowships followed by a ‘poster session’ style event where attendees could hear about the projects directly from the fellows. It was inspiring to see how much impact these driven students had made in such a short period of time. We were reminded that, although it seems as if we are fighting an uphill battle, programs like this are evidence of such a strong demand for being in the civic technology space. This bodes well for the future of government and for technologists who want to serve their country by making its government more effective at delivering services.

At a Coding it Forward Summer of Social Impact panel, “Designing with, not for,” we heard directly from professionals who work in the public and private sectors, as well as the world of contracting. We learned their perspectives on how human-centered thinking is applied in their workspaces and how it’s important to use a shared language to connect with the people involved in your work and understand their perspectives.

Working toward a common goal through cross-functional collaboration

We’ve been learning how bureaucratic boundaries are broken by bringing stakeholders from different sectors into the conversation, which is one of the leading ideas at the Beeck Center. As student analysts coming from different cities and backgrounds, we saw how integral cross-functional collaboration is to spark innovation.

Also in August, we participated as facilitators in a Census 2020 Open Innovation Labs design sprint at New America, which aimed to bring together private and social sector teams to create personas to inform new digital tools that leveraging open census data. Each group tackled four different identified problem-areas surrounding the 2020 Census — the digital divide, digital literacy, recruitment of census takers, and reaching hard-to-count communities — and consisted of a user advocate, government expert, technologist, product expert, census expert, and facilitator. By the end of the workshop, we saw how having a diversity of people that are not usually in the same room addressed real issues and approached problems in a variety of ways.

In the pursuit to collaborate with other interns across D.C. doing similar work in social impact, we held a Summer of Social Change Intern Convening. By bringing together 18 interns from 10 organizations and addressing our experiences as new voices in the civic tech realm, we expanded our network and witnessed first-hand that we share a mission to work better for the people we are trying to serve.

Interns from social impact organizations in Washington, D.C. gather in Georgetown’s Lauinger Library on August 6, 2019. Photo by Dennese Salazar.

Synthesizing and presenting research findings

As we familiarized ourselves with the design and research processes and their roles in social impact, we understood how crucial it is to synthesize large quantities of information and present them to an audience. In our roles at the Beeck Center this summer, we each undertook a research project to practice our synthesizing, writing, and presentation skills.

In one of our research projects, we focused on how to better assist early-career job seekers interested in civic tech and government service design positions. To address a student’s career navigation, we made a How to Get Started in Public Interest Tech” guide designed to break down what we think a student or early career professional would need to get started in these fields. When presenting our findings, we learned how to use the audience to carry out an impromptu beta test to continue iterating on our research. 

Another research project consisted of assembling resources to create effective and responsible data-sharing partnerships for social impact. We presented these resources to the Beeck Center staff through a role-playing exercise that split them into teams and assigned them a role and a challenge. Using the resources we gathered in our research project, we asked our participants to brainstorm the advantages and barriers to potential data partnerships. This allowed them to engage with the material in a way that simply hearing about it could not and to see whether some of our theories around our resources would be validated.

One additional area of research centered on analyzing two specific projects in Latin America to improve services to the public by leveraging technology and digital services. We analyzed how Mexico and Argentina have transformed identity paper-based documents to digital national platforms with a goal of creating case studies that can be used by other government teams in the future. In this research, we hope to see common trends and insight that might help governments better implement digital solutions like these or others. 

In August, Beeck Center student analysts and staff toured the U.S. National Archives, the home of historical U.S. government records including foundational documents such as the U.S. Constitution.

Wrapping up at Beeck 

As we said goodbye after a great summer, and prepared to leave D.C., we wrapped up in the best sense we could think of: by saying thank you to everyone that helped make this summer one of the most memorable in our careers. We are sure that the knowledge and skills that we have developed over the summer will help us bring impact wherever our next step takes us and we are extremely grateful to everyone in the Beeck Center that made it possible. 

Student Analysts on the Beeck Center Data + Digital team who contributed to this piece include Margarita Arguello, Kell Crowley, Jillian Gilburne, Alberto Rodriguez Alvarez, Robert Roussel, and Dennese Salazar.

September 23, 2019 | By Cori Zarek

The Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University enthusiastically welcomes two leaders in data, technology, and innovation to our team as fellows for Fall 2019. Kyla Fullenwider joins having just completed a fellowship at the Harvard Kennedy School and was the first Chief Innovation Officer for the U.S. Census Bureau, and Tyler Kleykamp was most recently the first Chief Data Officer for the State of Connecticut.

Both Kyla and Tyler join the Center’s Data + Digital team, which brings together digital service professionals and data experts from government, civil society, industry, academia, and the public to conduct research, collaborate on and share solutions, and expand the network in these fields.

Kyla’s fellowship focuses on the implications of our nation’s first digital census in 2020 and she will work in partnership with the National Conference on Citizenship. Drawing on her background from her time at the Census Bureau, she is supporting actions that local governments, journalists, leading digital platforms, and the public can take to prepare and participate in this crucial function of our democracy. Kyla is a longtime faculty member at a number of universities and will also be teaching workshops and seminars on social innovation and civic entrepreneurship at Georgetown University.

“I wanted to join the Beeck Center as a Fellow because I find the Center’s focus on real world impact critically important to the challenges facing our democracy right now,” Kyla shared. The needs are so urgent, the consequences so far reaching that we must all challenge ourselves to find solutions that are responsive to our times but also cognizant of what can be.”

Tyler joins the Beeck Center to build the capacity of state governments to use data for positive public impact and improve the delivery of services. As more states establish Chief Data Officers to lead management and responsible use of data, Tyler will build out this community of practice to develop and share best practices among the CDOs to support them as they leverage data to drive measurable outcomes in their states. Tyler will also teach workshops and seminars on data and Geospatial Information Systems.

I was drawn to the Beeck Center because its mission of impact at scale,” Tyler said. “States are the perfect place to leverage data to address some of our most challenging social issues and I’m excited to have the opportunity to advance the positive impact that data can have when used responsibly.

Kyla and Tyler join other Beeck Fellows on the Data + Digital team including Natalie Evans Harris, Cara LaPointe, Lorelei Kelly, Denice Ross, Hollie Russon Gilman, Emily Tavoulareas, and Christopher Wilson.

More About Kyla Fullenwider

Kyla Fullenwider portraitKyla Fullenwider is a Fellow at Georgetown University’s Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation where she is leading work around the digital implications of the 2020 Census. She comes to Beeck from the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School where she was the in-resident Entrepreneurship Fellow. She previously served as the first Chief Innovation Officer of the U.S. Census Bureau and also served as a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow, part of a groundbreaking initiative to modernize the U.S. federal government by bringing top executives, entrepreneurs, technologists, and other innovators to improve federal programs that serve more than 150 million Americans.  

Kyla has been Visiting Professor of Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the American University of Rome, was founding faculty in the Products of Design department at the School of Visual Arts, and taught in the joint MBA/MA program at Johns Hopkins and the Maryland Institute of Art. She is a Cofounder and board member of Seattle-based Imperative and has a diverse portfolio of work at the intersection of civic innovation, entrepreneurship, and social design. Previous work includes directing Garden in Transit for the City of New York; developing and serving as the Community Ambassador for the Pepsi Refresh Project and GOOD Magazine; and creating Etsy’s first annual Values & Impact report. She’s led other programs and initiatives with the City of Los Angeles, the City of Baltimore, the Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt Design Museum, UCLA, and the Legacy Foundation as well as a number of federal agencies including the Department of Veterans Affairs, the United States Department of Agriculture, the Department of Commerce, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation among others. 

Kyla’s work has been featured in the New York Times, L.A. Times, New York Magazine, and Fast Company and in case studies authored by the Harvard School of Business and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. She is a native of Louisville, Kentucky and is currently based in the Washington D.C. area 

More About Tyler Kleykamp

Tyler Kleykamp headshotTyler is a fellow at Georgetown University’s Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation where he will focus on building the capacity of state governments to use data for positive public impact and to improve the delivery of services. Tyler was the State of Connecticut’s first Chief Data Officer (CDO) and one of the first state CDOs in the nation. In his role as CDO, Tyler led Connecticut’s efforts to use data to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of state programs, policies, and services. He oversaw data analytics and transparency master planning, leveraging open source tools and technology to create cost-effective and scalable solutions to solve some of Connecticut’s most intractable data challenges. He is the creator of the DataOps for Government framework, which applies Lean continuous process improvement and agile software development techniques to data and analytics pipelines in government. 

Tyler spearheaded the passage of several pieces of innovative legislation enabling Connecticut to enhance data integration and formulated the first ever State Data Plan. Tyler also served as Chair of the Connecticut Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) Council, as well as the State GIS Coordinator. Throughout his career in government spanning four different administrations, Tyler has led numerous initiatives to improve data and information sharing including: emergency management and disaster response, transparency and accountability during the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and land use and economic development activities. In 2016, Tyler was the recipient of the U.S. Open Data Institutes’ “Open Data Pioneer” award and was named a “Data and IT Innovator” by Route Fifty. In 2019, Tyler was named one of Government Technology’s “Top 25 Doers, Dreamers, and Drivers.”

September 10, 2019 | By Jillian Gilburne and Dennese Salazar

Student Analysts Jillian Gilburne and Dennese Salazar produced the report How to Get Started in Public Interest Tech: Recommendations for Recruiting Early-Career Tech Talent. The following is an edited version of their findings.

There is a point in every college student’s academic career when they begin to wonder what it’s all for…. It might be the sense that using a freshly minted computer science degree to perform A/B testing on app interfaces feels soul sucking — or they can’t get past the cognitive dissonance of using their design chops to help kids make healthier school lunch choices one day while designing marketing materials for a fast food empire the next. 

While we know this sounds dramatic, it comes from personal experience. In joining the Beeck Center this summer, we realized that we had the opportunity to use our newly obtained knowledge and networks to highlight opportunities for careers in public interest technology and design that combined technical skills with social good. 

While some experts have indicated that the public interest technology movement is currently going through its “tween years,” when tasked with designing a research capstone of our own, we wanted to take on a topic that would be important for the sustainability of this field through its adolescence and into its adulthood — the recruitment of young technologists into public interest and public sector jobs. We wanted to create a project that would allow us to focus on how to better assist early-career job seekers interested in civic tech and government service design positions. 

Much like the popularization of “public interest law” in the 1960s and ’70s, the possibility of a career in “public interest technology” is rapidly winning over the hearts and minds of university students seeking to make an impact in their professional lives. However, in the status quo, many recent graduates are encouraged to start their careers in the private sector and circle back to government after they have gained some experience through the tour of civic service fellowship models offered by the Presidential Innovation and Management fellowships, TechCongress fellowships, Code for America fellowships, New Sector RISE fellowships, or other similar programs. While many before us have found this to be a totally fulfilling pathway, we know that the government’s need for technical skills is rapidly outpacing this approach. And we also know that entry-level job seekers like us don’t necessarily want to start in the private sector and come in through a fellowship — we’re looking for careers we can start and grow in these great civic organizations. 

According to a 2017 NextGov Survey, there are four times as many government IT specialists over the age of 60 as there are under 30. In California, 38% of current Government IT employees are at retirement age or will be within five years. While recruiting top tech talent requires government agencies to compete with well-resourced private sector recruitment teams, organizations like Coding it Forward have proven that younger generations have a strong interest in using their technical skills for good. 

The Design Challenge

Faced with a problem as nebulous and multi-faceted as rethinking the way early-career technologists are recruited into public interest and public sector roles, we started by breaking the project into smaller pieces. We outlined our project objectives, stakeholder and assumption maps, and research methods, and conducted hours of precedent research and interviews with representatives from Code for America, the New America Public Interest Technology University Network, Design Gigs for Good, the team that runs the federal government’s employment website USAJOBS, and the Georgetown University Cawley Career Center. After learning more about the issue area and synthesizing our research, we broke our findings into six major problems facing early career professionals wanting to pursue a civic technology or digital services career:

Infographic of common issues for students
Major problems our research and interviews surfaced based on the status quo for early-career job seekers who are interested in public interest technology. 

To address these problems, we came up with three phased approaches that includes focusing on changes with job boards, career centers, and government teams.

First We Started with the Job Boards

Recognizing that the government hiring process was not something that we could fix overnight, we decided to focus our project on stakeholders who we had access to and who had some degree of agency over their piece of the puzzle.

We started with job boards since they are an obvious entry point for newcomers starting their civic tech journey. Our research was prompted by the belief that job boards can be doing more to orient potential recruits and build up interest in the absence of well-resourced public sector recruitment strategies. After a series of interviews with public interest job board managers and user-experience research with ourselves and other job seekers, this is what we found: 

Context

A major barrier facing the public interest technology recruitment pipeline is that new job seekers often lack context for what their future career might look like. While resources and university partnerships have been developed by organizations like Code for America and New America, newcomers don’t always know where to find them or that they exist. Given that job boards are often the most public facing and frequently used pages for some of these organizations, we believe that they can function as translators between public interest and public sector tech organizations and new job seekers.

Representation

As entry-level people begin their career searches, location and work environment often have major influence on the decision-making process. The existing Code for America job board and the data science microsite on USAJOBS have an emphasis on featuring civic technologists with diverse backgrounds, which we greatly appreciated, but we also want job boards to emphasize geographic diversity. Currently, many of these job boards recruit predominantly from large cities, like San Francisco, New York City, and Washington, D.C. While the geographical distribution of jobs is a larger and more complex issue than we could address in a few weeks, we believe that job boards should be doing more outreach to organizations and local governments in smaller, less well-represented cities.

Pathways

A common misconception that students and entry-level job seekers have is that their career journeys have to be linear. This belief makes the blurred boundaries of public interest and public sector technology especially overwhelming. Because there are so many ways to use technical skills in government or to support public interest projects, there is no formal “pipeline” or “pathway” for newcomers to follow. To combat this, we are proposing that job boards create “are you new here?” pop-ups with links to resources, instructions for access online civic tech communities, and fellowship opportunities.   

Student writing on blackboardToward the end of July, as we carried out an ideation sticky-note session, we began to think about overarching recommendations that would aid job seekers. Photo by Dennese Salazar. 

Then We Consulted with the Career Centers

Through our interviews with the New America Public Interest Technology Network and the Georgetown Cawley Career Center we realized that civic tech barriers start earlier than interactions with job boards. As a current student and recent graduate, we have had firsthand exposure to the discrepancies between public and private university recruitment strategies, and we know that a handful of professors do most of the labor when it comes to providing civic tech specific advice and resources to students. To better understand the design opportunities within the university context, we mapped out our own journeys into this space and made note of the pain points where we could have benefited from clearer guidance. 

Infographic on career path
In order to better understand how we could help university students access the civic tech space, we mapped out our own experiences to identify pain points.

 

The final product was a “How to Get Started in Public Interest Tech” guide, designed to introduce, entice, and break down what we think a student would need to get started. 

We used recruitment materials from a dozen different civic tech and digital service organizations to put together a list of the most common civic tech roles, scraped 91 job postings on Code for America’s job board using an open source word analytics software to put together the most frequently requested skills, and interviewed current practitioners to develop a better understanding of what civic tech work looks like and the pathways to it. 

Our goal was to not only make something that a student could understand, but also a guide that faculty or career service professionals could use to recommend public interest technology to their students. 

Infographic of important career termsThis is a subsection of our student guide that maps out some of the thematic takeaways we learned during our summer working on civic tech at the Beeck Center. 

And Finally, we Pitched to Government

We know that we are not the first people to take on this project — in recent years, the Office of Personnel Management redesigned USAJOBS, the White House proposed a legislative plan to overhaul federal HR services, and the organization Coding it Forward has placed young tech talent across federal agencies during the past three summers. However, based on the insights and recommendations we collected throughout our research, we have compiled a list of changes that we believe governments could make to help early-career tech professionals find their way into public service. 

First, we think that government agencies should take a cue from recruitment techniques used by the private sector. This could include resume books, which are collections of resumes compiled by a university based on a particular semester and industry that are then sent to employers seeking employees. This would shift the burden of reaching out to desirable applicants to government hiring managers, but also the likelihood of agencies finding a perfect fit. Or increased career fair presence at universities across the country, to ensure that the public sector is able to establish relationships with top talent. This method would include thinking more intentionally about how to convince young people that working in the government will help them to hone their skills and develop new qualifications. Given the skyrocketing cost of tuition and student loan debt, extending federal scholarship programs to tech, design, and management degrees might also help the government agencies compete with the allure of Silicon Valley. 

Second, there are a number of reforms that could be enacted during the hiring process. This could include creating direct hiring permissions for technologists and designers across the agencies — this model has already been tested to recruit short-term cybersecurity experts. This process is not commonly practiced in the status quo due to its complexity and human resources offices with various agencies not knowing of its existence. While more research and clarity is needed, our hypothesis is that this shift would make the recruitment process faster, ensure that those who understand the requirements of the job have more of a say, and bring in temporary hires who could prove the value of a more long-term hiring strategy for technical talent. We also think that developing microsites like the USAJOBS pages for data science and cybersecurity could help to provide specific direction for federal job seekers with in-demand technical skills, and might be a model for further standardizing job posting language across agencies.

What’s next?

For us, taking on this problem through our capstone was deeply personal. During our summer on the Beeck Center’s Data + Digital team, we have been exposed to an innovative and diverse community of technologists and do-gooders who are working to hack and bootstrap our democracy. They work across different sectors, on different topics, and came to this line of work and this community in a multitude of different ways. 

Our capstone project as part of Beeck’s Digital Service Collaborative, an effort in partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation, has been working to support unification efforts to increase idea sharing and mentoring across a decentralized public interest technology ecosystem, and we hope it will contribute to the ongoing efforts to reduce barriers of entry for university students and early-career professionals. We know that this work is instrumental to the sustainability of the civic tech community in the long term, and we look forward to a future where young technologists seeking out government positions is the norm. 

Dennese Salazar was a Summer 2019 Student Analyst supporting the Data + Digital team who recently graduated from Brown University. 

Jillian Gilburne was a Summer 2019 Student Analyst supporting the Data + Digital team and will return to Northwestern University this fall where she will be a senior majoring in Communication Studies, Political Science, and Human-Centered Design. Follow her on Twitter @JillianGilburne

 

September 10, 2019 | By Dennese Salazar

Human-centered design can be a powerful tool for solving problems in the social impact space. I joined the Beeck Center this summer to find ways to leverage and sharpen my design skills. I worked on social impact problems on data sharing and digital service delivery. One way I put these skills to work was to hold a workshop with my team of student analysts to train other teams of student analysts in human-centered design. My team used that workshop to problem solve a improvements for a Beeck Center program called Discern + Digest. This program consists of weekly lunches that offer a communal space for reflection on working in the social impact space. Started in 2019, it features reflections around privilege in the workplace to the boundaries between work and home. 

The dual objectives of our workshop were to learn and practice the fundamentals of the design process: problem assessment, empathy, lateral thinking, ethics, iteration, and implementation, and to use those skills to address an actual challenge at the Beeck Center. 

students working around tableDiscussions around ideation signaling a core strength of the Discern & Digest Series in the Human-Centered Design Workshop at the Beeck Center on July 29, 2019. Photo by Dennese Salazar. 

Through this workshop, we were taking on identifying recommendations and solutions for this Beeck Center program. In addition, we were also taking on the challenge of teaching design thinking as a form of problem solving to our fellow student analyst colleagues — even as we were refining those skills for ourselves. 

Stepping up as a Project Manager

As we began the process, one of our first observations was that we needed structure and organization. We spent hours talking in circles about our respective visions, what we wanted out of the workshop, and how we wanted to go about it. But with only one month to plan and facilitate the workshop, we needed to make more progress on planning so we could use findings from the workshop to develop a proposal to the Beeck team. We were also mindful that we wanted to practice our human-centered design skills throughout the planning process for our human-centered design workshop — some might call that “dogfooding.

We needed to be more focused on objectives and work purposefully at a rapid pace. With a group of many leaders taking on this project, someone needed to step up and help manage us — so I stepped into the role of project manager. Here are some ways I worked with the group to help us focus.

Goal Setting

One of the key mandates of the Beeck Center is to deliver better outcomes, and it was important to integrate this into the project’s life cycle. 

This is where objective-driven meetings came in. During each of our planning meetings, we had three to five time-constrained objectives that the whole team agreed to.. At the end of the first objective-driven meeting , one student analyst compared it to a thrilling obstacle course. Her heart beating rapidly at the finale but feeling triumphant. Everyone felt productive, and that became the structure for the rest of the process. This approach to project managing was further supported by key performance indicators (KPIs), to gauge whether we had completed objectives or reached our initial goals. One of the KPIs included gaining valuable insights from the workshop to address pain points of Discern + Digest. Ultimately, we ended up collecting more than 30 issues and 30 ideas for how to address those issues. 

Earlier this year, I was part of a user experience project that created an escape room. A participant would enter the room with the goal of “escaping” the room, or solving the necessary puzzles to get out. One focus was making sure there were small victories along the way to keep the participants invested and excited, whether they ended up escaping or not. The same principles translated into managing this project, where all team members could have that same investment and excitement with small victories, in addition to the completion of the project. 

Organization

No matter how unpredictable and lengthy a project is, it should be tethered to an overarching goal. When I first learned about the civic tech space, there was a seemingly insurmountable amount of gray area that I needed to trek through to get my bearings. With team members varying schedules, we had to emphasize consistency and order. By agreeing upon objectives, timelines, tasks, and important links or outputs front and center, everyone on the team could stay on the same page. 

Project Management Tools

A paper and pen are priceless, but digital tools have allowed for the rapid advancement of shareable ideas and organization. Shared documents allowed us to collectively create, produce, and collaborate. A graphics editor software allowed us to quickly draft digestible content, such as workflows, decision trees, workshop and structures. Perhaps the most significant and challenging tools were sticky notes. The bulk of our ideas and constructive feedback emerged from stickies, and we had to learn to strike a balance between categorizing through color, size, and quantity.

To keep track of the team members and check in on work load, I input tasks onto both a project management software tool and a physical project management board. By timing each objective around our meetings and scheduling frequent in-person and email check-ins, I was able to make steady progress and complete all of our objectives on time. 

Students working around a table
A physical project management board tracked our progress in our Beeck Center workspace throughout the entire project. Photo by Dennese Salazar. 

Screenshot of a Trello boardTrello, a common digital task management tool, helped make our objectives accessible to anyone on our team. 

Communication

Going into the project, I knew that communication was always a top priority in order for delegation to really work and to complete tasks. About a week before the workshop, we were discussing one of the main activities that would guide the participants through rapid ideation, which we had decided on several weeks prior. After doing a run-through, it became clear that it was too confusing to actually include, and we made the game-time decision to modify that entire part of our workshop. 

Ultimately, the reason it worked out to change course so late in the project is because we were all active participants in the run-through and discussion, we agreed to the modification, and the team members who were not present were all notified and acknowledged. This also included implementing a feedback loop through surveys, reviews, or one-on-ones, so we could get continually evaluated on our decisions. People make up the backbone of every project, so we prioritized holding regular check-ins to make sure we had balanced workloads and were mentally prepared to continue moving ahead. By bringing all voices into the conversation and documenting our decisions, we were able to handle pivots in our project. 

What We Learned

Through the management of a workshop plan through human-centered design principles, we did not set a lot of quantitative measurables. Instead, we were grounded in values and goals. Despite the management improvement, we recognized that there were ‘could’ves’, ‘would’ves’, and ‘should’ves’. We had to put good ideas on the shelf due to constraints, we juggled multiple projects and had to divide our time, and introducing new tools took some adjustment. Nonetheless, we learned very important lessons: 

  • Expect the unexpected – not everything can be planned and we needed to be ready for pivots
  • Communicate effectively – no matter what decisions are made, everyone should be in the know
  • Plan a timeline – even if a project seems hazy, attaching dates to objectives can serve as a guideline 

At the end of the day, project management is essential to complete core objectives. It can be challenging to keep the object of the project in mind when you’re swimming in decisions and ideas, but a good project manager can build those skills and help keep a team on track. Through this experience at the Beeck Center, I hope to continue equipping myself with user-centered management skills to deliver better outcomes by including everyone in the conversation around the work we are doing. 

Dennese Salazar was a Summer 2019 Student Analyst supporting the Data + Digital team and recently graduated from Brown University. 

September 10, 2019 | By Margarita Arguello, Jillian Gilburne, Vandhana Ravi, Alberto Rodriguez Alvarez, Robert Roussel, and Dennese Salazar

As an experiential hub at Georgetown, the Beeck Center continuously teaches students real-world skills on delivering impact at scale for our Fair Finance and Data + Digital portfolios. While approaching our projects this summer, we leveraged human-centered design skills throughout the research process. As the summer progressed, we realized that we could use design principles to think through how the Beeck Center approaches the student experience as well.

Learning about human-centered design as a research methodology provided us with a new set of skills for tackling complicated problems in the social impact space. Many of us already had some familiarity with human-centered design as a concept, so we organized a workshop to refine our understanding of the methodologies and how to apply them in practice.

Our goal was to guide fellow student analysts through a set of immersive, hands-on activities. Each activity focused on a specific design challenge that would equip our participants with new problem solving tools and allow us to collect data points about the student analyst experience. During this workshop, we revisited the format of the Beeck Center’s Discern + Digest weekly conversation series, events led by faculty, fellows, and staff to navigate complex topics as part of Beeck’s student engagement portfolio. But first, we had to navigate the process of organizing the workshop itself while keeping in mind our original goal.

Project Management

As we designed our workshop, we quickly realized that what we thought was going to be a simple and straight-forward process was impeded by lack of structure and organization. We spent hours talking in circles about our respective visions for the workshop structure, and given our tight timeline, we needed to be making more progress.

To help us work more purposefully, we focused on three key elements. First, we collectively defined our core objective for the workshop, which we used as a “North Star”. Second, we selected a project manager, a role that ensured someone kept an eye on the big picture and moved the project forward. Finally, we started time-blocking our meetings, so that by the end of each planning session a clear goal had been met and each person had an assigned task allocated based on individual team member’s personal goals. We kept track of our collective work load using an online project management tool and a physical project management board to track projects and tasks.

By constraining deliberation time during our meetings and having frequent in-person and email check-ins, we were able to make steady progress and complete all of our objectives on time. The structure ensured that we all stayed on the same page, we were upfront about hang-ups, and served as a support network for each other.

Screenshot of a Trello board
Beeck Center Student Analysts used agile methodologies to manage tasks for Human-Centered Design Workshop on Trello.

Structure

After developing a project management strategy, we turned back to our design challenge. The Discern + Digest program was a good focus for our workshop because of its transversality and familiarity. It is a core part of the student analyst experience and something that all of our participants would be intimately familiar with. Importantly, it was a program the Beeck Center was open to revisiting.

Throughout the design process, we continuously reminded ourselves to think about the participant experience. It took a lot of intentional refocusing to remember the needs and interests of those we were designing for — the participants — instead of our own learning goals around human-centered design. For example, one of our early structure proposals was to hold a design sprint where we could quickly prototype and test solutions, which would have allowed us to practice our facilitation skills while extracting student analyst insights about Discern + Digest for our own report. However, we quickly realized that if we were going to request two hours of our colleagues’ time, we needed to do more than treat them like a focus group.

So, we pivoted to include a presentation section where we would break down how human-centered design can be used to solve complex social problems, the important ethical considerations of user research, and how design methodologies can be helpful for resource-constrained teams.

Once we finally delved into workshop design, quick internet searches revealed hundreds of different design activities we could mix and match as we please. There were a number of different factors that we had to keep in mind throughout the process. These included the relevance of the proposed activity to our primary workshop goals, how they would fit in with the overall narrative of our workshop, how difficult they would be to facilitate, and how long they would take. After hours of research and discussion, we finally settled on a group of activities that would expose our workshop participants to some of the essential components of a design, such as: identifying pain points, synthesizing/creating categories, solution ideation, and prototyping solutions.


Students organized their thoughts in the Human-Centered Design Workshop at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation on July 29, 2019. Photos by Alberto Rodriguez.

Facilitation

Preparing to facilitate the workshop helped us glean new insights about ourselves and our presentation styles. By field testing our existing skills, we established our strengths and identified areas for improvement. In our post-workshop reflection, we took on higher-level topics like best practices for keeping people’s attention by weaving a compelling narrative throughout an otherwise technical presentation. This exercise and the following introspection forced us to think about how to break down complex topics and confront biases and terminology that might be unfamiliar to our audience. We practiced humility when we realized that we could not achieve everything that we had set out to within our allotted period of time. We were pushed to develop a stronger growth mindset that we helped us see every challenge as an opportunity to learn in the future.

As predicted and intended, the process of organizing and facilitating this workshop pressure-tested a number of skills that we had hoped to develop throughout our summer at the Beeck Center. This left us feeling more confident and well-seasoned to bring them with us into the work we do throughout our careers.

Synthesis

The final phase of our human-centered workshop process was to synthesize the student input we received on the Discern + Digest program. We began by summarizing more than 50 different comments into key takeaways about the “current state” of the program as well as a “future state”. This phase was one of the most interesting parts of the human-centered design process, as we merged our personal observations with the ideas and opportunities provided by the participants to help the series grow. This was especially true when we were analyzing the current strengths or “anchors” of the program, and various students voiced how critical the series was in building community within the student cohort.

Synthesizing the students’ experiences led to a lot of ideation around recommendations for the future of the Discern + Digest series. We identified small changes that can be tested in upcoming iterations of the series to create an even more impactful experience for future cohorts of student analysts.

Post-it notes on a whiteboard
Sticky notes clustered signaling a core strength of the Discern + Digest Series on July 29, 2019. Photos by Alberto Rodriguez.

Working on Beeck’s Data + Digital portfolio, we believe in championing human-centered approaches for how data is leveraged and digital services are delivered. The biggest takeaway from this workshop was one we never really anticipated: other student analysts working in different portfolios using human-centered design principles and activities in their end-of-summer capstone projects. A perfect example of meeting the Beeck Center’s mission of creating impact at scale.

As we continue our journeys as students and young professionals, we will keep exploring and sharing human-centered design tools and methods with our peers across all sectors and always advocate for putting people and communities at the center of our work.

Special thanks to our two mentors in this project who were instrumental in guiding us throughout this process: Estefania Ciliotta, a Student Analyst at the Beeck Center who helped us ensure we were asking the right questions, supplied us with lots of really great frameworks and tools and was our #1 cheerleader in getting us to the finish line, and Emily Tavoulareas, a fellow on the Data + Digital team who first inspired us to develop this workshop and gave us the confidence to know that we could actually pull it off.

September 5, 2019 | Cori Zarek

Classes may slow down here at Georgetown over the summer, but our work at the Center never stops. Our summer cohort of student analysts spent their time researching a number of topics vital to the future of the Data + Digital portfolio:

  • Identifying innovative digital service successes in Latin America that could be good models for services in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world
  • Sharpening their skills in human-centered design to teach those methods to other student analysts and use that approach to improve upon Beeck Center programs
  • Exploring pathways into the civic technology and digital government field for young designers and developers 

Read more about our students’ June and July activities.

As we move into the fall, the Digital Service Collaborative, a project in partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation, is launching several projects that will scale proven solutions that governments have adopted to more efficiently and effectively serve the public. 

For example, we are supporting a Foster Care Working Group jointly with New America and Foster America that is scaling a new, faster process to help eligible families get licensed for foster care — taking a proven solution from Rhode Island and expanding to eight more states with an implementation playbook for the next wave of states. 

We will also launch a working group to pioneer new approaches to policy making to apply human-centered, agile methods to develop government policy. By focusing on what the public needs, governments can draft policies to more directly deliver better outcomes for the people they serve. Additionally, we are scouting for states beginning to implement digital service practices where we can pair a researcher to document their challenges and successes in real time so we can better learn from them as a community of practice as more and more government teams begin to focus on service delivery approaches.

Finally, we are also exploring ways to professionalize this nascent but growing government digital service delivery field. As these roles become more standard in governments, we can identify job description templates that can be shared across all levels of government and amplify recruitment and hiring models underway by colleagues like the Tech Talent Project. We are also working with practitioners to identify training and skills building opportunities for government leaders so they can keep their skills sharp while on the job and don’t necessarily have to cycle back into the private sector for training.

Get Involved

We are launching a new academic series on the principles of responsible data use and digital service delivery for the Georgetown community. Our Data, Digital + Social Impact seminars will feature data experts from the public and private sectors and leaders in digital services and technology lecturing on related topics and opening the conversation to the group. This roundtable approach will give participants an opportunity to learn from these experts and also engage in a dialogue in a small group setting — and, we’re buying dinner. The seminars are open to anyone in the Georgetown community and registration is now open for the first session on Sept. 24. Future sessions will be shared in the Beeck newsletter, on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Data, Digital + Social Impact Seminar | September 24 | 5:30-7:30 p.m. | (Future Sessions: October 8, October 22, November 5, November 19) 

REGISTER NOW

If you’re working on government service delivery as part of a government team, civil society, industry, academia, or elsewhere, and you want to collaborate with us — and each other — please reach out and let us know what you’re working on: beeckdsc@georgetown.edu or @BeeckCenter.

 

August 29, 2019 | By Jillian Gilburne

It takes grit to advocate for change in the public sector. The process of making a meaningful social impact can be lonely and slow; the levers of political power too rusty, and the egos manning them too large.

For students and young professionals just starting out, the prospect of such a hostile work environment can be overwhelming. Without the proper support system, confidence, and resources, many simply give up on challenging the status quo. And who could blame them? Pushing boundaries, breaking molds, and working interdisciplinarily are not nearly as simple and glamorous as we’re often raised believing. 

In fact, it was my pursuit of a community and support system that brought me to the Beeck Center Student Analyst program this summer. I wanted to join a team of innovative optimists working to scale social impact and support efforts to bring young technologists and designers into public service, and I found it. But I quickly realized that there were hundreds of other students across the D.C. area interested in developing innovative solutions to complex problems that I hadn’t met yet. In the spirit of collaboration, I started making plans for a Summer of Social Change Intern Convening. 

Community building, especially within the public interest technology space, is one of the core premises of the Digital Service Collaborative, the project I’ve spent the summer working on. We know that when thought leaders and practitioners come together to problem solve and collaborate, morale strengthens and we generate better ideas. But what about those of us who are just getting started in our professional careers or just beginning to understand how we fit into the public sector innovation ecosystem? While reading about the work being done by practitioners in the civic tech space is useful, it’s also important to develop a newcomer network — a group of co-collaborators and sounding boards who understand what it’s like to just be starting out. 

This is especially important for students entering the civic technology and social impact fields. Because we are usually working at the intersections of multiple disciplines, we don’t quite fit in anywhere. We are technologists, designers, discourse fixers, legal and policy wonks, activists, and economists bonded by a desire to make government and its related institutions work better for the people they are intended to serve. So, it’s important for us to find others who understand or sympathize with the mission. 

On a Tuesday afternoon in the Idea Lab of the Georgetown University Library, the Beeck team gathered 18 interns and young professionals from 10 different organizations and 11 universities to identify and address some of the most frustrating roadblocks to being a young person in a social innovation space. These organizations spanned sectors and included leaders in government transparency, human-centered design, election reform, funding social impact projects, and recruiting tech talent into the public sector.  

students talking around a conference table

Beeck Center Student Analyst Jillian Gilburne facilitates our Summer of Social Change Intern Convening on August 6, 2019. Photo by Céline Chieu.

We started by sharing methods and techniques that we’ve used to support our change making efforts in the past — mentoring, storytelling, challenging ourselves, and looking out for people whose voices are often ignored. We realized early on that regardless of where we came from or which organization we worked for, we had all developed similar toolkits for assessing complicated problems. 

The similarities didn’t stop there. As we started talking about the successes and hardships of our summer work, we encountered more of the same. Topics included changing perceptions around public sector work, navigating hierarchies and bureaucracies, helping non-technical bosses understand technical constraints, and figuring out what a career in social impact might actually look like. 

students writing sticky notes

Convening participants capture the highs and lows of their summer work on sticky notes. Photo by Céline Chieu.

Together we shared our concerns about finding mentors, pitching new ideas to skeptical co-workers, and feeling understood. We also offered up anecdotes about and suggestions for how we had dealt with similar problems in the past. For example, many of us had struggled with selling new ideas to upper level management. If we pitch an idea that is too half-baked it will be disregarded as infeasible, but if we wait too long, our internship will be over before it ever comes close to being actualized. In the end, we left with some good advice and a better understanding of how our interests might fit into the larger public reform ecosystem. 

I normally hate networking events but I really enjoyed talking with the other people I met today! It was really reassuring to hear that other people have a lot of the same problems I do. — Convening Attendee 

Obviously, we were never going to fix everything in an afternoon, but when working towards something as nebulous as social impact, simply coming together as young people to talk about our experiences and support each other can go a long way. So, thank you to the Beeck Center for creating a space for the social impact interns of D.C. to come together to develop new relationships and to debrief after a summer of changemaking. As the summer comes to an end, I can’t wait to see how the Beeck Center will continue to help interns and early career professionals from across the city and the country come together to strategize by hosting more of these convenings throughout the school year. 

And as I return to Northwestern University for my senior year, after a summer of researching how we can better support newcomers to the public interest technology space, I have plans to host a series of interdisciplinary salons where students and faculty come together to discuss how their field might approach a particular problem to ensure that technologists, designers, and policy leaders alike know that social impact is an option for their work.

Jillian Gilburne was a Summer 2019 Student Analyst supporting the Data + Digital team, and this fall will return to Northwestern University, where she will be a senior majoring in Communication Studies, Political Science, and Human-Centered Design. Follow her on Twitter @JillianGilburne

EDITOR’S NOTE: The recommendations in this post are for students in general. Information specific to Georgetown University will be updated as it becomes available. [2/26/20]

August 22, 2019 | Kell Crowley

The U.S. government takes a census — a population count — every 10 years, as mandated by the Constitution. The 2020 census’ goal is to count each person living in the United States “once, only once, and in the right place” starting on April 1. The census is a foundation of our democracy and a way for everyone to be represented in our government. The data is used to distribute federal funds to states, to determine apportionment in the House of Representatives (how many representatives each state gets) and to determine redistricting within states. These uses of census data will guide decision-making and federal funding for the next decade, so getting an accurate count of every single person living in the U.S. on April 1, 2020 is absolutely essential.

With record high distrust in government, the fact that this is the first online census, and likelihood of coordinated disinformation campaigns, the accuracy of the 2020 Census count is in jeopardy. That said, here are five ways anyone on a campus can help make the 2020 Census as accurate as possible:

  1. Reach out to clubs. Share the importance of the census, and ask them to raise awareness through their networks. For example, community service clubs that tutor in immigrant communities can ask their tutors to do a lesson plan about the census, including key information — such as the fact that responses are confidential by law. This means other agencies cannot access the data to identify individuals for deportation. With the current distrust in government, hearing about the census from a trusted community partner can encourage responses. You can point clubs to resources like Census 101 from censuscounts.org. 
  2. Spread the word about census jobs. The Census Bureau is hiring and recruiting, and having dedicated workers is essential to getting an accurate count! Let gig workers like your Uber/Lyft drivers and your friends taking a gap year know that they can go to 2020census.gov/jobs to find a variety of temporary jobs around the U.S. Wages are competitive and paid weekly. You must be a U.S. citizen, 18 years or older, and have a valid Social Security number to be eligible. 
  3. Flier and chalk in the lead-up to April 1, 2020. This is a great way to make sure positive census messaging is everywhere! Students regularly flier around campus, but think about heading into the surrounding neighborhoods. This ensures everyone in the greater community understands the importance of responding to the census. To make fliers, you can use resources such as Census Counts for more details about the impact of the census. 
  4. Incorporate the census into your classes. Most schools have civic courses, but even if yours doesn’t, the census can fit into pretty much any class. Use it as the basis for a project in a computer science class, think about messaging in marketing, or write an essay about it in your language class. Every student in every one of your classes should know about the census and why it’s vital to our democracy.
  5. Flag disinformation and misinformation. As we’ve seen in elections, the Internet provides a space that can spread false information spread by both bad and misinformed actors. Correct this information without amplifying it. For more information about flagging posts on social media, check out this resource.

College students and the census: Where do you count?

Talk to your parents about where you count. Make sure they know to fill out their form, and whether or not you should be on it.

College students living away from their parents’ or guardians’ home while at college in the U.S. are counted at the residence where they live and sleep most of the time

    • If you live in student housing, you do not need to respond to the census. A school administrator will respond for anyone in student housing, which includes dormitories, residence halls, apartment-style housing where residents enter into “by the bed” leases, and fraternity/sorority houses recognized by the college or university.
    • If you live in off-campus housing, your household will receive an invitation in the mail to participate in the census. Designate a time for your roommates to sit down together and have one person to fill out the form for everyone in your household.

College students who are U.S. citizens living outside the United States while attending college outside the United States are not counted in the statewide census.

Commuter students (college students living at their parents’ or guardians’ home while attending college) are counted at their parents’ or guardians’ home. Your parent should include you as a resident when they respond to the census.

The 2020 Census data touches everyone living in the United States. Recognizing and sharing these ideas will have a huge effect on your local community. By ensuring that the greatest number of people are represented, a richer dataset will be collected and the information will have a larger impact in the years to come. 

July 2019 

It’s been a busy second month for the six student analysts supporting the growing Data + Digital Portfolio at the Beeck Center. They’ve moved from learning to leading — developing their own capstone research projects, learning how to hack bureaucracies, and designing and leading their own workshops. 

The Beeck Center’s Data + Digital work includes supporting efforts in the public and private sectors to responsibly share and use data to address some of society’s most challenging issues, as well as creating tangible resources and cultivating the community for government digital service leaders to help them share and scale efforts. Our student analysts are leading research projects around data governance, digital service product rollouts, and service design as a tool for career planning. They have been making the most of opportunities at Georgetown and in Washington, D.C. and we hope you’ll read on for some of their takeaways for the month of July.

—Vandhana Ravi, Data + Digital Program Associate

Learning by Doing: Beeck Center as a Practice Space 

The Data + Digital Student Analyst team has only gotten wiser and busier since our last update in June. After spending our first month obtaining knowledge and exposing ourselves to new perspectives, we spent month number two taking on the challenge of putting into practice all that we had learned. We have been busy designing and hosting workshops, delving into research for our capstone projects, and learning how to be creative within constraints. Overall, we have dedicated the month of July to moving past the orientation stage by putting into practice the skills and insights that we have learned, so that we are able to support both the projects that we’ve been leading at the Beeck Center as well as every project we manage throughout our careers. 

Research

Research is an important part of our work at Beeck and at Georgetown University, and it is a focus area of all of our projects as student analysts. From frameworks about cross-sector data sharing to helping early-career job seekers navigate civic tech career paths, we’re tackling a wide range of complex issues. Through these endeavors, we are discovering new fields and approaches to problem-solving and finding useful ways to share our findings with practitioners. 

To aid us in the development of our research plans, Fellow Christopher Wilson led a workshop providing practical tips and tricks for conducting qualitative research. He shared useful insights on how to organize sources, create bibliographies, manage reading workloads, and how to produce work that is credible, as determined by the standards of our target audiences. We will be applying these skills as we finalize our capstone projects in the weeks ahead and as we continue to conduct research throughout our academic and professional lives.  

While many of us are still working on our projects, the first capstone presentation from our team was a workshop on flagging disinformation surrounding the 2020 Census.

Bureaucracy-hacking 

July has also been dedicated to learning how to navigate bureaucracy. We found this to be a particularly important skill set to acquire as even the best ideas can be non-starters if the right actors are not on board. Phase one of our bureaucracy-busting education took place at NASA HQ, alongside the Coding it Forward fellows, where former Chief of Staff for the U.S. Digital Service and current Senior Advisor for STEM Transformation at NASA Elaine Ho taught us some of the “secret handshakes” for getting things done in government. We covered everything from understanding stakeholder incentives to the importance of knowing how to leverage a crisis, and left with a better understanding of the roadblocks that can impede well-intentioned change and how to navigate around them. 

Beeck Center Student Analysts visit NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. on July 22, 2019. Photo by Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation.

Later in the month, Beeck’s Data + Digital portfolio lead Cori Zarek (aka our boss), built on our bureaucracy-hacking knowledge in a presentation where she challenged us to think about government structure not just as a bothersome barrier but as an important failsafe to government overreach. While it may be frustrating for highly-motivated reformers, the bureaucracy is intentionally careful (and sometimes slow-moving) to avoid potential unintended consequences when rolling out a policy. She took us through some of her experiences getting the policy around the U.S. government’s open-source code hub, code.gov, off the ground, as she stressed the importance of involving stakeholders, running pilots, and including the legal and communications teams every step of the way. 

The complexity of pursuing new ideas within structured government hierarchies, while important, has at times felt overwhelming. But thankfully, we had the opportunity to reconvene with our friends at Coding it Forward for part of their Summer of Social Impact event series where panelists encouraged us to pursue careers in the public sector with pitches about mission-driven, high impact projects that will affect the lives of millions of Americans, just one of the many ways the Beeck Center produces impact at scale. But what we really appreciated was how intentional they were about not concealing the complexity of this kind of work — including the advice that the only wrong path one can take into this field is the one that burns you out. 

The last phase of our bureaucracy-hacking education in July included attending a Congressional hearing on Modernizing Legislative Information Technologies: Lessons from the States, where witnesses from California, Washington, and Virginia explained to members how their state legislatures are using technology to improve bureaucratic processes. We found it interesting to hear about how operations that seem simple to us, such as checking for scheduling conflicts on an online calendar, are much more complicated to manage within the House of Representatives due to its size and use of outdated software. Although the process of streamlining intra-government communication is far from complete, it’s reassuring that this is a topic of serious discussion, not just in the Beeck Center, but within the halls of Congress as well.

Leading and Facilitation

As part of our efforts to put into practice all that we learned since joining the Beeck Center team, we knew we had to sharpen our presentation skills. If the utilization of technical and design skills in government is going to become a norm, we, as advocates for this method of public service delivery will have to hone our pitch. To get some practice, we created and facilitated a workshop teaching our fellow student analysts the principles of human-centered design. Specifically, we provided our participants with specific strategies that they could take into their Beeck Center portfolio work and their future careers. 

Thankfully, as part of the Social Impact Skills workshops that the Beeck Center hosts for student analysts, we had the privilege of learning some public speaking tips and tricks during a workshop led by Beeck Center Fair Finance Director Lisa Hall and Public Eye Communications CEO Joia Nuri before our own workshop. They emphasized the importance of having a connection to your message, and the power of alliteration and storytelling. As part of the Beeck Center’s Discern + Digest lunch series, we also got advice on how to facilitate group dialogues about sensitive topics in a way that creates a space for all participants to meaningfully participate and benefit.

Designing Within Constraints

We put these new presentation and facilitation skills to the test during our own workshop entitled Human-Centered Design: Learning by Doing. Many of us on the Beeck Data + Digital team have at least a cursory knowledge of human-centered design principles, so we wanted to learn more about conducting user research given the constraints of government and social impact work. We explained the principles and methodologies that make up the design process and unpacked how they might be used in the public sector. Afterwards, we led the other Beeck Center student analysts through a hands-on mini design sprint. 

Beeck Center Student Analysts lead a human-centered design workshop at the Beeck Center on July 29, 2019. Photo by Dennese Salazar. 

Although applying design concepts to government service delivery is a relatively new concept, we’ve learned that, with the right mindset and team, it is possible. One of our student analysts experienced this firsthand when she joined the Lab at OPM for their federal employee summer design school as an assistant design coach. The week was spent working with federal employees on creating innovative, user-centered solutions given a set of financial and political constraints — including designing interfaces to help Navy fleet officers determine if their teams are mission-ready and helping the National Park Service more truthfully depict and showcase the histories of Native Americans.  

Beeck Center Student Analyst Jillian Gilburne (right) joins the Lab at OPM’s summer fellows as an assistant design coach during a week-long training for federal employees looking to apply human-centered design techniques to their agencies’ most pressing issues on July 17, 2019. Photo by the Lab at OPM.

What’s Happening in the Field

Civic Tech, as a field, is in a constant state of flux. The sheer volume of events, training, and convenings happening in this space are a testament to this. We urge readers who are interested in these issues to follow our lead and consider the rapidly changing nature of the field as evidence that we are in the midst of something exciting that is both worthy of our attention and in need of our skills and passion. 

At Coding it Forward’s Tech Policy 101 event, the importance of this work was further magnified. As Andres Mascumbe, legislative council for Rep. Maxine Waters noted, there is a serious need in Congress to help members quickly understand complex technical topics. He also quoted an often used phrase in the civic tech community, that we must replace our “move fast and break things mindset” with the more intentional “move purposefully and fix things” approach. 

Thankfully, we are not alone in our efforts to understand what role we can play in this ever changing line of work. In an effort to recruit and define the roles of young tech talent in government, many organizations are partnering with current and former government employees to brainstorm potential models. We had the privilege of attending one of these convenings where participants, including Beeck Center Fellows, discussed how to redesign government jobs for the 21st century. It became clear that because government agencies, even branches within agencies, all have different approaches to using data, there is no universal answer to what new tech talent will look like. While it’s far from conclusive, we were excited by the potential to create space for a wide range of talent to join government in the coming decades. 

Conclusion 

As we finalize the second month of our student analyst journey, we are still working (and learning) at the same rapid pace as when we started. We tackled diverse challenges that put our skills to the test, working in horizontal teams and balancing multiple projects, and conducting and presenting our own research to a broader audience in a clear and meaningful way. Above all, we’ve been working together as student analysts and with the entire Beeck Center team to better understand our personal roles in social impact and innovation. This allows us to think about using our existing skills to help support a movement of technologists, designers, and bureaucracy hackers in building a government that truly helps those it has promised to serve. 

Student Analysts on the Beeck Center Data + Digital team who contributed to this piece include Margarita Arguello, Kell Crowley, Jillian Gilburne, Alberto Rodriguez Alvarez, Robert Roussel, and Dennese Salazar.

Data + Digital Student Analysts | June 2019

It has been a busy first month for the six student analysts supporting the growing Data + Digital Portfolio at the Beeck Center. They’ve truly hit the ground running — from attending coding meetups to discussing data privacy for an upcoming PBS special to learning how to facilitate human-centered design workshops. 

The Beeck Center’s Data + Digital work includes supporting efforts in the public and private sectors to responsibly share and use data to address some of society’s most challenging issues, as well as creating tangible resources and cultivating the community for government digital service leaders to help them share and scale efforts. As newcomers, our student analysts are learning about what it means to work in the fields of civic tech and digital service design while simultaneously supporting the team’s ongoing projects. And as students who are already thinking about their own professional futures, they’ve taken the time to explore the diverse range of pathways they can take into government innovation work in the future — including through efforts led by our colleagues in the Georgetown Tech & Society Initiative and the Public Interest Technology University Network

We hope you’ll read on for some of their takeaways for the month of June.

Vandhana Ravi, Data + Digital Program Associate

Beeck Center Student Analysts pose outside of New America in Washington, D.C. before “The Commons Live!” an event about storytelling in government held on June 10, 2019. Photo by Alberto Rodriguez.

Learning while doing: Beeck Center as a training ground

The Data + Digital Student Analyst team had our work cut out for us when we first arrived at the Beeck Center earlier this summer. We are a group of students representing a number of different universities and backgrounds from Rhode Island to Chicago, from chemical engineering to public policy united by our shared interest in using data and technology to make government work better for the people it serves. In our first month, we have worked together to advance the work of the Beeck Center while also developing our own understanding of the major themes within the government Data + Digital space. 

Community Building

One of the major themes we’ve encountered is the importance of building a community of practice, of professionalizing and creating clearer access points to this type of work in order to inject new energy into it. We have seen that systematically recruiting, training, and supporting young technologists represents a major challenge that government agencies at all levels are looking to address. 

Thankfully, there are currently a myriad of different programs and initiatives to provide training opportunities and create a community of practice to help orient newcomers. We had the opportunity to learn about two such efforts early on, including BetaNYC’s Civic Innovation Fellowship and the Coding it Forward Fellowship. Both of these programs have taken on the task of training students in a variety of data, technology, and design skills, giving them exposure to professional experience in various levels of government, and creating networks for them to share their experiences and meet other like-minded practitioners. During a roundtable conversation with former U.S. Chief Data Scientist DJ Patil, we further explored the many opportunities and challenges that data scientists and engineers can expect to face when they enter the field of public service and how we can continue to build a support system for newcomers to the field.

We are a group of students representing a number of different universities and backgrounds from Rhode Island to Chicago, from chemical engineering to public policy united by our shared interest in using data and technology to make government work better for the people it serves. 

Aside from the importance of support and training for students and others who are early in their careers and interested in government reform work, we have also been thinking a lot about how to improve communication between the policy wonks and technologists who often have to work together to accomplish civic tech projects. For this reason, some of our student analysts have been attending and participating in Code for DC brigade meetups to get a better understanding of what communication barriers might exist between parties with diverse professional backgrounds, but shared goals. 

Storytelling

Another major theme we have encountered is one that is directly related to the Digital Service Collaborative’s goal of documenting and spreading the work of digital service leaders. Sarah Sullivan, the former Chief of Staff for the United States Digital Service (USDS), emphasized the importance of storytelling at an event hosted by the Public Interest Technology team at New America. Sullivan drew on her personal experiences in the USDS and the Massachusetts State Senate to explain how creating a storytelling culture within organizations is key to promoting truth telling. While she acknowledged that telling the truth and standing up to authority — whether to the public or even just internally in government — can be really challenging, she asserted its importance for those in the business of fixing government. We have also been exposed to story-telling as a powerful tool for helping governments serve the public. At the same event, Aaron Foley, the Chief Storyteller for the City of Detroit, spoke about local news coverage and the role it plays in mitigating feelings of alienation that some residents experience as a result of psychological gentrification.

We have seen that systematically recruiting, training, and supporting young technologists represents a major challenge that government agencies at all levels are looking to address.

In taking on the challenge of documenting the work of the civic tech sector, we have acknowledged the importance of learning what stories have already been told, what resources exist but might be hard to find, and finding new ways to disseminate existing information. To support this, we are working with Code for America to capture and centralize existing informational resources for civic technologists and government service delivery teams across the country.

Data, Ethics and Privacy

As the concepts of digital government and civic tech become more well understood, some of the most pressing questions we will have to confront are about data privacy and the ethical use of technology. We delved deeper into the subject during a conversation with Beeck Center Fellow Natalie Evans Harris as part of a PBS series that highlights the accomplishments of women in STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math — fields. Natalie, whose research focuses on the responsible use of data, guided us through a conversation about the privacy implications that should be considered when users give companies access to their data in exchange for a service. Our understanding of data ethics was pressed further during DJ Patil’s conversation when he introduced us to the topic of ethical data management and use as well as the new concept of a code of ethics for data scientists.  

As the concepts of digital government and civic tech become more well understood, some of the most pressing questions we will have to confront are about data privacy and the ethical use of technology. 

To further our knowledge on ethical data use practices, we attended a Deceptive Design and Dark Patterns Capitol Hill briefing. This panel addressed the Deceptive Experience to Online Users Reduction (DETOUR) Act, a piece of bipartisan legislation that protects users from relinquishing their data on online platforms due to deceptive user interfaces, or “dark patterns.” This was a particularly illuminating event given our team’s previous feelings of discomfort about the prevalence of deceptive data practices during our conversation with Natalie. 

Given our concerns, we took the opportunity to hear different stakeholder viewpoints regarding data privacy legislation during an expert panel held on Information-Sharing Ecosystems at Brookings. During the debate, it became clear that many companies want some form of regulation but significant tensions exist on the best approach. We’re particularly interested in this debate between the proposal to allow consumers to own and monetize their data and the ability to more tightly control its collection. 

Moving forward, we aim to continue to spread awareness about the implications of data collection and look forward to learning how to tackle these ethical hangups.

Beeck Center Student Analysts participate in a human-centered design workshop held at the Beeck Center in June 2019. Photo by Estefania Ciliotta Chehade.

 

Human-Centered Design

In order to effectively tackle the incredibly nebulous and complicated problems we’ve been exposed to in the world of civic technology, we’ve sought out training in the principles of human-centered design. Many of us arrived at the Beeck Center having already been exposed to design principles, however, to sharpen our skills, we participated in a workshop led by Beeck Center Fellow Emily Tavoulareas where we learned the tools for designing workshops and applying problem scoping, ideation, and iteration to our own work processes. 

We also had the opportunity to see a human-centered design workshop in action by attending a policy prototyping workshop hosted by the Harvard Kennedy School, Stanford Cyber Initiative and IDEO CoLab, focused on the future of work, including how automation will affect jobs and how we can make these inevitable job transitions equitable. We worked in breakout groups to design prototypes of products to address different aspects of emerging problems, such as the scarcity of high-quality jobs. The diverse backgrounds of the group, which included civic leaders, government professionals, academics, librarians, and industry representatives, helped bring different perspectives to the prototypes, and we left with a better understanding of the problems and tangible next steps for solutions. 

International Perspectives

Finally, our team has been particularly interested in harnessing international perspectives in order to place the U.S. civic tech movement into a larger context. Members of the team have been hard at work designing a case study framework to create detailed accounts of innovation and digitization efforts in different Latin American governments. These case studies are meant to serve as learning tools both in the realm of academia and for practitioner usage. We hope to help key decision-makers expand their frames of reference as they design and draft digital transformation strategies for their own governments. 

As part of the Beeck Center’s mission to support the civic tech community and assist in the delivery of better digital services, we, as Data + Digital student analysts, have been working hard to understand the existing ecosystem in order to better understand the most pressing questions and challenges involved in using data and technology to improve public services. 

By listening to diverse voices in the sector and creating tools to build better government, our team is cultivating the community of digital service leaders and introducing new perspectives into the debate about the future of government work. 

Student Analysts on the Beeck Center Data + Digital team who contributed to this piece include Margarita Arguello, Kell Crowley, Jillian Gilburne, Alberto Rodriguez Alvarez, Robert Roussel, and Dennese Salazar.

July 19, 2019 | Natalie Evans Harris

I’ve learned a few things about the power of data after nearly 20 years leading data capacity efforts in the Federal Government—more recently, under the Obama Administration, as well as co-founding a data technology company, BrightHive, in the private sector. Data can support transforming the human experience through our collective power. Data can inform insights and drive decisions that lead to a more equitable, representative society, creating opportunities for all to thrive. Finally, that Democracy is better when government, civic and private sectors come together.

For this vision to prevail, institutions and organizations must work collaboratively and responsibly to share their data with groups inside and outside of their network. To achieve this vision, a growing number of companies and government agencies are forming data partnerships to link data across institutional and geographic boundaries to support social good. Only when organizations take an integrated approach to addressing the legal, technical and governance challenges facing them will a truly meaningful outcome occur. 

Meaningful outcomes with strong data practices as the foundation opens opportunities for understanding society and driving scalable impact. But as the role of the data scientist—in all its variations—has proliferated (we are the sexiest career of the 21st Century after all), the standards and practices for data governance, in particular, have not kept pace to build the consistencies necessary to trust data as a decision-maker and driver of innovative social change. Our data governance practices need to be improved by using robust frameworks that address major points of risk and ambiguity which typically prevent many actors from engaging in sharing.  

Understanding traditional data sharing structures

Understanding traditional data sharing governance structures is key to improving these practices. Focused on protecting people by controlling the availability, usability, integrity and security of data, organizations traditionally establish clear rules for what data will be collected, how it will be stored, and who will have access to it. These rules are often centered around minimizing risk by setting controls and limiting access to data based on the user or the use case. In an environment where data is used for making funding decisions or evaluating programs, this model is ideal. It’s using internal data to evaluate internal activities. 

But as data is increasingly used for drawing insights about society, the need to bring together diverse data sources is clear and it’s imperative that we move beyond data sharing as a short-term transaction to adopt rules that incentivize data sharing while minimizing barriers.  These traditional data sharing governance structures tend to be:

  • Short-sighted: Addressing only immediate needs using limited bilateral agreements without a plan for sustainability.
  • Isolated: Sustained by a single champion but often failing due to changes in leadership or isolated engagement.
  • Inequitable: Imposed on organizations which lack the capacity to participate on equal footing. 
  • Self-Interested: Lawyers protecting individual interests and eliminating liabilities at the expense of the value to all stakeholders.

Moving toward an improved framework for data sharing governance

Starting at this traditional governance baseline, data sharing governance is now expanding from practices incentivized solely by risk-based decisions to models with  stability and equity of data collaborations at its foundation. This becomes crucial as more and more data is used to draw insights that drive marketing strategies, optimize internal practices, and enhance product development. It means CEOs and policymakers alike must balance individual’s trust that the needs for innovative solutions are balanced with the need to protect individual rights. 

Following the European Union’s adoption of the General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR), states such as California are defining rules for responsibly sharing data by strengthening individual data rights. This ultimately puts organizations on notice that how data is used matters more than the profits made from its use. To comply, organizations will need to demonstrate data sharing practices that are: 

  • Sustainable: Addressing immediate needs while at the same time supporting the potential for long-term growth.
  • Coordinated: Supporting shared decision-making for trust-managed data resources and organizational data ownership.
  • Equitable: Leveling the playing field for all data sharing members, regardless of size, capacity, or incentives to participate.
  • Collaborative: Eliminating liability while creating value for communities and individuals who should benefit most from the data sharing.

As a Beeck Center Fellow, I’ve worked to define a sustainable model for data sharing governance that recognizes the needs of today and into the future. This model takes a more collaborative approach to establishing and managing governance practices. Through a series of interviews and research, collaborators define a process that starts with building coalitions around the policy problem, and taking stock of capacity, motivations, barriers, and potential data solutions. It leads to a governance framework designed with integrated feedback loops and focused on evaluating assumptions, approaches and measurable outcomes. 

Recognizing that when government, civic and private sectors come together, democracy is better for it, the Digital Service Collaborative at Georgetown University’s Beeck Center and BrightHive will build a community of practice around this model to identify and develop best practices for collaborative data sharing governance. Our goal is to collaboratively advance the development and adoption of data sharing governance best practices leveraging the community of data and digital leaders in our network who are working on ways to responsibly share and use data to address some of society’s most challenging issues.

 If you’re interested in learning more and/or joining the community, please sign up for the Beeck Center’s newsletter here. When filling out the form be sure to select, “Digital Service Collaborative” in the interest area to ensure that you get added to the correct listserv.    

About us

The Digital Service Collaborative at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation is building a body of research around government data and digital services, creating tangible resources for practitioners, cultivating the community of data and digital service leaders in governments to share and scale efforts, and exploring policy considerations including ethics and privacy. 

BrightHive helps organizations, networks and communities securely and responsibly link their data to enhance their impact, empower individual and collective decision making and increase equity of opportunity. BrightHive Data Trusts provide a legal, technical, and governance framework that empowers a collective of organizations to securely connect their respective data sources and create new shared data resources, empowering them to better coordinate action, measure their impact and be more responsive to the current and future information needs of their community.

July 11, 2019 | Cori Zarek

The way governments deliver services to the public is a constant state of evolution. As we turn the corner on 10 years of more organized and active work to reimagine service delivery, there are new skill sets and technologies that continue to inform this work. As this service delivery movement continues to grow, the community of changemakers inside and outside of government leading this work is also expanding its reach.

In some places, we’re growing beyond the small, scrappy skunkworks teams to integrate data scientists and user experience experts throughout offices and departments. We’re seeing government leaders learn design thinking and embrace the mentality to “build with not for” their users. And we’re starting to find the space to take a step back and put some thought into how to support the movement as it turns into the next phase of growth.

Bringing the community together

At this year’s Code for America Summit in May— the gathering place for leaders in civic tech, digital government, service delivery and more— Code for America’s Executive Director Jennifer Pahlka reflected on our need for a “bigger tent” for this movement. As the work grows, so should our gathering spaces and ability to draw in leaders with varying expertise who are creatively working to deliver government services and increasingly looking for support and skills to do so. 

The Code for America Summit is a unique place for learning, sharing, and growing in the work of service delivery. This year, I co-chaired the event along with Dan Hon, a leader in both public and private sector tech. With a small volunteer committee and support from the Code for America staff, we focused the event’s program on the areas we know remain crucial for this work: increasing government’s capacity to deliver services, such as making it easier to apply for food stamps; government operations, examining the policies, process, and people who matter when it comes to serving the public; and the groundbreaking and innovative work taking place in our communities, including helping local agencies save time and money by buying what they need together.

Cori Zarek, Director of the Digital Service Collaborative at Beeck Center, and 2019 co-chair of the Code for America Summit, welcomes the 1,300 attendees to the annual event held this year in Oakland, CA, alongside co-chair Dan Hon. Photo by Drew Bird for Code for America, some rights reserved.

At the event, we also reflected on the changing needs of the civic tech community and of the need for the Code for America Summit itself to continue to grow and change along with its attendees — hence, the bigger tent. While 1,300 attendees make it to the Summit — nearly half of whom were first-timers — there is still a long way to go to make the event, and this work, as expansive and inclusive as possible.

Leveraging multi-sector stakeholders to grow the movement 

As the service delivery field continues to mature, opportunities to support the work from outside of government increase. There is a need for multi-sector stakeholders across academia, philanthropy, and civil society. In April, the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown, in partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation, announced the launch of the Digital Service Collaborative, which is working to support the people and teams leading service delivery work in all levels of government. We join a network of supporters including New America, Civic Hall, Code for America, Apolitical, and fellow leaders in academia such as the Digital HKS team at the Harvard Kennedy School and the many other programs in Georgetown’s Tech & Society Initiative.

Beeck Center Student Analysts Alberto Rodriguez Alvarez (L) and Kell Crowley (R) catch up in the hallway with The Rockefeller Foundation’s Durva Trivedi during a break at the 2019 Code for America Summit. Beeck Center colleagues led a workshop and breakout session at the Summit. Photo by Drew Bird for Code for America, some rights reserved.

The Digital Service Collaborative (DSC) team is kicking off our work with a focus on supporting needs and filling gaps to help government teams better deliver services to the public. Government leaders tend — as they should — to focus on addressing the pressing priorities to advance their missions, serving their leadership’s priorities, and responding to crises. Often, there’s little time to reflect on what was learned or how it might be applied to the next team facing similar issues before turning to the next urgent matter. There’s a lot of knowledge transfer that happens from person to person, but so much of it gets lost when it’s not documented in a way that can be shared and scaled. If you don’t have the network to know which people to talk to, you may never know such knowledge exists in the first place. 

The DSC will be working with government teams to better understand their successes and challenges beyond the traditional blog post or press release level, to dive deeper into the mechanics and details of their work with a goal of sharing and scaling that widely. Our team will also identify ways to bring people together around shared work and resources, through working groups, joint projects, and in-person convenings and events. 

The 2019 Code for America Summit was the organization’s largest yet with more than 1,300 attendees, more than 160 speakers, and three days of mainstage remarks, breakout sessions, workshops, lightning talks, roundtables, and convenings. Next year, the Summit will take place in Washington, D.C. from March 11-12, 2020. Photo by Drew Bird for Code for America, some rights reserved

Through all of our work, we’ll be talking to the people and teams inside of government leading this work to continue identifying the best ways to support them. And we’ll keep pressing this community to find ways to bring more colleagues into the fold — to build the tent bigger.  We look forward to joining this great community of practice at next year’s Code for America Summit, here in Washington, D.C. from March 11-13, 2020. Hope to see you there — and in the meantime, follow our work through the Beeck Center’s newsletter

June 14, 2019 | Lorelei Kelly & Marci Harris (POPVOX)

Problem:

The workflow of Congress presents unique challenges, many that could be effectively addressed with technology. In some cases, a mobile application — an “app” — is an ideal delivery medium. Major app ecosystems — such as the Apple IOS App Store or Google’s Android “Play” Marketplace — allow either for apps to be (1) available in the public app store for all, or (2) to be built as an “enterprise” app for a specific client that is enrolled in the ecosystem’s “bulk purchase” program. At least with Apple, there is no effective way to distribute limited or “private” apps outside of this program.

Neither Congress nor individual chambers of Congress (House or Senate) are currently enrolled in this bulk purchase program. This means that any app built for Congress — whether for staff use or for lawmakers — must be made available in the public app store. The Apple App Store approval process requires that a minimal set of features be available to all users. This means that currently any app built to solve a Congress-specific problem or address a Congressional workflow need must also provide a minimum set of features to the general public — even if they are not the intended user — in order to be approved for the public app store.

This is problematic for several reasons:

  • Scarce resources allotted for creating technology for Congress must also be expended to create a public-facing experience, even if the public is not the intended end user of the app.
  • Availability in the public app store presents unnecessary risk of hacking and phishing attacks by making technology intended for Congressional use visible and accessible by non-Congressional actors.

Recommendation:

Require the establishment of “bulk purchase” institutional accounts with major app marketplaces (IOS and Google Play) to allow for the development of enterprise applications specifically for Congressional use — either through the Office of the Clerk, Office of House Administration, Senate Sergeant at Arms, or a new “Innovation Office” within Congress.

App Examples:

Several apps have been attempted or created over the years with the intent of addressing internal Congressional needs. These apps effectively navigated the requirement to make features available to the public in order to serve Congress, but not without challenges:

  • Capitol Bells: Developed by Ted Henderson and launched in 2014, Capitol Bells was an ingenious solution for providing vote updates to Members of Congress. Mimicking the arcane “bells” that buzz on Congressional clocks — which Select Committee chairman Kilmer [D, WA] has described as “some kind of combination of Morse code and a Ouija board” to signal votes — Capitol Bells had to find a way to receive the bell indications. These are only sent to the Congressional clocks from the Architect of the Capitol and no electronic indicator exists (thought that might soon change). Hundreds of members and staffers — and members of the public — began using the app to receive vote updates bill information. Unfortunately, the public-facing nature of the app also caused the House Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) to briefly shut down access to the app in 2016, amid fears of ransomware attacks. If, however, the app had been able to exist as a “Congress-only” enterprise version (which would not preclude a public-facing version in the public app store), concerns about phishing and unauthorized access would have been greatly diminished.
  • Cloakroom: Following on the success of Capitol Bells, Henderson launched a new app, Cloakroom, in 2015 to facilitate informal communications on Capitol Hill — a place for staffers to have an anonymous chat to share news, questions, and even jokes. Ideally, the system would have been closed to prevent any outside access but, again, that would violate app store requirements. Therefore Henderson provided a set of public-facing features for anyone to use, allowed geofenced access to anyone on the Capitol Hill wireless networks, and allowed individuals off the Hill to submit a request to access Cloakroom.
  • WhipWatch (Now “DomeWatch”): Also in 2015, then-Minority Whip Steny Hoyer’s [D, MD] office launched an app to provide vote notifications to lawmakers. Of course, as the “whip,” the vote notifications were intended to be for members of his caucus, but due to App Store requirements, the app was made available to the public — and used by members on both sides of the aisle. With 50,000 downloads since version 1.0, it has been an unquestionable success, adding live vote tallies in its 2.0.  While a caucus whip normally does not publicize how he or she wants members to vote, Hoyer’s staff began to view and message the (unavoidable) public availability as a “feature-not-a-bug,” providing greater transparency to the legislative process for all. In 2019, now-Majority Leader Hoyer re-released the app under a new name, “Dome Watch,” now includes a high-definition live stream of the House floor and is available on Android and desktop. (Notably, the underlying functionality of DomeWatch requires some creative “civic hacking” because the House Clerk’s office does not offer an electronic source of live vote information. DomeWatch system live-streams and “scrapes” the vote information from the Congressional closed-circuit television to provide updated counts.)

The need for “Congress-only” apps: POPVOX Elevator example

In 2018, the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University began to explore ways to provide better resources for what would become the incoming class for the 116th Congress. During the course of her field research, Fellow Lorelei Kelly asked multiple members and staffers for suggestions on how to improve the orientation and transition phase from election to swearing-in, in a way that encouraged bipartisan relationships and mentoring. Representative Jim Cooper [D, TN] noted that new members benefit from safe and private connection with long-time members. He thought that it would be important to create more opportunities for collegiality and friendship among freshmen before the political parties captured so much of a new member’s time and attention.

With support from Democracy Fund, Beeck partnered with POPVOX to develop the concept and build an app based on the initial idea from Rep. Cooper. Kelly enlisted the help of the Former Members of Congress Association to bring on bipartisan “mentors” who agreed to participate and answer questions on the app.

The app was named “Elevator,” a play on the fact that many members actually meet and get to know each other on Capitol Hill at the Members Only-elevator as they rush off to votes. The app spec was intentionally simple: (1) a discussion board where participants could raise new topics or questions, reply to each other, and “like” the responses of others; (2) private, encrypted messaging between individuals; (3) push notifications; and (4) a list of resources for new members. The POPVOX team developed a verification system that limited signup to lawmakers or former lawmaker mentors with email addresses in the POPVOX system.

The app “Elevator” was developed for members-elect to help with the transition from Election Day to swearing-in.

 

The app was completed and submitted to the Apple app store on October 27, 2018. It was rejected by Apple on November 3 because signup was limited to newly-elected members-elect and verified former member “mentors.” It was resubmitted on November 4 with an explanation of the need to limit access to Congress — but again rejected.

Rejection from Apple for POPVOX Elevator 1.0 because it was primarily intended for Members-elect.

 

It was resubmitted on November 8 with the ability for public sign-in for limited access to the “resources” page. Apple then rejected the app again because it claimed that the list of resources was not enough public functionality to satisfy the minimum requirements of the app store. (Of course, significant functionality existed for members-elect and mentors, but was not available to the public.)

Rejection from Apple for POPVOX Elevator 1.1 because the addition of a “Resources” list accessible to the public did not provide enough functionality to meet minimal App Store requirements.

 

The Elevator team then worked with Georgetown’s Chief Technology Officer to have the app listed as an “educational” app through Georgetown’s educational account, which would require the distribution of Georgetown access codes to members. It was resubmitted as an educational app, and then inexplicably showed up on the public Apple store with no forewarning a few days later (in mid-December). By this time, the window to reach members in their transition phase had passed. The team has held off on additional updates to the app because it is almost certain that upon review for updates, Apple will again remove the app from the public app store.

While the app itself was ready for use and built to address an important need, the limitations of the public app store thwarted the ability to distribute and optimize the app during the crucial transition period for members-elect.

The team stands ready to re-release the app for Congress (and for other uses that members requested: special versions for Congressional spouses and chiefs of staff, for example) if and when Congress establishes a bulk purchase account. Until then, however, the approval requirements to make the apps for Congress available in the public app store or work with educational partner for closed distribution are too onerous to make the project successful.

Elevator is just one example of the kind of functionality that makes sense to have in a Congress-only app, among many. Committees have frequently expressed a desire for apps that would enable information dissemination and discussion among staffers of committee members. Basic Congressional operations such as scheduling, travel, procurement, and security updates could be more securely handled through closed apps developed specifically for the institution. Establishing the ability to build enterprise apps for lawmakers and staffers — as organizations and businesses frequently do for their own employees––is a basic and important step towards “modernizing” Congress.

Lorelei Kelly is a Fellow and leads the Resilient Democracy Coalition at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University.

Marci Harris is co-founder and CEO of POPVOX, an online platform for legislative information and civic engagement.

 

 

By Sonal Shah

Government services touch our lives daily in countless ways — giving veterans access to healthcare, caring for children in foster programs, providing social security or medicare and even helping us get around using public transit. In an effort to improve those interactions and increase public trust, governments around the world are working to reimagine how they provide services in a digital age.

While early leaders in this work are already providing measurable outcomes showing cost savings and efficiencies, most governments are not equipped for this new way of working. To support government teams in this work, the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation is proud to launch the Digital Service Collaborative with support from The Rockefeller Foundation to provide expert support on delivering better results for society at scale.

The Digital Service Collaborative adds to the Beeck Center’s digital portfolio and joins a robust community of technology and society initiatives at Georgetown University. In addition to building a body of research around government digital services, the Digital Service Collaborative will also cultivate a community of practice for digital service leaders in government to share and scale efforts. The Collaborative will create tangible resources for practitioners and opportunities to explore policy considerations such as ethics and privacy. The Collaborative will also build on and support existing data and digital efforts at the Beeck Center, including ethical and responsible use of public and private data to address challenging problems such as health and education, and leveraging digital tools for better civic engagement with public institutions. Students will be an important part of this work, contributing to research and community-building, and learning about this emerging area of public service.

From Georgia to San Francisco, digital service teams are already focused on delivering high-quality services to their communities. And government officials continue to announce new initiatives, resources, and support for this type of work including in Connecticut, Maine, and California. Nationally, leaders across the U.S. government have made service delivery a priority throughout federal departments and agencies, as well as in the U.S. Digital Service and 18F. Some of this great work includes:

  • Making it easier for military veterans to apply for benefits by consolidating 1,000 separate websites and 950 telephone numbers so military veterans could more easily determine their eligibility for services;
  • Providing students and families better information on higher education including full costs, average loan amounts borrowed, and graduation rates;
  • Creating a people-based immigration process to help individuals and families understand and follow the naturalization process;
  • Helping people find affordable housing in San Francisco; and
  • Improving live-saving alerts for flooded roadways in Austin, Texas.

To carry out this work, the Beeck Center is assembling a world-class team at the leading edge of technology, data and society. We are excited to welcome Cori Zarek, a leader on government digital transformation, ethics, and technology policy, who has joined Beeck and Georgetown University as the Director of the Digital Service Collaborative. She will oversee the Collaborative and manage our efforts on data, technology, and society. Cori previously served as Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer under President Obama, leading digital and open government efforts across the federal government. Most recently, she was a Senior Fellow for technology policy at Mozilla and worked with Code for America to support the implementation of digital services in local government. Additionally, the Digital Service Collaborative welcomed Emily Tavoulareas as a fellow to lead user research on communities we hope to serve. With Christopher Wilson and Vandhana Ravi they will continue to build out the Digital Service Collaborative, including programming for students through seminars, pop-up workshops, analyst positions, and other efforts.

We have spoken to more than 100 leaders over the past few months to better understand the challenges governments face in providing digital services, and will use those key insights to develop an overarching strategy for our work. We will carry this work out in close collaboration with many others already working in this space, including organizations like Code for America and New America, academic centers like Digital HKS and other members of the Georgetown tech and society initiative, and, of course, government teams and people. We look forward to publicly sharing our learnings from those expert interviews and our plans for approaching this work.

The Digital Service Collaborative expands upon the Beeck Center’s existing data for social good efforts which includes Denice Ross who is building and supporting data collaboratives for social impact, including Census 2020, opioids, and disasters, and Natalie Evans Harris who is providing thought leadership and developing policy recommendations on new models of data ownership. It also builds on a growing body of work the Beeck Center has produced on better government delivery, including The Blockchain Ethical Design Framework, Architecture of Innovation, Accelerating the Sharing of Data Across Sectors, Funding for Results, Outcomes-based government and a Chief Data Officer Playbook with Deloitte, led by Hollie Russon-Gillman.

We are looking forward to working with our colleagues across digital service efforts to build out the network and global community to help accelerate progress. We will share more about the Digital Service Collaborative as the initiative continues to take shape in our newsletter — join our newsletter for updates and email us with suggestions for this work at beeckdsc@georgetown.edu.

September 7, 2018 | By Itay Weiss, Graduate Student Analyst

Many of our most celebrated institutions now face historically low levels of public trust. From colleges and universities to Congress itself, the institutions best poised to drive impact at scale appear out of touch with society and hamstrung by partisan divides. Researchers fear these conditions will cripple American democracy even further, as disillusionment leads to apathy — and in turn, to disengagement altogether. But if civic participation among our students is any indication, these researchers might not have much to worry about quite yet.

This past summer, high schoolers visited over 80 communities in 24 different states to advocate for safer gun laws. They took traditional approaches to civic engagement, like rallies, town-halls, and voter registration drives. But they also availed themselves of the best technology had to offer, using consumer-centered design to improve the ways the government serves its constituents. 

March For Our Lives, March 2018

On the one hand, take the survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas. After an 800,000-strong March for Our Lives, they mobilized supporters to convene over 120 “Town Halls for Our Lives” across 34 states. Strategically, if members of Congress declined to participate, local organizers would invite their opponents to attend in their place. They even launched the “Road to Change” tour to mobilize their peers even further, this time with the goal of making sure that people are registered to vote and will vote for candidates who support stricter gun-laws.

Traditionally, town halls symbolize direct democracy, allowing constituents to engage their elected officials face-to-face. But the 21st century town hall, whether online or in person, comes with its own challenges. These gatherings have increasingly become forums for protest, with opinions and emotions often overpowering facts and expertise. And with little signal amid the noise, translating public conversation into meaningful policy solutions has proved challenging. It’s little wonder, then, that lobbyists exert as much influence as they do, curating pre-packaged legislation packed with one-sided views of private interests — and taking credit for doing so while they’re at it. The news cycle forces legislators to stay relevant and ready to respond, and these kinds of products help keep things moving. But at the end of the day we don’t need policy-based evidence stacked in favor of a privileged class. We need evidence-based policy that serves the needs of all Americans — and that’s where tech can play a vital role. 

Elected officials lack a sustained stream of objective expertise from a disinterested third party. The stand some of them take on guns, for example, is motivated by the same incentives that make them turn to lobbyist legislation: it’s accessible, supported by so-called experts, and will yield campaign contributions. Organized differently, means of civic participation like town halls can amplify the constituent experience and enable elected officials to better represent their constituents. Rep. Rick Crawford, a Republican from Arkansas, calls for the creation of a new platform independent of ad-buys that allows for evidence-based discussion. Along the way, he is also asking constituents simply to text him with questions and suggestions — allowing his team to easily collect information, identify key issues, and respond with meaningful reform. CrowdLaw similarly promotes online participation in lawmaking with 25 case studies detailing the best avenues for engagement. 

Notably, the Beeck Center recently hosted an inspiring young leader working in technology and governance — Chris Kuang. Chris and his team founded Coding it Forward, “a student-led 501(c)(3) nonprofit empowering computer science, data science, and design students to create social good by breaking down the barriers to entry in social impact spaces.” They offer the Civic Digital Fellowship, a first-of-its-kind internship for students aiming to use technology to reform practices in federal agencies. 

Looking to the leaders of March For Our Lives and Chris Kuang as examples, what would it take to implement similar reform at the legislative level — minimizing information asymmetries and improving constituent participation across the board? We’d love to hear your thoughts, so go ahead and comment to continue the conversation! 

Chris Kuang (second from right) visits the Beeck Center

August 13, 2018 | By Rachel Wilder, Program Assistant 

Artificial intelligence for social good isn’t just hype. AI allows computer systems to perform tasks, like visual perception and decision making, that previously required human intelligence. Public and nonprofit sector leaders have an opportunity to increase their impact by applying AI to resource optimization and prediction problems outside the bounds of older methods: researchers and local government partners have used AI to better identify police officers at risk of adverse events like racial profiling or deadly use of force and to improve HIV awareness and testing rates among homeless youth. AI holds promise as a tool to approach a variety of social problems.

But in order for these benefits to be realized at scale, we need to overcome significant data infrastructure barriers. My brother, Bryan Wilder, is completing his PhD at the University of Southern California’s Center for AI in Society (CAIS). I found compelling overlap between the data needs that he and his advisor see and the Beeck Center’s work on data for social good. Three that stood out to me:

1. We need more high-quality data.

Despite the rapid expansion of public and private sector data collection, there often just isn’t enough data on the issues and people that AI for good can benefit most. For example, CAIS identifies many issues in public health (including outreach, disease tracking, and treatment decisions) that AI is well-positioned to address. However, public health data is especially scarce in the low-resource and developing country contexts where disease prevention could have the biggest impact. And as Gideon Rosenblatt and Abhishek Gupta recently commented in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, it isn’t enough that data is collected; datasets must be complete, accurate, and structured in order for machine learning systems to be developed.

2. We need to streamline data sharing across sectors.

Computer science researchers in academia have the energy and resources to apply AI to social problems, but they need access to data in order to do so. Even within interested social impact partner organizations, in-house data use restrictions can make the process of sharing with researchers prohibitively difficult.

A Beeck Center report published last year, “Accelerating the Sharing of Data Across Sectors to Advance the Common Good,” outlines a framework for governments and private companies to share data through a trusted intermediary with sensitivity to privacy and ethics concerns. This idea is echoed in discussion on the development of a “Data Commons” that would serve as a unified platform for data to be used in AI work. We should continue to push the conversation on getting data out of organizational silos and into the hands who can use it for good.

3. We need social sector leaders with data and technology literacy.

In order for governments and nonprofits to know that AI-driven solutions meet ethical considerations – including ensuring that racial and gender biases don’t influence results – there must be organizational leaders who can understand how algorithms arrived at recommendations or predictions.

Algorithmic bias is a serious and well-documented problem with AI, and it is especially important to uncover bias when working on social issues that affect groups already struggling with systemic bias. CAIS director Milind Tambe acknowledged that “[b]eing able to explain decisions an AI system has made to an end user is very important,” noting that “[i]n many cases, we are working with vulnerable communities and populations, and we need to ensure they will not be harmed.”

The Beeck Center and Deloitte’s Center for Government Insights have co-produced a playbook for Chief Data Officers in government that explicitly addresses this subject, giving data leaders a roadmap for understanding and managing algorithmic risks. Beeck Center researchers have also published a framework for ethical blockchain design that can serve as a template for ethical design in other technologies, including AI. This type of training for data officials in the public sector and implementers of new tech solutions will become increasingly important as AI becomes more common.  

The practice of addressing social good questions with artificial intelligence is young, and it’s exciting to me to envision how AI tools could amplify the impact of public programs if they are successfully applied at scale. Enabling that future will require investing in data collection, sharing, and literacy. My colleagues at the Beeck Center are working at the heart of advocacy and education efforts to make those investments a reality – so stay tuned!

“I have nothing to hide” is a tired justification that we can no longer use when it comes to our data privacy. I think we will find too late that the importance of privacy has nothing to do with compromising information on an individual level and everything to do with the information and power we have collectively given away.

June 4, 2018 | By Lara Fishbane, Research Assistant

On April 30, Anna Lauren Hoffmann published an article on Medium that outlines example after example of how the data collected on us is inconspicuously damaging any efforts we’re making toward a better, more equal society. Even as we tell women that they can be engineers, architects, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and presidents, Google Translate is subtly suggesting otherwise. As we march the streets demanding that it be understood that Black Lives Matter, Facebook is systematically failing to identify black men and women as people.

The dangers Hoffman points to are frightening and real. And the imperative for action in an increasingly hyperconnected and technology-enabled world is critical. How do we build a world where our algorithms are attentive to social consequences? And, perhaps even more important, how do we reach a world where data and technology solve for social inequality?

We can say again and again that what we need is more diversity in tech—and it’s true, we definitely do—but the problems in our algorithms will persist. Even a perfectly diverse group of engineers would inevitably be constrained by algorithms that learn from a world of biased outcomes. In other words, the problem remains that algorithms rely on data collected in a society of systemic oppression, bias, and inequity. Even a “neutral” algorithm cannot escape that fact.

Perhaps then the call is to eliminate categories such as race, gender, sexual preference, etc., from any automated decision-making processes. However, even without explicit groupings in our data, we still run the danger of perpetuating biases. For example, imagine a hiring algorithm employed by a company looking to fill a vacancy. Even if the algorithm is blind to names, addresses, race, and gender, it’s possible that the algorithm picks up details that correlate with these categories. A person may have attended a high school in a predominantly non-white neighborhood, may use adjectives or syntaxes that are native to certain cultural backgrounds, or have participated in affinity groups that correlate with social groups. Though these algorithms don’t consider race or gender, they will ultimately reproduce the same biases that already corrupt our hiring processes, while operating under the guise of neutrality.

And so, regardless of how little you think you have to hide, the collection of your data is dangerous. It allows companies to form the types of correlations that actively threaten social progress. Even if the data isn’t being used to make discriminatory hiring, loan, or credit decisions, the potential for harm is no less real. Think of Facebook, for example, who is using your data to improve your ad experience. Masked by the false pretense of an improved experience, the consequences of something so seemingly benign are worth being considered. Are we okay with a society in which men are more often shown advertisements for high-paying jobs than women? Or one in which Google searches for black-sounding names are associated with criminality? What about one in which low-income consumers are inundated with gambling-related advertisements? In aggregate, it’s impossible to say that these decisions about how our data is collected, stored, sold, and used don’t matter.

Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation attempts to solve for some of these concerns around privacy and automated decisions. For example, Articles 13, 15, and 22 grant users the right to an explanation of how their personal data is being used to arrive at decisions. Recital 71 grants them the power to challenge that decision. The development of these articles is not insignificant and represents part of a larger conversation around taking “back” (did we ever have it?) control of our data and the usage of it. But it is likely to be limited — source code is too esoteric for lay people to understand, and a lay explanation might miss the complexity of how the algorithm is actually functioning. Further, even if the outputs are understood to be unfair, it seems unduly burdensome to shift the responsibility of challenging the decision to the end user. Marginalized and oppressed groups already often bear the brunt of needing to redress the injustices enacted upon them.

What’s really needed—and I am certainly not the first to suggest this—is a code of ethics around data and how it gets used in algorithms. Such a code should be underpinned by values of equity and fairness, and reflect the world we want to live in. Moreover, perhaps counterintuitively, it should be something that is less-well defined rather than more. A vagueness pushes companies to strive for better whereas hard lines are something to be reached and not exceeded. Further, there should be trusted third parties whose job it is to vet these algorithms and represent the rights of the end user.

This premise is not without its own challenges. Namely, the practicality of developing a code of ethics that adequately represents the rights of people, not those with vested interests; the creation of a new and fair marketplace for vetting and authenticating code; and the protection against the creation of perverse and dangerous incentives that may develop when third parties are paid to be the arbiters of fairness.

However, these are not sufficient reasons for inaction. Imperfect solutions that strive for something better through thoughtful and collaborative design are better than just letting our systems continue as is. It is our responsibility to not leave this one unresolved.

The data collected, released, and produced by the government has the potential to be leveraged for social good, but concerns about privacy and citizen’s rights are paramount.

May 1, 2018 | By Hollie Russon Gilman, Senior Fellow & Ali Shahbaz, Student Analyst

As the open data movement continues to evolve, the role of Chief Data Officers and institutional design matters for the implementation of data-driven governance and decision making. However, it is not enough to think about the supply side of public sector data. We also need to think about the demand side. There are a few core components of this, which include engaging with civil society, training the next generation of public servants, and effectively working to equip individual citizens with data privacy and rights.

Data is an asset for civil society and philanthropy, which can play an intermediary role, something that Lucy Bernholz calls “digital civil society.” Established initiatives such as the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth are already building the infrastructure for data philanthropy. However, especially in smaller organizations, there can be capacity issues to ensure that data is effectively used and deployed. Civil society and philanthropy can also play a role to ensure that there is a conversation surrounding the normative value and ethics behind which data is released and for what social purpose. This requires civil society working together to collectively build tools and resources that address data security, stewardship and access — as Josh Levy & Katie Gillum recently wrote in Stanford Social Innovation Review. Because so much seemingly private information can now be easily accessed, it is essential for social justice organizations to collaborate in order to ensure that one organization is not inadvertently jeopardizing other missions.

Second, in order for the public sector to effectively leverage data there needs to be training and a recognition within institutional structures that data is a catalyst for internal decision making as well a public asset for people, business, and society. Building an architecture of innovation, which we have written about at the Beeck Center, helps create a structure to ensure better institutional design between the core pillars of governance. There are serious legal and cultural challenges to effectively sharing data across agencies and different levels of government (e.g. state, local, and federal). In addition to modernizing software we also need to equip public servants with a range of skill sets, including upskilling current public servants with data and tech literacy training. San Francisco and Kansas City, in addition to the Department of Commerce, have already launched their own “Data Academy Programs.” Any of these initiatives also requires high-level political leadership and air time.

Finally, how can we make data an asset for citizens? There is enormous amount of value in the data that citizens hold and generate (both individually and through social networks). The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), scheduled to take effect in May 2018, demonstrates a path toward reliable online privacy balanced with transparency. The GDPR is the first legal bill of rights for personal data. One of the most exciting aspects of the GDPR is the concept of “data portability,” which empowers consumers to have a clear record of their personal data so that they can choose if and how they want their data to appear. GDPR also offers the “right to be forgotten” — if someone wants their data removed from an app or company, now it is a possibility. There is no doubt that regulatory instruments like the GDPR will be a milestone in standardizing best practices for data transparency, ownership, consent and sharing. However, there will be interesting questions about if and how the U.S. responds and what the role of other institutions will be to comply.

The data that people hold will continue to be extremely valuable. There may be opportunities for leveraging individual data for the public good, such as in the Human Genome project. However, its implementation requires an individual and institutional understanding of data usage, protection, sharing and integration. Throughout all these conversations it is essential that questions of equity, digital access, and digital literacy are placed front and center. Without the regulations to retain and protect people’s data, we run the risk of growing digital inequality in our already deeply unequal society.

Opening government data has the potential to build trust between citizens and the state while pushing for better public outcomes.

April 19, 2018 | By Madison Suh, Student Analyst

On April 9th, the Beeck Center, in partnership with the MacArthur Research Network on Opening Governance, convened over 60 government and industry leaders at Georgetown University to discuss the relationship between data, trust, and governance. The center has been focused on the opportunity for leveraging data for social good, and was pleased to convene this event as the final in a three-part series on the future of open data.

Many governments have committed to open data policies and practices, yet there is a need for a more nuanced discussion on data governance. With this goal in mind, the center invited practitioners and leaders to join a dinner and policy discussion on how best to govern data and build trust.

One of the first questions guiding the April 9th conversation was whether the opening of government is an appropriate response to mitigate diminishing levels of trust between the citizen and the state. The panel launched into the discussion with a brief history on the evolution of open data. The open data movement began with the massive release of data into the public domain, where data had previously been largely unstructured and unmined. The first wave was the purposeful release and utilization of data in ways that benefitted citizens and built critical infrastructure. This development was followed by the mobilization of citizen feedback in response to governance structures and services. Finally, government has focused on how to respond to citizen feedback in order to deliver better outcomes; it is this domain that offers an avenue to build trust.

With trust in governance institutions at historic lows, governments need to prioritize closing the feedback loop between citizens and the state. As Christopher Wilson, Visiting Fellow at the Beeck Center, said, “there has to be a certain amount of trust that data is being interpreted in good faith and used for their intended purpose.” Panelists Sanjay Pradhan, CEO, Open Government Partnership; Beth Noveck, Professor, NYU Tandon School of Engineer; and William Eggers, Executive Director, Deloitte’s Center for Governance insights urged the audience to have hope in the power of data to restore citizen’s trust in government and offered examples, including: data prediction capabilities that impact policy decisions and resource allocation; the creation of data commons that prioritize transparency; and a government-sponsored platform for blended public and private data. Data pipelines could reduce friction between the private and public sectors, while customary experience principles could be applied to curate and visualize data in accessible ways, and untapped data sets could be used to further the development of products, services, and research.

Various themes emerged from the event, offering key insights and suggested approaches on data governance:

Shift Culture to Breed Trust

The panelists suggested that responsive and responsible use of data will drive an incremental culture shift in how data is governed and used to build trust. Data governance is essential at every step of the data life cycle. The transparency of processes — an honest assessment of both opportunities and challenges — is critical to foster institutional readiness and responsible stewardship of data. To build trust, there must be a cultural shift towards innovation and public entrepreneurship, with co-creation between the private and public sectors. However, panelists noted that shifting culture is “hand-to-hand combat,” particularly “where powerful elites benefit.” Building a climate of trust will require coordination between government and civil society and a balance of the risks and benefits of how data is collected, analyzed, and used.

Prepare for Future Obstacles

It was made clear from the discussion that the greatest promises for the future of data governance, if left unmoderated, could also pose some of the greatest risks and challenges. For example, artificial intelligence and machine learning, if left unchecked, could prompt ethical and normative challenges for the future of democracy, including privacy and cyber risks. Both individual risks (privacy, security, and personal safety) and organizational risks (confidentiality, liability, and intellectual property) are active concerns.

Engage Citizens As Participants

Above all, the panelists said, governance models should be citizen-centric, so that citizens are heard and responded to. The panelists stressed the importance of citizen participation and state response to foster and emphasize a trusting relationship. For example, participatory budgeting enables direct decision-making powers for citizens to influence policy outcomes within the government. This is a tool to build trust in government, as it has done in South Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where mobile phones and town halls were used to create a line item vote and increase citizen participation.

Rebuild Trust Collectively

According to one of the event’s participants, the open data movement requires a broader range of communication and analytical skills as well as the ability to assess the risks, benefits, and limitations of data usage, access, protection, and sharing. Multi-sector stakeholders, including industry, academia, and NGO’s, need to be part of this process to uphold standards.

One of the outputs of our three-dinner series with a group of multi-sector data leaders from across government, academia, civil society, and the private sector is a forthcoming Chief Data Officer playbook co-published by the Beeck Center and Deloitte’s Center for Government Insights. The publication focuses on a range of key aspects of the open data discourse, including the history and evolution of the role of Chief Data Officers in the government; the use of data as an asset for public policy; the translation of data into storytelling tools; and the evaluation of data ownership, sharing, privacy, and stewardship.

Ensuring the future of open data will require all actors to share a greater sense of accountability. In addition to the foundational principle of doing no harm, there is an inherent responsibility to do good.

For more information, visit www.beeckcenter.georgetown.edu or email us at beeckcenter@georgetown.edu.

 

With blockchain technology in its formative stage, developers and practitioners have an opportunity to set ground rules that will protect people and ensure an ethical approach to applications for social good.

March 15, 2018 | By Lara Fishbane, Research Assistant

On March 8th, the Beeck Center hosted a dinner for industry practitioners and policymakers to preview our forthcoming Blockchain Ethical Design Framework and to discuss actionable strategies for the responsible development and implementation of blockchain solutions for social impact. In an effort to move discussion on blockchain’s value beyond the current media cycles of hype and despair, we convened 50 leaders for a conversation about the technology’s ethical implications and how to advance approaches that link the design of blockchain to human outcomes.

Sonal Shah, executive director of the Beeck Center, opened the night with a reminder that this conversation is part of an important, broader conversation that society should be having now about data, technology, and ethics. As technology has become increasingly cheap, capable, and ubiquitous, its potential to enable solutions that benefit marginalized and underserved communities has also increased. Globally, organizations are calling for technology-based solutions that improve people’s lives. At the same time, we’re realizing that technology is not neutral. “Values are always embedded in technology,” Shah said. Blockchain is no exception.

Beeck Center Senior Fellow Cara LaPointe, who leads our Blockchain for Social Good effort, pointed out, “the technology is developing at a pace much faster than our ability to create governance around that technology.” As evidence, hundreds of blockchain for social good pilot projects are already in the works. Blockchain for Change, a startup in New York, is exploring blockchain’s potential for distributing services to the city’s homeless population, and a number of global organizations are leveraging the technology to help refugees access financial services. How solutions like these are designed and implemented will have real ethical consequences for people. With the technology in its formative stage, developers and practitioners have an opportunity to set the ground rules that will protect people before any ill effects are cemented into standards.

LaPointe highlighted blockchain’s key characteristics: transparency, trust, and immutability, noting that these are not just characteristics; they are also values. The system is set up with an underlying idea about how the technology, and, by extension, the world, should be: transparent, decentralized, secure, auditable. And this world offers new promise in terms of creating and delivering untapped social value. Panelist David Treat, Managing Director at Accenture, spoke to blockchain’s potential for creating new and decentralized identity systems as well as bringing value directly to small businesses and farmers. Katherine Foster, a blockchain specialist at the World Bank, added that it more broadly could be leveraged to meet development goals, through efforts such as the distribution of food aid.

However, parallel to blockchain’s unprecedented opportunities lie ethical challenges. Each value is coupled with risk. Immutability offers security, but it also means that potentially erroneous information is made permanent. Transparency offers access, but it also leaves open the chance of exploitation for vulnerable populations. Rules-based trust offers decentralized collaboration between many parties, but as the Chief Digital Officer of CARE Macon Phillips pointed out, certain protocols to achieve consensus between these parties require large amounts of energy that are dangerous to the environment. When asked what makes ethics so difficult to achieve, LaPointe explained, “it’s complicated because everything is interconnected.”

LaPointe emphasized that each choice, no matter how small, has huge ethical implications. People are using the technology for the good it can provide, but they should think about the ethical responsibilities that come with it. Panelist Natalie Evans Harris, Chief Operating Officer at BrightHive, underscored the need for an ethical approach, reminding us that blockchain is about data and “data is people.” Real people’s lives will be affected by any solution that blockchain enables. To ensure that blockchain solutions deliver social good for all, developers should be intentional about building in inclusion and equity to the design.

Panelist Rahul Chandran, Executive Director of the Global Alliance for Humanitarian Innovation, drove home the message, “I am unconvinced that blockchain is going to save humanity from itself. Without an ethical code, nothing will get to scale, we won’t get the partnerships together, and we also won’t try anything because we don’t get to experiment on people without ethical standards.”

The Beeck Center’s Ethical Design Framework is an actionable tool for the continued development of the technology for social good. While blockchain comes with inherent risks, that is not a reason to dismiss its potential social value. As Harris pointed out, “At some point, technology moves forward because it’s a benefit to individuals and society.” LaPointe added that if a technology can help people, it becomes an ethical obligation to use it. It’s important that it also be designed ethically and intentionally.