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 firstname.lastname@example.org.