Big Picture Thinking

Code for America at 10; a new civic idea for employers; and more.

  • This is civic tech: Writing for Civicist, Andrew Schrock reflects on Code for America as it finishes its first decade, having grown to be the largest nonprofit in the US devoted to improving how the government uses technology. As more than a thousand members of Code for America’s Brigades meet this weekend in Chicago, Schrock argues that CFA should think twice about trying to get to be “50 times faster and 100 times bigger” (goals its outgoing founder Jen Pahlka recently articulated) and instead go deeper into the kinds of systemic change work it has begun to excel in.

  • Also new on Civicist, our summer research intern Deblina Mukherjee reports on how two Civic Hall member organizations, Radical Health, and Quadrant2, are collaborating, developing an AI-powered app aiming to help pregnant women in the inner city get better health care outcomes. Guest-starring, a most unlikely piece of technology—the Civic Hall elevator.

  • Here’s a great idea from ioby co-founder Erin Barnes on how employers can strengthen democracy in America: give employees “civic duty days” off from work. ioby employees get 5 per year. It’s not like jury duty, she writes. “Activities can include neighborhood volunteering, get-out-the-vote volunteering, fundraising, self-care and community-care to respond to local and national emergencies, writing letters, meeting with local elected officials, making calls, going to a healing workshop, and personal health to recover from civic duty activities that fall on weekends.”

  • The Civic Tech Graveyard section of our Civic Tech Field Guide has been updated, just in time for Halloween. Spooky!

  • Attend: If you’re going to MozFest, on October 22 make sure to catch “Mapping Public Interest Tech Ecosystems,” a session led by BetaNYC in partnership with the Sunlight Foundation and our Civic Tech Field Guide.

  • More than $100 million has been investing in catalyzing civic tech efforts in India, according to a new report by Village Capital and CIIE.CO.

  • Longtime readers of Civicist need no introduction to Audrey Tang, Taiwan’s digital minister, or to Taiwan’s pioneering efforts in digital democracy like Taiwan, but now readers of the New York Times op-ed page can read Tang’s strong overview of the many ways “Taiwan is crowdsourcing democracy to create a more responsive government.”

  • Big news on the philanthropy front: Chris Hughes, one of Facebook’s co-founders and now one of its toughest critics, is setting up a two-year $10 million Anti-Monopoly Fund to invest in projects aiming to challenge corporate concentration not just in tech but also in other industries like agriculture, healthcare and finance, Tony Romm reports for The Washington Post. Several other foundations, including Ford, Nathan Cummings, Knight, Hewlett, and the Omidyar Network, are making commitments to the fund.

  • Tech and politics: Presidential candidate Andrew Yang tells the New York Times’ Charlie Warzel that he wants to create a new government agency called the Department of the Attention Economy to oversee design choices by tech platforms.

  • Life in Facebookistan: Lying by politicians in paid ads on Facebook is ok, but as Ryan Mac and Zahn Hirji report for BuzzFeed News, the company has removed more than 160 presidential campaign ads for things like profanity, fake buttons or bad landing pages.

  • Judd Legum, who is making investigating Facebook’s political contortions a specialty, reports on how three top staffers in Facebook’s DC office—Joel Kaplan, Katie Harbath and Kevin Martin—each have longstanding Republican loyalties and play critical roles keeping the company in the good graces of Republican lawmakers and President Trump.

  • Privacy, shmivacy: Niantic, an augmented reality gaming company that has specialized in getting participants outside with games like Pokemon Go, is after bigger game—building a map of the entire world from the minute collection of real-time user data, and figuring out how to monetize all of that. As this investigation from Cecilia D’Anastasio and Dhruv Mehrotra of Kotaku reports, Niantic’s new game Wizards United is amassing highly detailed information about its players, including “the number of calories they likely burned during a given session, the distance they traveled, the promotions they engaged with.”

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