On-Site Solutions

NYC's Tech Jobs Opportunity Gap; Hello CivicSignals!; Agile Policy Development and more.


  • This is civic tech: Just out, a major new report commissioned by Civic Hall, funded by Cognizant Foundation US and prepared by HR&A Advisors examining the “opportunity gap” in New York City’s tech workforce. The key findings: While high-tech job growth in NYC has outpaced the larger economy, the people filling those jobs are not representative of the city’s diversity, and critical disconnects in information, data collection and collaboration need to be addressed in order to ensure that the tech training ecosystem brings these high-tech opportunities to all communities. There’s lots of juicy stuff in the report, including a report card for workforce training programs, how automation will likely change the job picture, case studies from big employers, and some warnings about what the lack of diversity means for the implementation of AI systems. 
  • Here’s a provocative and valuable new paper from Code for America’s Jen Pahlka on the concept of “Delivery-Driven Policy,” which starts from the simple insight that too much policy development is based on educated guesswork followed by a very slow feedback loop, and that it’s time to bring a user-driven, iterative approach to the process of creating policy.
  • Say hello to CivicSignals.io, the brainchild of activist entrepreneur Eli Pariser and University of Texas professor Talia Stroud, which is launching today focused on asking “what healthy societies need from digital spaces — not just in terms of harms, but in terms of the public goods they provide.” Amen to this, it’s high time we figure out how to make tech work for civic space, rather than allowing tech to continue to colonize it.
  • And watch this new TED Talk from Eli, who you may remember from something called MoveOn or something else called Upworthy, or that thing he accused Mark Zuckerberg of creating, the “filter bubble,” which Zuck denied and now everyone agrees is a big part of what troubles us.
  • The neighborhood crowdfunding platform ioby has some timely tips on how to raise funds effectively online now that we’re entering the giving season. 
  • Apply: The folks at City Innovate has just posted more than 60 new smart city challenges that they say are very start-up friendly, and they’re making it easy to apply. (I’m not sure how getting “barista high-quality beverages” delivered to city employees stuck in an industrial park location 1.6 miles from the nearest “quality coffee location” is a top “smart city” challenge facing the City of Carlsbad, but as its RFP reads, “Though this may seem minor, this was the number one need that employees identified. Multiple employees cite the waste of time, the carbon emissions from driving, and the general inconvenience as reasons why an on-site solution to the afternoon coffee crisis is needed.”
  • Media matters: A new study of anti-Muslim sentiment on social media during the 2018 elections found that a tiny band of Islamophobes focused heavily on two Muslim members of Congress (Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib), amplified by much larger bot networks that disappeared after the election. “The online cacophony of hate Ms. Omar and Ms. Tlaib encountered had nothing to do with political ads,” the study’s authors Lawrence Pintak, Jonathan Albright and Brian J. Bowe write in The New York Times. And they argue that if they could find these troll accounts and bot networks, so could Twitter. “This is about the platform taking responsibility and systematically enforcing its own standards, not passing the buck and blaming advertising,” they write.
  • Here’s a good example of why any platform that promises to stop taking political ads is going to run into problems, courtesy of Emily Atkin and her Heated newsletter.
  • Two employees of Twitter have been charged by the US Justice Department of spying on users on behalf of Saudi Arabia, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Bensinger report for The Washington Post. They write, “The case highlights the issue of foreign powers exploiting American social media platforms to identify critics and suppress their voices. And it raises concerns about the ability of Silicon Valley to protect the private information of dissidents and other users from repressive governments.
  • Some good news for readers! The Internet Archive is partnering with Better World Books to vastly increase the stream of books being preserved and made available free online.
  • Brave new world: Warehouse workers for companies like Walmart are being asked to wear body tracking devices that ostensibly are aimed at helping them avoid physical injuries, but some observers worry they will also be used to track productivity, police worker’s compensation claims and punish workers for not working fast enough, Joshua Brustein reports for Bloomberg Tech. 
  • End times: Those crazy kids at Bad Idea Factor, killers of workplace productivity everywhere, have released The Emoji Compass, in homage to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials books, which some of you may just be discovering thanks to HBO and others are like, OMG, finally someone made a decent film version of one of my favorite series. The Emoji Compass is 烙!!!

You are reading First Post, a twice-a-week digest of news and analysis of the world of civic tech, brought to you by Civic Hall, NYC’s community center for civic tech. If you are reading this because someone forwarded it to you, please become a subscriber ($10/m) and support our work and support our work or sign up for our newsletter and stay connected with the #CivicTech community.