Dear Delaware: Let's create a civic tech community - Technical.ly Delaware

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Aug. 17, 2015 11:22 am

Dear Delaware: Let’s create a civic tech community

A letter to Delaware's tech communities from the Department of State's Deputy Principal Assistant, Dana Rohrbough Garber.

The Delaware state capitol building, Legislative Hall.

(Photo by Flickr user Mike Mahaffie, used under a Creative Commons license)

This is a guest post by Delaware Department of State Deputy Principal Assistant Dana Rohrbough Garber.

Delaware is currently publishing thousands of reports, and we are getting better at releasing data in raw formats. Fostering a civic tech community is not just about datasets, though. It is about advocating for and creating an environment that rolls out the red carpet, and cuts the red tape, for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Delaware has made good progress on this front already.

Gov. Jack Markell recently signed into law the Regulatory Transparency and Reform Act of 2015, which recognizes that small businesses do not have the same resources as large businesses to deal with new or amended regulations. Large companies have legal teams and in-house experts that inform leaders on their responsibilities in the regulatory environment. But small businesses have to figure this out on their own, and it creates a disproportionate burden and cost on small businesses.

Starting Jan. 1, state agencies proposing regulations will be required to consider alternative methods for small businesses, and estimate the costs of compliance for small businesses.

Delaware has prioritized making information about business licensing more accessible, particularly for the startup and small business community. Earlier this year, Gov. Markell launched a new website called Business First Steps for entrepreneurs to find information such as a general checklist for starting a business, various state required business licenses, local government permits and broader topics like writing a business plan and seeking funding.

It is obvious that working together with civic advocates, tech, businesses and government that the results can be impactful for the entire community.

Here is a call to action to create a civic-oriented tech community:

To New Civic Advocates:

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  • There are hundreds of state and local government websites that offer reports, publications, and statistics — so instead of going through them all, here are three really great portals that offer broad information across state government:
    • Visit the Delaware FirstMap portal, which uses GIS-coded data and publishes datasets on a variety of topics.
    • View the Delaware Open Data topic page to see an inventory of popular publications and datasets.
    • See the Transparency topic page, which links to various financial transparency resources and other information available from state government.
  • Reach out to government officials and network. Subscribe to notification emails on specific topics and government actions as they happen so you can participate in the legislative, regulatory, or general public processes in government. Take a look at the centralized public meeting calendar and attend state government public meetings on topics you are interested in. Look up your elected representatives and search for their legislation in the Delaware General Assembly.
  • Build relationships with the offices that manage the topics you are interested in, and be a thoughtful advocate for what you want to see.

To Technologists/Entrepreneurs:

  • Build It Better. Some things are best left to the private sector to develop — if you’ve thought “I can build it better,” then go for it! Government is good at managing processes and programs, but we are not app builders. This is why we need to cooperate to get the best of both worlds.
  • Create interesting data mashups using public data to fix problems in our communities. Often, government agencies look at just their own data, and do not look across departments for overlaid trends.
  • All of us come from varied perspectives, so it is important to be open to those who think differently. But, let’s not let vernacular get in the way. Government is notorious for its own language of abbreviations and shorthand (FOIA, JFC, EO, etc). The business and tech community also claims its own acronyms (ROI, CX, IoT, etc). So, let’s educate each other, and not assume that everyone has the same background or information. By the way, here is an organizational chart of state government.

To Government:

  • Take Note. Public servants should watch this TED talk that Dave Meslin gave, titled the “Antidote to Apathy”, and ask, “How can we engage with the public more meaningfully?”
  • Accessible Data. We need to collaborate about how best to publish data for public access. Agencies are publishing a tremendous amount of information online, so now we need to consider publishing in various formats – some information is best viewed as a sortable list, while other information is better in PDF. Create a schedule for updating datasets. Also, let’s consider common fields for data publishing (“address” fields, for example).
  • Sometimes, data and information is classified and therefore the responsibility to keep this data secure supersedes the public aspect of government information. But, sometimes there are opportunities to take a dataset with sensitive information and redact it, or anonymize it, so that it can be released for public view. Let’s consider these methods.

There are some exciting things happening in the tech, startup, and civic communities in Delaware. Let’s discuss how to more formally collaborate together.

Do you have ideas on civic partnerships? Do you have suggestions for state government on the types of information and datasets you are interested in? If so, email me at dana.rohrbough@state.de.us.

Sincerely,

Dana Rohrbough Garber
Deputy Principal Assistant, Delaware Department of State

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