A story about two hands doing work to support digital transformation in government

Pain is weakness leaving the body
— A quote often attributed to United States Marine Corps

I want to tell you a short story. it’s a story about my hands.

Image courtesy of Flickr user lamazone

Sometime in mid 2017, I woke up one morning with pain at the base of my middle finger on my left hand. For a while I attributed this pain to exercise or just general overuse. After a while I developed what’s called “trigger finger,” and the pain started to spread to other parts of my hands.

Not wanting to admit that I was getting older, I tried to reason why…


Procurement challenges don’t end when a government agency selects a vendor to fulfill a contract. In many ways, they are just beginning.

AWeith, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you’ve been paying any attention at all to the world of civic tech for the last 5–10 years then you don’t need to be told that one of the major challenges to implementing effective digital solutions in government is the procurement process.

Its hard to find a large or high-profile government technology project that hasn’t had issues with procurement that have negatively impacted how the project was rolled out, or how it ended up being used by citizens. The pandemic has turned this into an almost daily occurrence, and the consequences couldn’t be more dire.

In a recent discussion…


Philadelphia skyline, courtesy fo Flickr user Peter Miller.

In a month of chaotic vaccine distribution rollouts, no government’s effort has been more dysfunctional, or controversial, than that of Philadelphia. To spearhead delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to city residents, the City of Philadelphia decided to partner with a young startup called Philly Fighting COVID (PFC).

In recent days, the city’s decision to partner with a 22-year old Drexel University graduate student’s fledgling startup has come to an acrimonious end. Some would say a predictable end — but to understand (at least partly) how Philly got here, it’s helpful to understand Philly’s history with external partnerships.

Philadelphia has always had…


Me, in my former role as a hotshot.

My four-year anniversary at my current job snuck up on me a few weeks back.

It’s not an anniversary I have a lot of experience with — it’s been a while since I worked somewhere for four years in a row. My professional career has taken me on an interesting journey, and I’ve bounced around a lot. Like a lot of people that find their way to 18F, I’m an impact junkie — leapfrogging to new, higher-profile roles can seem like a pathway to deepening and broadening your impact.

At least it once did to me.

When I realized I’d…


We need you to help delivery good government digital services

If Men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and the next place, oblige it to control itself.

— James Madison

Hey there!

Are you thinking of joining the federal government to build better digital services for those that need them? Are you new to government service?

Awesome! This post is for you.

You may not have…


We need to put more tools in our civic tech toolbox

It’s sort of a cliche to say it these days, but digital transformation in government is largely not about technology.

It seems like this is an idea that has broad consensus, but much of the work that gets done in and around government technology modernization still views problems solely through the lens of technology. What if we approached this work differently? What if we viewed the problems of government technology through the lens of other disciplines?

We don’t need to pretend we’re always experts in these other disciplines — we’re not going to convince our partners that we’re doctors or…


How Poor Technology Choices Can Magnify the Challenges Faced by Those Seeking Government Services

For every 10 people who said they successfully filed for unemployment benefits during the previous four weeks three to four additional people tried to apply but could not get through the system to make a claim. Two additional people did not try to apply because it was too difficult to do so. When we extrapolate our survey findings to the full five weeks of UI claims since March 15, we estimate that an additional 8.9–13.9 million people could have filed for benefits had the process been easier. [Emphasis added]

Unemployment filing failures: New survey confirms that millions of jobless were…


Famed management consultant Peter Drucker is often credited with the phrase “culture eats process (or strategy) for breakfast.”

You can’t change organizations by implementing new processes alone, so the thinking goes, you have to foster a new culture in order to drive real change. To understand the degree to which this idea is accepted as management philosophy gospel, we have but to count the number of times it is repeated at conferences, in meetings, or on social media by various thought leaders.

But when we think about changing the way public sector organizations work, particularly in how they acquire and…


Old tools & new challenges for governments

There is a common misconception that data-driven decision making and the use of complex algorithms are a relatively recent phenomenon in the public sector. In fact, making use of (relatively) large data sets and complex algorithms has been fairly common in government for at least the past few decades.

As we begin constructing ethical frameworks for how data and algorithms are used, it is important that we understand how governments have traditionally employed these tools. …


Image courtesy of Flickr user Justin Grimes

Tomorrow — Saturday, March 3rd — is International Open Data Day.

With events happening around the world this weekend, there will be lots and lots of people working with (and for) open data. And while there isn’t a dedicated event in Upstate New York [Corrected Below], there has really never been a better time for Upstate developers, data geeks and civic tech enthusiasts to explore the possibilities of open data.

With the recent unveiling of the City of Buffalo’s new open data portal and civic innovation contest, there are now four major Upstate cities publishing open data to the public…

Mark Headd

I am a true believer. #opendata #civichacking

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