Why doesn’t MN get more funding for civic technology?

There are always two sides to broadband expansion – deployment and adoption. One of the win-win ways government can get involved in broadband expansion is by promoting adoption. It helps build the business case for providers to deployment more broadband. I think a great way to promote broadband is through civic technology – encouraging use of technology to encourage greater civic engagement. There are at least a couple ways to do this – make government information open and accessible, encourage development of technology tools (such as with the recent Capitol Code hackathon), provide funding to encourage openness and technology development.

There is a bill in the legislature that would support Open Government, Civic Technology and Open Data. The proposal is to appropriate funding for a grant to Minnesota nonprofit E-Democracy to…

1.10promote statewide adoption of open government strategies, the use of technology for civic
1.11innovation, and the wide use of public data sets in the public and private sector.

I am a longtime E-Democracy volunteer. I want to put that out there because clearly that comes with some bias – but I think that increasing access to civic technology would encourage broadband adoption. And Open Minnesota recently made a good case that there is federal funding out there for civic technology and Minnesota is not taking advantage of it…

The Knight Foundation’s exhaustive and widely scoped study of nearly $700 million dollars in investments in ”civic technology” presents a shocking picture of Minnesota’s engagement.

Minnesota accounts for only 0.1% of the amount invested in start-ups and grants in civic technology. Other than some $625,000 invested by the Knight Foundation itself in E-Democracy’s inclusive online community engagement in St. Paul neighborhoods (a grant), Minnesota is completely off the radar.

As a state that prides itself on civic innovation and the use of technology, this gap in activity is dramatic. Our window of opportunity to be a place where you invest in commercial and nonprofit social enterprises pursuing digital technology for good strategies is closing as other regions step up and invest in their civic technology ecosystem.

As legislative committees explore opportunities for economic development and broadband promotion with the supplemental budget this session, exploring how to foster investment in civic technology should be included. As the House targets for “government operations” and the supplemental budget are zero, funding for the “open government” half of the Open Minnesota proposal is unlikely. However, the economic development and economic efficiency aspect of civic technology and open government data as an economic resource should be pursued with vigor (#2 and #3 in our plan).

I haven’t been following the bill, but as the excerpt states above the chances of funding aren’t strong – but I think even at the local level openness (providing access to data) and encouragement (such as the Red Hot Hack being planning for the end of April) are tools that support civic technology, encourage broadband adoption and support the business case for broadband deployment. Also local governments might look at the opportunities for federal funding as a means to support civic engagement and broadband.

This entry was posted in Government, MN, New Media, Policy by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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