Even a Small Amount of Funding Is Enough for Civic Innovators to Take Risks

A Look Back at Our Health Public Challenge — Part 2

Civic Hall Labs 96.jpg

Last week, we discussed the goals behind our 2017 Healthy Public Challenge. This week, we wanted to take an in-depth look at one project in particular, and how it relates to funding innovation. 

People need capital in order to take risks and experiment. However, we believe that with the right mentoring and processes in place, funding dollars can go farther in pushing new ideas forward.

Our Healthy Public civic innovators were only awarded $10,000 to develop their product. In most sectors, an award of $10k is modest, well below the standard of funding for technology pilots. However, alongside our ten Healthy Public civic innovators, we learned time and again that even this small amount of funding, combined with expert mentoring, can be hugely beneficial to a project — even for established organizations.


The Participatory Budgeting Project is a well-established, national organization that wanted to create an innovative solution to helping their budget delegates make data-informed decisions specifically around equity in under-resourced communities. Every year, local governments across the US set aside discretionary funds for residents to vote on local initiatives that improve their neighborhood. Residents submit their ideas to a participatory budgeting steering committee that coordinates getting the ideas to a group of budget delegates who then select the community projects that will go to the general public for a vote.

Except budget delegates usually have to make these decisions with little information about what a neighborhood really needs. Imagine trying to determine if you should select a project for new traffic lights or a community garden for a neighborhood without knowing anything about pedestrian safety in the area, or how many community gardens already exist? How would you know which neighborhoods have a greater need for resources and community projects?

PBP wanted to create a solution that would give the budget delegates the data they required to make need-based, informed decisions on what would most benefit the health of a community. This small grant gave them the room to experiment and create a minimal viable product (MVP) that has potential to help under-resourced communities access a significant amount of funding. This allowed them to experiment on a much larger project without dipping into their very stretched organizational budget.

Challenging Assumptions

Their process was greatly assisted by their mentors and Civic Hall Lab’s human-centered design process (both of which we’ll explore in more detail in upcoming posts). Each helped the team learn insights about their end users and the context in which they are making decisions that they wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.

For example, PBP thought the main problem would be gathering important data to present to the budget delegates for their decision-making; instead, the issue was that the budget delegates didn’t know how to use the data to make an equity-based decision. The sentiment was best summed up by the most common question they received after handing over the data:

“So…what do you want me to do now?”

This feedback forced PBP to expand their thinking and figure out a user-friendly system for synthesizing and visualizing the most important data. Not only that, but they realized they were going to have to train themselves to interpret it before they had any hope of training others. Now, with a much more refined, user-tested product, they are going to train the Greensboro council as their first test-run.

In the end, the grant money gave PBP the chance to take a risk on a new innovation, and in doing so, they discovered that the problem they were trying to solve was different than their initial assumption. Through the use of expert mentorship and human-centered design, they managed to drastically improve their product, strengthen their processes, and create a scalable solution.

If you’re interested in keeping track of PBP, visit them on their website or catch up on their blog. 

In the next post, we’ll discuss more about the importance of mentorship in civic innovation. 


How Can We Create the Conditions for Better Experimentation and Innovation? 

A Look Back at our Healthy Public Challenge — Part 1

The only way to innovate is to fail, fail fast, and quickly pivot from that failure.

For tech entrepreneurs, the idea of failure doesn’t mean that something is finished, instead it means it’s time to conduct more experiments that either validate or invalidate original assumptions. Many companies realize the only way to truly innovate is through this kind of experimentation, which includes testing, feedback, synthesis of learnings, and further experimentation with the new lessons learned.

Unfortunately, within the civic and social sectors, structuring grants for experimentation and iteration are not popular concepts with many funders, and innovation methods are not well utilized within many nonprofits and social good startups.

We know philanthropy wants to see new tools and approaches to create positive change. Whether it be through grants, accelerators, or fellowships, thousands of hours and millions of dollars are being used to spur new ideas on a variety of civic and social problems. Examples include everything from the Knight Cities Challenge to deepen civic engagement and community connection, to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s investment in emerging trends and cutting edge ideas to help build a Culture of Health. We at Civic Hall Labs are eager to help leverage those investments in new models. We apply human centered design and product development know-how to ensure a seed of an idea has the chance to break through.

At Civic Hall Labs, our mission is to build technology for the public good and help others do the same. We seek to develop infrastructure needed to run and scale these programs, with an eye toward new models of civic engagement and expanding the field of civic tech. You can read more about our approach here.

Last year, through the launch of our Health Lab, we wanted to see if we could expand the impact and effectiveness of the innovation challenge model. 

We set out to see what would happen if the winning teams were given mentorship from domain experts, design thinking tools, and yes, financial support.With the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we created the 2016 Healthy Public Challenge to catalyze innovation in addressing the civic determinants of health disparities. 

This health innovation challenge looks beyond the traditional question of what makes a population unhealthy to ask: “What makes a healthy public?” The challenge seeks innovations that tackle the problems that impact collective health disparities, and the chronic problems our communities face, such as isolation, disempowerment, and instability.

The Healthy Public Challenge had two primary objectives:

1. We wanted to spur investment and innovation across the three core areas we use to define a Healthy Public:

  • Civic Cohesion — the collective valuing of all communities within neighborhoods, municipalities, and our nation.
  • Civic Agency — the ability for all communities to actively and meaningfully participate in our democracy and civic institutions.
  • Access to Resources — the fair and equitable access for all communities to community services and resources.

2. More importantly, we wanted to test and build a strategy for how the fields of public health and civic tech can effectively cross-pollinate to create a bigger impact.

The Healthy Public Challenge was simple: entrepreneurs, designers, developers, nonprofits, and companies were encouraged to submit their ideas on how digital tools could be used to create a Healthy Public. After winners were picked, each civic innovator team would participate in a six month advisory period, which included mentorship from the Civic Hall Labs’ Experts in Residence Alistair Blake, Dr. Jack Saul, and Dr. Mindy Fullilove. Each mentor is an expert in community-informed programmatic design specifically in urban displacement, community mental health, and collective trauma.

Each team also received $10,000 over that six month period to build their solutions into viable prototypes that could make real impact in the health of our public.

We were working from the hypothesis that a small amount of seed funding, six months of expert advising, and a design process grounded in the principles of human-centered design would allow teams to experiment with their idea and find a viable path forward regardless of the problem each team was trying to solve. 

We ended up selecting 10 teams from a wide variety of backgrounds to participate in the challenge:

  • Civic Cohesion: The projects submitted from Hollaback!, Article 25, Looped, Rockaway Waterfront Alliance, and the Good Men Project all worked to strengthen and integrate disconnected or under-resourced communities through tech solutions tackling social isolation, inter-generational learning and support, and gender-based violence.
  • Civic Agency: The projects submitted from NYC Councilmatic, Reported PD, and the Participatory Budgeting Project built civic agency by increasing dialogue between neighborhood groups and local government entities to discuss the most pressing health and safety issues facing their communities.
  • Access to Resources: The projects submitted from Heat Seek and both had projects that used technology to protect fair, safe, and affordable housing for the most vulnerable communities in NYC.

By the end of the program, we emerged with a field-tested model that validated some of our core assumptions, but also provided new insights on how to use digital tools to contribute to civic and community health outcomes.

Over a series of blog posts, we’ll be exploring the different insights learned through the lens of some of our most interesting projects to emerge from the Healthy Public Challenge. 

These lessons include how:

  1. Even a Small Amount of Funding is Enough to Take Risks
  2. Expert Mentorship is Key for Civic Innovators
  3. Human-Centered Design Creates a Better End Product

We hope that by showing you our process and insights, funders, investors, and universities will be able to take what we’ve learned and innovate!

Harvey, Irma, and Maria: The Growing Need For Open Disaster Relief Data


In the wake of three devastating hurricanes, disaster relief organizations relied on massive government data-sets to provide live updates and allocate important resources. Google pulled data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association to keep maps updated based on the rapidly changing water levels and weather patterns in Texas. The American Red Cross used data to create interactive maps of shelter and hospital locations in each affected state. And the Department of Homeland Security launched an open data platform for geospatial data on Harvey, Irma, and Maria, making the information publicly available for organizations to download and use towards their own relief efforts.

Going beyond immediate relief, open government data sources can be cross-referenced and leveraged to inform policy-making and tease out the social impact of these hurricanes. The Geographic Information Systems (GIS) company ESRI partnered with the nonprofit emergency service provider Disaster Relief to map social vulnerabilities in Houston communities. Their maps demonstrate a high correlation between flood zone areas and communities of immigrants or non-English speakers, low income communities, and elderly populations in Florida and Puerto Rico. (The Atlantic wrote an interesting piece exploring the overlap between socioeconomic status and vulnerability to flooding).  

At Civic Hall Labs, we’re thrilled to see communities leveraging civic technology and open data to coordinate relief efforts. As Wired reported, FEMA’s robust digital infrastructure of social media alerts, live mapping, and online emergency response centers proved highly effective during 2012 Hurricane Sandy in New York, and stood in stark contrast to the notoriously clumsy management of Katrina. So far, these technologies are being leveraged in response to Hurricane Harvey and Irma, though they have been less successful when it comes to aid for Maria.

The advantages of open, user-friendly data interfaces for coordinating relief efforts are obvious, but the takeaways extend beyond disaster management.  Data mismanagement and inherent structural issues can create sluggish, inefficient systems that create a wide variety of problems for large populations. Next week, we’ll discuss how we are partnering with New York City to tackle a large scale, structural data issue within the city’s social services, something that impacts over 3 million residents.

In the meantime, if you would like to help with relief efforts beyond using civic tech, please visit this page.

Creating Pro Bono Tech That Works, Part 2

DeltaNYC Kickoff 5.jpg

Last week we discussed many of the challenges with establishing a culture of pro bono in the tech world. This week, with Delta.NYC officially underway, we want to talk about how the program is designed not only to circumvent the issues of most pro bono tech initiatives, but to deliver a meaningful experience to both the nonprofits and the digital professionals who help them.

Creating a Successful Launch

Delta.NYC had it’s official launch earlier this month, and as we write this 14 teams of digital professionals are halfway through their pro bono projects. We’re incredibly excited to see all the amazing work these teams will accomplish, and we want to talk about this program is set up for the greatest chances of success for all of our partners.

In order to create a program that meets the needs of our nonprofit partners, a large percentage of Civic Hall Labs’ work comes months before digital professionals come on board. We work closely with our partners to identify obstacles that impede their strategic priorities and determine where technology or digital expertise can help. This year, Civic Hall Labs is proud to partner with the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development, Center for NYC Neighborhoods, Community Action for Safe Apartments, Cooperative Economics Alliance, Exalt Youth, Fortune Society, HELP USA, Immigration Equality, Neighborhood Housing Services of NYC, Nonprofit Coordinating Committee, Resilience Advocacy Project, Sage: Advocacy & Services for LGBT Elders, United Neighborhood Houses, and the Vera Institute of Justice. Later in the month we’ll dig into the specific projects, but for now, we want to discuss some of the practices we’ve put in place to avoid many of the problems that sink pro bono tech.

In order to set our partner organizations and digital professional participants up for success, we address these challenges in the following ways:

1. We Pre-Scope Each Project

DeltaNYC Kickoff 15.jpg


As we discussed last week, many digital professionals who set out to do pro bono work can encounter unexpected “technical debt” which greatly increases their workload, and often leads to burn-out and unfinished projects. We mitigate this risk by working collaboratively with our nonprofit partners to pre-scope projects in two important ways:

  1. We host a series of in-person assessment and scoping meetings with our partners and do our own technical analysis of the systems that will be tied to the project.
  2. We ensure projects can be completed in a 6-week time-frame — the length of a Delta.NYC cycle — to prevent scope-creep.

By doing both of these tasks, we are able to anticipate potential obstacles incoming teams may encounter, allowing us to better prepare them.

2. We Make Sure The Work Aligns With The Organization's Strategic Priorities


We focus on projects that tie directly to our partners’ strategic priorities so that we can be sure our teams are delivering high-impact work. Our partners understand that in order for the Delta.NYC teams to function at their highest level, they will need a solid communication plan and feedback loop in place. By tying projects to strategic priorities, we can ensure that both our partners and Delta.NYC teams are able to give and get what they want out of their projects.

3. We Recruit An Entire Cohort of Digital Professionals

DeltaNYC Kickoff 43.jpg

We design the Delta.NYC experience around a cohort model. The cohort model cultivates a sense of community and gives digital professionals the opportunity to problem solve outside of their direct teams. Rather than run a single project on it’s own, pulling from the skills and expertise of 3–5 people, the cohort model taps into a wide variety of expertise and perspectives across more than 60 professionals. This enhances the experiences of participants, allows for richer networking and learning, and provides increased support when challenges arise since teams can see how other teams are handling similar issues.

4.We Put Together Multidisciplinary Teams

DeltaNYC Kickoff 189.jpg

All of this prep work allows us to much more accurately determine the skill-sets and disposition needed for each project. Rather than matching an individual to a project, we build diverse teams to work on projects together. We accept digital professionals into the Delta.NYC program based on their skill-sets and allow them to select onto projects themselves based on their interests.

By using this system, we have a remarkably high-rate of success in placing professionals on teams where they’re not only able to utilize their skill-sets, but are also contributing to a cause they believe in. Many of our partners nonprofits do not have the staff capacity or budget to do this work on their own, and having access to an entire team of digital professionals provides value beyond the project deliverables. 98% of our nonprofit partners and digital professional participants were interested in participating as part of another Delta.NYC project.

5. Lastly, We Spend Lots of Time Filling the Most Important Role — The Product Manager

DeltaNYC Kickoff 62.jpg

After we define a clear scope of work alongside our partners, we spend a large amount of time selecting and placing Product Managers.

Put simply, a PM can make or break a team. Because they are the point-person for both the non-profit and the digital professional team, they have the responsibility of not only keeping the project on track, but also having to communicate milestones, developments, and challenges to two vastly different worlds.

This is why we spend extra time onboarding PMs. Each PM attends an in-person planning meeting with their nonprofit partner, where we transition all of the pre-scoping materials over to them. PMs are given the opportunity to work with their partners ahead of their team in order to refine and flesh out the rest of the project scope. Additionally, we host a PM-specific kickoff event where we train them on working within the public sector, goal setting, and leadership development.

Furthermore, by spending several hours getting to know the rest of the PMs in the cohort, they are able to rely on one another and troubleshoot any issues together as challenges arise throughout their Delta.NYC engagement. Our goal is to make sure they have the support systems and structure they need to have a successful project, and that they can easily transfer knowledge and skills between each other.

Next week we’ll introduce you to the cohort. Until then, feel free to let us know if you’ve done pro bono tech work, and what processes helped (or hurt) your project.


Creating Pro Bono Tech That Works — Part 1

Sneak Previews 3.jpg

As we launch our next iteration of Delta.NYC — our attempt at closing the technology gap for NYC nonprofits — we’re sharing the successes and challenges in building a culture of pro bono in the tech industry. This week, we discuss some of the challenges in creating pro bono tech that works.

Over the past decade, the nonprofit sector expanded at what the New York Times has called a “breakneck pace.” The number of public interest organizations and other nonprofit institutions has grown over 20% in contrast to the 2–3% annual growth of the for-profit sector. Nearly 10% of the U.S. active workforce is now employed in or volunteering for social impact organizations, according to Johns Hopkins. (For more on the explosive growth of nonprofits, play around with the Urban Institute’s interactive toollooking at data from across the U.S.).

While this growth is inspiring, many of these organizations do not have the technical expertise or resources needed to make meaningful advancements towards their missions, particularly when compared to the private sector. As a tech nonprofit and the sister organization to Civic Hall, a collaborative community hub for civic technology, Civic Hall Labs is a capacity building intermediary between public interest organizations, social enterprises, and local government agencies. We regularly hear from our nonprofit partners that while they recognize the potential for technology to expand their impact and lower their overhead, they lack the human resources, budget, and know-how to effectively leverage technology. At the same time, private sector technologists are increasingly seeking opportunities to donate their skills for causes they believe in.

Sneak Previews 6.jpg

We created our pro bono tech program, Delta.NYC, to meet this growing need, and to determine the best way to build cross-functional teams of digital professionals and place them on well-scoped, discrete projects with local organizations. With the support of the Ford Foundation, we seek to identify and solve obstacles to our long-term vision of creating a culture of pro bono tech. Our vision is that pro bono tech services become as commonplace and robust as the pro bono help offered within the legal profession.

In the early planning stages of Delta.NYC, we conducted extensive market research with nonprofits, potential volunteers from the tech sector, and identified the major obstacles to implementing pro bono tech programs.

Nonprofits have many obstacles to pro bono tech, including:

  1. No one wants to fund overhead.Whereas businesses immediately see tech’s ROI, nonprofits have historically had a tougher job pitching a new CRM software or cyber-security plan. They have to make the case that investing in organizational efficiency improves the quality of their services over putting money directly towards their services. Although glossy reports and user-friendly websites are today’s professional norm, donors are often reluctant to invest in technology. This is changing, as more donors recognize the centrality of up-to-date systems, and as groups like the Omidyar Network and the Ford Foundation focus on investing in technology for the public good. Still, funding for tech projects is hard to come by for most organizations.
  2. Organizational buy-in is crucial. Organizations often need to be heavily persuaded to adopt a large scale tech program. In a report conducted by Microsoft and Neighborhood Indicators on tech training in nonprofits, a respondent observed, “Capacity building is huge for our nonprofits. Even if they understand that data are needed to measure progress, we’re cultivating a culture of curiosity so [they can see that] the return is worth the investment. Nonprofits seem to see data efforts as taking time and resources away from direct programming.”
  3. They’ve seen technologists over-promise and under-deliver in the past. Technologists are often used to the lack of hierarchical structures in Silicon Valley’s agile workplaces. In nonprofit environments, adjusting to bureaucratic red tape can often lead to volunteer frustration and burn-out. Code for America’s Jesse Biroscak has written about skepticism towards technologists with big promises, citing a government employee who told him, “I’ve seen three of you guys come up here over the past 10 years with ideas to solve all my problems, and nothing ever changes.” Well-meaning digital professionals who unexpectedly encounter huge amounts of technical debt tend to leave projects unfinished, burning bridges with organizations and diminishing the likelihood that nonprofits will opt to work on other pro bono tech initiatives.
  4. Projects are hard to scope, setting the organization and volunteers up for failure.Even for organizations prepared to invest heavily in technology, assessing needs and strategies for implementation is an expensive and time-consuming project. Many organizations simply don’t have the skill-set in house either.

These obstacles don’t negate the fact that public interest organizations can realize real gains in efficiency and program effectiveness by better implementing technology. The NTEN 10th annual report found that organizations with sub-par technology often allocate just as much budget to tech as their more advanced peers, and get far less of a return than if they’d taken the time to improve their existing tech. Over 25% of nonprofits fall into this category.

However, it’s not just nonprofits who have obstacles. Obstacles for digital professionals include:

  1. Nonprofit technical debt requires constant maintenance and long-term sustainability planning. Technical debt (the build-up of issues in an organization’s technology over time, which often have to be dealt with before new solutions can be added) is sometimes downplayed by organizations before bringing on individuals with technical expertise. Technical debt can disrupt projects before they get off the ground. As one technologist we interviewed explained, “My personal hesitation with seeing that stuff is that the work doesn’t stop. It’s never as simple as it seems, and even if we get them up and going with a product, what happens when it fails?”
  2. Many digital professionals fear that they will inadvertently enter into an exploitative or dependent relationship with a nonprofit. We spoke to a number of professionals who expressed hesitation around assisting nonprofits, having seen friends go from ‘volunteers’ to the ‘on-call IT help desk’.
  3. It’s hard to find the right pro bono opportunity.The tech sector still lacks a culture of pro bono outside of Open Source work and Hackathons, so there’s little social pressure to participate and few intermediaries who specialize in connecting individuals to the right pro bono opportunities.

While these may seem like large obstacles, our interviews helped us uncover useful insights to help us tackle these problem in Delta NYC. In the second half of this blog series, we’ll talk about the recent launch of Delta.NYC, and how it is designed to address and eliminate each of these concerns.

Mayor De Blasio Announces 2017 NYC BigApps Winners

Mayor Bill de Blasio, Civic Hall Labs and New York City Economic Development announced three Grand Prize winners and one Judges Award winner of the 2017 NYC BigApps Competition.

“NYC BigApps is about New Yorkers helping New Yorkers. Every year, we ask our tech and creative talent to help solve pressing challenges. They step up and consistently exceed our expectations with innovative ideas for New York,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

This year’s competition adopted a user-centered focus, with each challenge anchored in the expressed needs of community end users and the social practitioners who serve them. Developers, designers, students and nonprofit professionals were asked to solve challenges faced by immigrants, seniors and youth in the areas of transportation, knowledge and community resiliency.

Civic Hall Labs hosted a series of product development workshops that drew more than 500 developers, designers, subject matter experts, students and nonprofit professionals, providing valuable tools that support an empathy-driven approach to creating viable solutions.

“As the producing partner for NYC BigApps, Civic Hall Labs served as a resource for New Yorkers to grow ideas and projects that will improve the welfare and wellbeing of our communities,” said Elizabeth Stewart, Civic Hall Labs Executive Director. 

The competition culminated with The Finalist Expo and Awards Ceremony where nine finalists presented to a panel of judges who selected the winners:

On Board (Grand Prize Winner): a distributed passenger check-in system for New York City’s paratransit network (Access-A-Ride). By creating a public, independent database of passenger pickups, On Board empowers transit advocates to assess and improve service schedules and quality, and ensures a safer, more reliable ride for thousands of New Yorkers.

PASSNYC Opportunity Explorer (Grand Prize Winner): offers a common application through which students will be able to both find and apply for over 200 NYC-based after-school, summer and weekend extracurricular programs.

nesterly (Grand Prize Winner): enables older households with spare space to connect with young people willing to exchange help around the house for lower rent through a digital platform.
Dollar Van NYC (Judges Award Winner): a multilingual app providing real-time access to over 500 licensed commuter vans that provide rides for as little as $2.

Winners will receive the Grand Prize worth more than $30,000, which includes $15,000 in cash, admission into Civic Hall Labs' Civic Accelerator program, discounted courses and workshops from General Assembly and pro bono legal services from BakerHostetler.

The Judges Award winner will be given the opportunity to pilot their app on LinkNYC’s 7,500 Links throughout the five boroughs.

“This year’s BigApps winners epitomize civic technology at its best and provide New York City with exciting new resources. The finalists demonstrated once again that New York City leads the country in innovation that puts people first, improves neighborhoods and makes cities more livable,” said Andrew Rasiej, President and Co-Founder of Civic Hall Labs.
The 2017 winners were selected from a group of impressive finalists:

Border Buddy: providing free legal services for travelers targeted by President Trump's Muslim ban. Travelers can register for Border Buddy to track their flight arrival information. Border Buddy will send a lawyer to the airport if a traveler has not contacted them more for than two hours after arrival.

Rapid Response: providing technology for immigrant communities and advocates fighting mass deportation through participatory deportation defense programs.

Conductor: aggregating transportation data from a variety of sources in order to give riders more accurate directions and information. Conductor delivers that information in a range of formats, making it accessible to different communities.

Kurtin: increasing minority college graduation rates by providing fun, relatable, and interactive tools that help high school students gather the critical insights necessary to make informed college selection decisions.

Torus Teens: an online platform that connects urban teens with out-of-school programs and resources to explore interests, build skills, and expand networks outside of the classroom.                                  

The NYC BigApps competition is sponsored by Microsoft, Intersection, LinkNYC, BakerHostetler, and General Assembly. The final event was sponsored by ersi, First Republic Bank, AppNexus, and Civic Hall.

Reprogramming BigApps 2017 to be about New Yorkers

Partnering with the NYCEDC, we're using participatory, user-centered principles to redesign NYC's largest civic innovation challenge. Civic Hall Labs is managing NYC BigApps 2017, a civic tech competition that challenges local residents to create tech tools that solve the City's civic challenges. We've rebooted that challenge to respond to the needs of youth, seniors, and immigrants. In 2016, we held seven listening sessions with direct service providers and NYC youth, seniors, and immigrants to define NYC BigApps challenges that deliver empathy-driven submissions. These sessions revealed three major issues for New Yorkers, which were announced at our sold out NYC BigApps 2017 launch event at Grand Central Tech on January 12th: transportation, access to knowledge, and community resiliency.

One of the #NYCBigApps principles is accessibility. We want to make the product development process accessible to civic innovators and entrepreneurs from all backgrounds. This is why Civic Hall Labs is holding seven ideation and prototyping workshops and open sourcing the learnings for  workshops. January 24th marked the first of seven ideation and prototyping workshops, where over 100 participants came together to learn more about the challenge areas, discover their individual design process, and left with the necessary tools to begin the initial research phase of the product development process. Check out the first product development workshop recap to learn about how human-centered design can help you build better tech. 

This week’s session focuses on human-centered and empathic approaches to design research and ethnography, and will incorporate methods such as user and subject matter expert interviews, as well as observations and secondary research methods. Click here for the full Ideation & Prototyping Workshop schedule, which Civic Hall Labs will hold through April 19th.

Applications for NYC BigApps 2017 close April 30th. Winning teams will not only receive cash prizes, but will be admitted into Civic Hall Labs’ Civic Accelerator program, a community-sourced innovation platform that works with civic entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into early stage startups through training in design-thinking, prototyping and startup methodology. The Accelerator launches in 2017.

Announcing the 2016 Healthy Public Challenge Winners!

Civic Hall Labs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation are pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 Healthy Public Challenge!

The Challenge kicked off on August 1, inviting entrepreneurs, designers, developers, academics, and the public at large to consider how to leverage technology to create a healthier public. We received an incredibly diverse group of submissions. Winning civic innovations range from utilizing mobile apps to data visualization to digital literacy. Issues areas addressed by challenge projects include tenant rights organizing, combating gender-based violence, increasing civic participation, and challenging police misconduct.

We’re thrilled to share that the judges have selected the following ten teams to move on to the next phase of the Challenge:

Hollaback! - HeartMob

HeartMob is the innovative tech solution to online harassment: empowering bystanders to rebuild fragmented online communities from the inside out.

Article 25

Article 25 will launch a real-time Twitter sentiment visualization of people affected by HIV/AIDS on World AIDS Day to improve community dialogue and support structures between at-risk young people and the established HIV community in Brooklyn. Afterwards, they will transform data into an advocacy tool to strengthen city HIV policies.

Heat Seek

Heat Seek is providing better, more user-friendly data to tenant organizers and tenant attorneys in order to support their efforts to identify and assist tenants at risk of harassment and forced displacement.


Looped offers a hybrid mobile solution for caregivers to manage their information and caregiving responsibilities and coordinate with family members involved in care. It also connects users with other caregivers in the community in order to build their own support networks, for both practical and social or emotional support.

The Good Men Project & ThinkPlay Partners

The partnership with and ThinkPlay Partners will engage a global dialogue on expanding men's emotional literacy to increase all people's social connectivity and longevity. This initiative is designed to address our national epidemic of social isolation (44 million adults age 45+ are chronically lonely, AARP 2010), violence and deteriorating social cohesion.

NYC Councilmatic

Councilmatic will run its public comment program, bringing together neighborhood groups with local government entities to discuss community health issues. A special homepage section will showcase upcoming public health events in NYC City Council, with ability to subscribe to free email updates and a two-way SMS chat program.

The toolkit will arm tenants with the knowledge and infrastructure to setup their own tenant associations, drawing from the collective knowledge and experience of community organizations. Through research, they will identify the challenges of developing self-sustaining tenant associations and ideate on opportunities to address those barriers.

Rockaway Waterfront Alliance

Leading out of lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy, First Wave is an intergenerational program that empowers local tech-savvy youth to teach older adults and immigrants about social-media, the internet and cell technology to reduce social isolation of our vulnerable populations during emergencies and to increase community and social interaction.

Reported PD

Reported PD is an app that helps underserved populations easily capture details about police behavior and submits interaction details to the local Civilian Complaint Review Board for official processing. It also fosters community engagement by connecting users and sharing local stories.

Participatory Budgeting Project

Open data promises a revolution in democracy, but usually only wonks and technologists can truly harness this wealth of information. Participatory Budgeting Project will aggregate and demystify civic data so ordinary people can assess the data-driven needs of a community, and drive equitable spending of spend public money toward health-promoting investments.


Each winning team will participate in a six month advisory period, which includes mentorship from the Civic Hall Labs Experts in Residence. Each team will also receive $10,000 to further build their solutions into viable prototypes that can make real impact in the health of the public.

Visit the challenge website and follow us on Twitter (@civichalllabs) to learn more about the winning teams and next phase of the 2016 Healthy Public Challenge!