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!

Tips for the 2016 Healthy Public Challenge

With the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Civic Hall Labs is introducing a new way to think about health through a civic lens. We want you to tackle problems that face our society as a whole, problems like inequitable access to public resources, poor engagement between groups within society, and limited participation in political processes due to inadequate information. How can technology be used to address these issues? And how can addressing these issues improve the health of our public?

For your ideas, we’ll award you $10,000 and connect you with our Health Experts with decades of experience building stronger communities. They will work with you over the course of 6 months to develop your solution and help you adopt a systemic approach to health. This isn’t a one-off contest. This challenge is an ongoing process that supports you throughout the journey of bringing you innovation to life, learning, and evolving over time.

For that reason, we’re accepting ideas in all stages of development, whether that’s a seed of an idea, a late-stage prototype, or a brand new feature of an existing technology or program. In all applications, we’re looking for a strong understanding of the problem your technological solution is attempting to solve and a realistic commitment by your team to a potential solution. That said, we realize that there are points that may be unclear at this stage. We ask you to put forward your best idea of what you think your solution will be.

Finally, we want you to remember that the technology itself is not the goal. The end goal of the Healthy Public Challenge is not to produce the next fully-fledged, profit-making app used by millions. Rather, we are interested in how existing technologies can be used in an innovative way to address issues like community discourse and participation, or how a new feature can improve the civic work an organization, business, or agency is already doing. We hope that the resources we offer you to explore this question will inspire you and others to consider how a societal perspective on health can shape future policy and how technology can be used as a tool to cultivate community engagement.

Learn more about the Healthy Public Challenge and apply here. Applications are due by 11:59PM ET September 16, 2016. Reach out with questions to or on Twitter @CivicHallLabs. Good luck!

Launching the 2016 Healthy Public Challenge

This summer, with the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Civic Hall Labs is hosting the Healthy Public Challenge to catalyze innovation in addressing the civic roots of health.

Civic Hall Labs exists to collaboratively design and build technology for the public good. As one of our themed labs, Health Lab uses an interdisciplinary approach to shift from the mainstream notion of health as disease management to addressing the civic roots of health. We have launched the Healthy Public Challenge to catalyze innovation addressing the civic roots of health in order to further a Culture of Health. Instead of focusing on public health by managing disease, we want to ask the question of what makes a healthy public.

At a time when ideological divisions deepen disengagement, classism and racism isolates communities, and disinvestment in the safety nets destabilizes families, the health of our public is deeply threatened. These civic roots have a tremendous impact on the physical and mental health and wellbeing of our communities. To create a healthy public, we believe that technology can be used as a tool to ensure the public’s vitality against the chronic maladies of isolation, disempowerment, and instability.

Civic Hall Labs has launched the Healthy Public Challenge as a call for solutions that build a healthy society in these three target categories:

Civic Cohesion
Civic Agency
Public Assets

Submissions are now open to all entrepreneurs, healthcare professionals, academics, technologists, designers, planners, university students, and the public at large to propose civic solutions that have the potential to create a healthy public.

Make sure to check out the Challenge website to learn more about the official rules.

We’re hiring! Director of Technology, PMs, Communications, and more


Since our launch last month at Personal Democracy Forum 2016, Civic Hall Labs has hit the ground running. We’ve made significant progress in a short time frame - developing infrastructure for our first set of pilots, establishing new relationships with organizations and collaborators, and preparing to launch an exciting new approach to challenges that you’ll hear more about soon.

Most importantly: we’ve been preparing our systems for scale. We've accomplished a lot so far with our lean team, but are looking to do much more in the next year and beyond. That’s why we’re bringing on 5 dynamic new team members, including a Director of Technology. We’re growing so that we can better address the complex challenges of designing and developing technology for the public good. To do that, we’ll need to bring on accomplished, civic-minded, individuals with diverse perspectives and expertise.

If you’re passionate about people-first processes and critical evaluation, we’d love to hear from you. Learn more and apply at

Our official launch at Personal Democracy Forum 2016

The collective problems we face as a society are complex, and they can’t be solved by one sector alone.
— Elizabeth Stewart, Founding Executive Director

In front of hundreds of technologists, entrepreneurs, academics, government officials, and community leaders at Civic Hall’s Personal Democracy Forum 2016, Founding Executive Director Elizabeth Stewart spoke about Civic Hall Labs’ mission and introduced several upcoming initiatives. Learn more about how Civic Hall Labs seeks to advance civic tech and bring together diverse sectors to create technology for the public good.

Watch the video of our launch below:

Announcing Civic Hall Labs: Tech for Public Good

Complex public challenges require unprecedented collaboration. The threats we face to our collective well-being—inequality, racism, civic atrophy, and other systemic failures—are too great to continue with a model that focuses primarily on developing and utilizing technology to create outsized returns for investors.

Designing and developing for the public interest differs from the process of designing for private profit. It requires genuinely interdisciplinary work—domain experts, communities, and technologists of all kinds have to bring diverse skillsets and knowledge to the table if we hope to realize the potential of technology for the public sphere.

Civic Hall Labs, the research and development arm of Civic Hall, was created to solve for this challenge. Our founders, Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry, have been working for decades to support the community of people working on tech for public good—which we call civic tech. Over the past few years, leaders in the civic tech community have become more vocal about the challenges and perils of rushing into social problems with tech: apotheosizing the developer, ignoring sustainability issues, and eschewing the knowledge of communities or the constraints that public interest organizations face. Building on those insights, Andrew and Micah conceived of a nonprofit that could address those concerns head on. Civic Hall Labs, designed as a collaborative R&D nonprofit, seeks to model a path forward with those lessons.

Launching from the vibrant community at Civic Hall, Labs will collaboratively design, build, and study digital tools for public good. Specifically, our work is structured to reimagine civic participation for the 21st century, expand the field of civic tech, and demonstrate a collaborative, multidisciplinary approach to designing and building technology for the public good. Through Themed Labs, we’ll bring together sector experts, the public, funders, data scientists, researchers, designers, technologists, media makers, community groups, and entrepreneurs to explore how the use of design, data, and technology can create scalable solutions around particular public issue sets.

In our Civic Accelerator, we’ll support nontraditional accelerator applicants in becoming civic inventors and civic entrepreneurs through part-time training in design-thinking, prototyping, and startup methodology. We’ll also assist mid-stage, civic tech startups with strategy, legal, financing, UX, branding, and design challenges that can arise when developing a product for government or the general public.

We believe the challenges we face are complex and require a diversity of perspectives and expertise. And we believe meaningful change can result from a series of small, strategic wins that put technology at the service of experts and communities.

Already, forward-thinking partners and advisors have signed on to this vision.

If this resonates with you too, we invite you to learn more at on Twitter at @civichalllabs.

For more information or media queries, please read our press release.