Champions of Change Blog
- Posted byon August 14, 2013 at 1:05 PM EST
Caitria O’Neill is being honored as a Champion of Change for applying her tech skills for civic good.
I’m the CEO of Recovers, a disaster preparedness and recovery technology company based in San Francisco. We help communities, local government, and insurance agencies mitigate risk and recover from disasters.
I was standing in the front yard of my home in Monson, MA when a twister swept through town in June of 2011. The EF3 tornado scraped up whole neighborhoods and left my own home uninhabitable. In the aftermath, my sister Morgan and I got involved connecting local volunteers and donation offers to neighbors with needs at the First Church of Monson. Our seat-of-the-pants system for volunteer and case management was rough, but thanks to the work of many dedicated local leaders, it was able to meet needs no other organization could respond to.
What we accomplished in Monson isn’t unusual. In every area, after every disaster, ordinary people want to get involved putting their communities back together. But instead of stopping with Monson’s recovery, Alvin Liang, Morgan O’Neill, Chris Kuryak and I tried to scale what worked. We’ve spent the past two years turning best practices in local preparedness and recovery into an easy-to-use software toolkit for communities. From suburban Texas to Moore, OK, we’ve helped hundreds of thousands of people find information, aid, and ways to pitch in.
Technology is only part of the problem we’ve addressed. Many barriers to local participation are institutional. Large aid organizations are accustomed to sending people home in order to protect both volunteers and first responders. That makes sense for large organizations with big budgets. But if there is only about a week of media interest, and all local responders are sent home in that time, the community has no resource pool to draw upon in later recovery. By giving residents tools and permission to start organizing, we’re giving them a head start on recovery.
Making cleanup more efficient post-disaster is just the beginning; we are working to reduce the damage disasters cause. When working with communities before disasters, we focus on creating a community emergency network of neighbors that can respond to events of any size. While traditional preparedness focuses on individual households, we believe risk and resources should be measured as a community. After all, a single generator can power dozens of cell phones in an outage, and a single blocked storm-drain can flood a dozen houses.
We are proud to be honored as White House Champions of Change. We are happy to be able to support the amazing men and women working in recovering communities across the United States, and we are excited to support the next generation of community preparedness.
Caitria O’Neill is a co-founder of Recovers
- Posted byon August 14, 2013 at 12:02 PM EST
Anita Brown-Graham is being honored as a Champion of Change for her efforts in making government more transparent and accountable through technology.
In the face of serious economic and social challenges, growing national polarization continuously threatens devastating gridlock. Each day seems to bring new indications of our dysfunction at discourse.
When I joined the Institute for Emerging Issues (IEI) at North Carolina State University in 2007, I looked forward to bringing together the state’s leaders from all sectors, regions and points of view. Founded by former North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt, IEI had earned a strong reputation for its efforts to focus the state on matters important to its continued competitiveness. The organization sought to extend North Carolina’s rich tradition of boundary-crossing leadership - a tradition credited with transforming the state’s economy and quality of life over a 50 year period.
However, there were troubling indications that North Carolina faced a civic engagement crisis. By 2010, our state ranked 42nd in the nation for volunteering, 44th for participation in non-electoral policy activity (such as public meetings), and 39th for group affiliation/membership. Without reclaiming the ability to engage and collaborate, North Carolina was on course to lose the voices of too many of its people as leaders shaped their future.
IEI needed to respond to this crisis, but we could not act alone. We reached out for the wisdom of hundreds across the state. With their contributions of content, design support, software innovations and funding, we created the Emerging Issues Commons - a first of its kind engagement tool - both a physical space and an online hub that is today transforming how citizens across the state connect with each other, access information, and take collaborative action on important issues.
The citizens of the state asked us to replace charts and graphs with interactive tools that visualize more than 100 county-level data points on the economy, education, health and the environment. They told us they wanted to see the connections among challenges, be able to compare challenges across different geographies, and to have data curated in ways that offered greater insight into the issues.
Our citizen advisors wanted also to have big challenges humanized through short videos, and to be able to add their own ideas for solving challenges. They asked that others be able to rate and rank ideas and add opinions on how to make them stronger. Finally, they insisted that the Commons content be available online 24/7.
Despite indications of permanent disengagement, North Carolinians made clear that they would participate at higher levels if given an opportunity for meaningful engagement and resources to support their efforts. What they needed? New thinking through new tools and techniques for engagement.
Anita Brown-Graham is Director of the Institute for Emerging Issues (IEI) at NC State University
- Posted byon August 14, 2013 at 11:23 AM EST
Steven Clift is being honored as a Champion of Change for his efforts in making government more transparent and accountable through technology.
Imagine. I am standing on my front porch in Minneapolis, trying to speak out to my neighbors:
“Yes, I love the idea of starting a community garden. Let’s meet.”
“Councilmember, what more can we do to get the FAA to respond to our complaints about dramatic airport noise increases in our neighborhood?”
“My neighbor, an Iraq vet, heard five shots and ran to the victim in the street as he lay dying. I never want to see a sobbing, collapsing mother need to come to a crime scene again.”
“Let’s have a “Community Eat-up” and support that new Salvadoran restaurant in our neighborhood. Who will join us?”
“Great. So glad you found seven neighbors to quickly bake those lasagnas for your friend’s memorial service today.”
“I found a lost puppy …”
If it was before 2008, these real examples would have remained unheard across my neighborhood.
Imagine being connected to over 1,000 of your neighbors via an online public space for community exchange (that’s 25% of households in my neighborhood). You are able to connect with local elected officials who represent you, small business owners and workers, and local civil servants and community groups. Everyone who cares about your local community is welcome.
This is my own Standish-Ericsson neighborhood today – connected, vibrant, inclusive, and building community every day.
Today, E-Democracy’s BeNeighbors.org effort connects well over 15,000 people mostly in the Twin Cities across a network of dozens of online Neighbors Forums. Our lessons and assistance are available for networks everywhere.
Led by volunteers in each neighborhood and powered by open source technology, we are working to build bridges across race, income, generations, immigrant and native-born, and more. Thanks to the Knight and Bush foundations and other donors, our dedicated outreach team, including recent refugees and immigrants, even go door to door in St. Paul.
Our view - Every neighborhood should be connected using whatever technology works for them.
The opportunity of a generation is to reach and connect all kinds of people, far more than those who traditionally show up.
Join the evolution.
Helping puppies one day and debating the intricacies of FAA flight rules the next in the same online space is built on two decade of direct experience.
We have lessons to share along with a passion to learn about your ideas and innovations. I helped launch the world’s first election information website in 1994 with Minnesota E-Democracy. I led early e-government efforts in Minnesota. I've presented in 30 countries concerning open government and civic technology.
Some top lessons include:
1. Activate Groups - “The most democratizing aspect of the Internet is the ability for people to organize and communicate in groups.” From my 1998 “Democracy is Online” article.
2. Give Notice – Timely notification of new government information and meetings is empowering.
3. Go Local – Local is the public life building block where people naturally connect across many differences in the common interest.
4. Build Power - Real people with real names generate agenda-setting power and influence elected officials - particularly if it is clear that you are among their voters.
5. Be Public - Public civic engagement is key, not just personal Facebook relationships where local politicians and community insiders connect privately based on existing trust and hierarchy.
6. Defend the Commons - Loudest harsh voices and partisan vitriol threaten our efforts to build viable civic online public spaces built on civility and tolerance.
7. New Challenges - Local online groups remove the communications barrier and empower problem-solving “ad-hocracy” inspired by new ideas and newly active citizens.
8. Inclusion Matters – The PewInternet.org “Civic Engagement in the Digital Age” reported that the same kinds of people dominating off-line politics are dominating online. To make a difference, we must successfully reach new voices and make participation far more representative and inclusive.
9. All Blocks – Gather the digital contact information – email, mobile, etc. – of your 20 nearest neighbors and share it back. You can do it. It starts with you. Private spaces make sense among nearest neighbors, but for larger areas avoid gated communities.
10. Got Neighbors? – A national directory and educational campaign could bring millions more into community life and local democracy online. If you happen to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, going door to door to your 20 nearest neighbors might be a bit of a challenge. So, I have a slightly different idea for you. Give me a jingle.
Steven Clift is the Co-Founder of E-Democracy
Crossing the Line in the Sand: Why Early Exposure to Emerging Technologies Will Lead Our Students to GreatnessPosted byon August 12, 2013 at 2:08 PM EST
Jeffries Epps is being honored as a Champion of Change for his work to expand opportunities for young learners from communities historically underserved or underrepresented in tech fields.
For the past 21 years I have served the public schools of North Carolina in the area of technology implementation. As a systems engineer and now a technology director, I have worked in both a management and leadership capacity. From my engineering point of view I have witnessed technology change every two to three years. When I became a director I set my cross hairs on the skills we were teaching our students. Working with business leaders, administrators, teachers, and students has afforded me the opportunity to see how our efforts to prepare students directly affect the workplace. It is now my mission to ensure that the technology training inside of the school walls keeps pace with the needs of the global economy.
For two decades, technology in education has evolved rapidly. The rate of change outside of the school walls has not only altered the way we teach our students, but also how early we should expose them to emerging technologies. By exposing them early, and integrating science and mathematics at every grade level, they will have years to master these technologies as opposed to semesters. In addition, most companies will not entertain an engineer’s application unless they have seven verifiable years of exposure to the engineering process. So where can these applicants be found? They are currently in the 3rd grade!
In 1996, we began wiring schools for internet access. Students could access the internet from every classroom, media center, and computer lab. Since then, tools such as word processing, electronic presentations, and desktop publishing have become commonplace in our schools, homes, and the workplace. Students who were 3rd graders in 1996 graduated in 2005, however, they progressed into a workforce that had already been saturated with workers possessing the same skills. During this time, we drew a line in the sand that separated mediocrity and greatness. We sided with mediocrity. Yet, the workforce was demanding more highly-skilled, innovative workers.
Early exposure equips them to compete for current and future jobs, satisfy the seven year requirement and most importantly fail their way forward. When failure occurs, students often side with mediocrity. At this early stage they will learn that failure is a part of success and they persevere toward greatness. Greatness when their first line of code throws them a syntax error. Greatness when their first 3D scan does not align properly. Greatness when their first 3D object does not print as expected. Suddenly greatness is no longer a buzz word; it is now an attitude. This provides upward mobility. 3D technology will continue to evolve and these students will have the necessary knowledge, skill, and attitude to lead us into the future. By the time our 3rd graders graduate, they will be well-equipped to fill these jobs. The key is early exposure!
Somewhere along the way the real world component became someone else’s responsibility. As educators, it is our responsibility to take the time and make the connections between coursework and the real world. When students apply what they have learned to solve real world problems we pull them to the “greatness” side of the line and we dare them to go back!
In education, we stand on a great Genesis. We are redefining ourselves, and the way in which we do things. If we don’t get this right, generations will pay the consequences. If we are to lead the world, we must cast the vision of what the marketplace will be by teaching skills and thought processes that will be relevant well into the future. The end result is a highly skilled workforce that is prepared to compete globally. The United States will maintain its economic edge. Success does not follow mediocrity; success follows hard work and leads to greatness. Let’s start!
Jeffries Epps is the Director of Information Technology for Richmond County Schools in Hamlet, NC.
- Posted byon August 12, 2013 at 11:52 AM EST
Kevin Mitchell is being honored as a Champion of Change for his work to expand opportunities for young learners from communities historically underserved or underrepresented in tech fields.
I was fortunate to be exposed to technology from an early age. In elementary school, I learned the foundations of programming through the “turtle graphics” programming language LOGO. My high school had an amazing computer science and technology program. I participated in the American Computer Science League programming competitions, and built and refurbished PCs for a local nonprofit. Throughout my education, I was exposed to a variety of hardware and software concepts that have given me a huge advantage in my career as a software engineer.
Unfortunately, many of the schools in our communities are not able to offer the same kind of technology education that was available to me. Currently, only ten percent of American schools offer a computer science program. Without fundamental computer literacy skills, today's students will struggle to compete in an increasingly computer dependent economy. Our country must act quickly to provide students with the learning opportunities necessary to develop this literacy.
That’s why I’ve taken on the role of lead volunteer at ScriptEd, a nonprofit that brings computer programming classes to schools in underserved communities. Our program works with local developers who volunteer by teaching classes, developing curriculum materials, and mentoring students. Our volunteers allow our students to see that a passion for technology can open up incredible opportunities, and provide them with the guidance they need to develop 21st century career skills.
We've seen a great amount of interest from developers in New York City who want to give back to the community through our program, and we are actively working to expand to additional schools and create a reusable open source curriculum. We recently ran a hackathon, an event where students spent an entire day working with technology professionals to design and develop programs around a central theme. We've also placed several of our students in paid internships at technology firms, providing them with real-world experience to help them be successful in a modern economy.
The teachers and mentors I had as a student helped to instill in me a passion for technology. I want to share this passion, and enable other professionals in the technology field to do the same. The feeling I get when I see a concept finally “click” in a student’s eyes is incredibly rewarding. We've seen our students go from being unable to type or create files, to writing programs that solve real-world problems and allow them to express their creativity.
I'm very proud of our students, and amazed by the enthusiasm of the volunteers who take time out of their busy schedules to teach and mentor them. Not only are we giving our students the skills they need for a bright future, we are also giving them a set of tools that will enable them to drive the future success of America.
Kevin Mitchell is a Lead Volunteer for ScriptEd.
- Posted byon August 12, 2013 at 10:28 AM EST
Carlos Bueno is being honored as a Champion of Change for his work to expand opportunities for young learners from communities historically underserved or underrepresented in tech fields.
Imagine leaving this world as complicated as you found it. To me, that's one of the scariest thoughts around. If the next generation takes just as long to learn what you've learned, they won't have time to do better. That's why good teachers don't merely replay knowledge. They try to distill it.
Three years ago I started writing "Lauren Ipsum", a children's novel about computer science and critical thinking. I wanted to write the introduction I wish I'd had as a child. My wife Yta and I looked for conceptsthat could be explained to a nine-year-old. We purposefully ignored how hard or easy they were supposed to be; that's what we were testing.
It's easy to forget that computer science is a very young field, and young fields are messy. As we race to generate new knowledge we also generate excess complexity and jargon, piled up around us like sawdust. When the hard stuff looks messy and complicated, and the easy stuff looks messy and complicated too, then you can't really tell the difference. That means, as teachers, we're not even starting in the right places.
Many things considered basic were much harder than expected. Other things with impressive-sounding names were literally child's play. It turns out that kids already understand cryptographic timing attacks; they just call it the game of Hangman. Most humbling was the number of things I failed to explain because I didn't really understand them.
People tend to think that scientific progress is all about discovering new facts. It's equally about discovering new ways to explain what we already know. Open a child's math book, and what do you see? Zero, negative numbers, pi. Every one of those "simple" facts was once the weirdest, hardest, most difficult concept in the world. Over the centuries we've come to grips with them. Today, we expect every child to know more math than Archimedes and more physics than Newton. That's progress.
We haven't made much of this kind of progress in computer science. If the mathematicians are the ones making fun of you for being too complicated, you know you've got some work to do.
Those experiments convinced me that a crucial part of computer science is training yourself to think clearly. You can't explain clearly unless you think clearly. And what is programming, if not explaining things to the computer? So as Lauren goes through her adventures she doesn't learn the messy incidental details of writing programs. She learns how to think like a programmer. She learns not just that she is responsible for her own decisions, she learns better ways to make them.
Today, "Lauren Ipsum" is used in classrooms all over the world in homeschools, elementary schools, and even universities. For every copy sold, we donate another copy to anyone who teaches children. To date we've mailed over 800 books to everywhere from Indiana to Indonesia. We're also about to publish a Spanish translation.
My favorite story is from a mother who had read the book to her children as a bedtime story. A few weeks later she was packing away some suitcases, nesting the smaller ones inside the larger ones. Her six-year-old watched for a while and said "Mommy, that's recursion!"
Take a few minutes to try an experiment. Pick something you know that is supposed to be complicated. Pretend you are talking to a child and try as hard as you can to truly understand and distill and explain it. Then try it out on an actual child. Tell them what you are doing and ask for help; work together to come to an understanding. It's astonishing what children can do if you don't tell them it's too hard. The odds are good you'll learn something too. And that's progress.
Carlos Bueno is an Engineer at Facebook.
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