By Charles Platkin, PhD, JD, MPH
Can you explain the concept of civic tech?
Civic tech is defined as any technology that supports the public good.
What motivated you to get involved with civic tech and to become a civic and social entrepreneur?
Back during the earliest days of the Internet era most people starting to use the technology were focused on its commercial applications. However, after starting a not for profit organization to bring the Internet to public Schools, called MOUSE.org, I realized that the potential for technology to help solve long-standing social and civic problems was huge but still very much nascent. So it became a life mission to build connections between social good organizations and technology innovation.
Civic Hall’s mission is “sharing ideas, solving problems, and improving government. Are you achieving that goal? What would more would you like to accomplish w/ Civic Hall?
Well measuring true social impact is always hard, but based on the large number of new technology-enabled initiatives that have been started at Civic Hall, I feel confident that we are well on our way to fulfilling our mission. Next, we are in the midst of building an entirely new Civic Hall ten times our original size where we will have 18-20 state of the art classrooms, a 400 person conference center, and 3 times as much collaboration space as we do now. The classrooms will be used by dozens of digital workforce development organizations that serve under-represented individuals and communities and our plan is to connect these newly trained individuals from so many diverse back rounds directly with the civic and social entrepreneurs who use Civic Hall every day to advance their ideas and projects. Our working theory is that if you want to solve really hard social problems one must “build with, not for” the community you are seeking to serve.
Why is it important to create a tech community in NYC ( e.g., NY Tech Meetup) and what is the value beyond the obvious (e.g., jobs, economic advancement, etc…)?
Silicon Valley has maintained a monopoly on technology innovation for the last several decades but it has begun to show that there are serious problems when technology innovation is primarily being created by mostly white men who graduate from elite computer science programs. New York City is one of the most diverse places in the world and as a result, it has an opportunity to lead the next generation of technology innovation and ensure that it reflects diversity, equity, and inclusion in all its forms.
What do you believe to be the greatest challenges for healthcare? And the greatest opportunities? How do you think technology can help?
Healthcare is probably one of the greatest areas where technology can improve outcomes. It also is one of the most complex industries to try and change because of how much regulation there is as well as how the powerful incumbent healthcare industry protects its market. However, even so, technology offers massive opportunities for innovation that will save lives and lower costs. Whether it is making health data more manageable, accessible, and predictive, or creating applications that compare costs for services or drugs, or new apps that provide mental health solutions, it is clear that technology will alter the way the healthcare and healthcare information will be delivered, administered, and measured.
How do you see technology improving the health of those in under-served communities in NYC and beyond?
There is ample evidence that healthcare technology innovation is already improving the lives of the underserved in New York and elsewhere. Dozens of mobile apps are now available that provide easy to access information and services that used to require standing in line or repeatedly handwriting application forms. Also, much of the data showing how well public health organizations are delivering their services is now much easier to access and some of it is even open for reuse and analysis.
What is the best advice you have been given?
“It is hard when you fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed!”