July 16, 2024
Civic Tech Scholars Program: Shaping the Future of STEAM and Civic Innovation
By
Dr. Alberto Gómez
6 minutes
Civic Tech Scholars Program: Shaping the Future of STEAM and Civic Innovation

Better Futures Institute Civic Tech Scholar Program

The Civic Tech Scholars program focuses on improving the workforce by training young people for careers in STEM. The goal of this program is to train, motivate, and prepare emerging leaders to understand how social impact initiatives and research can be used to improve the quality of life through technology, civic engagement, and innovation. The program will run from June 3 to August 9, 2024.

This program is a space where we experiment and design the future together. It comes from a rich history of experiences and programs that helped create a civic technology company and equipped us with the tools to tackle society's complex problems. We aim to bring together science, art, technology, design, and society to develop solutions that shape the cities of the future.

When we started the Better Futures Institute, our goal was to create a space where we could apply everything we had learned about research, design, product development, entrepreneurship, leadership, and storytelling. We wanted to connect different disciplines, methods, tools, people, and technology to work together to solve our cities' problems. Our focus is on engaging communities to explore and address critical local and regional issues like urban sustainability and workforce development. Through various programs and experiences, we have built a community of inspiring and talented people who are making a positive impact on the world, one company, organization, institution, and community at a time.

The Civic Tech Scholars program is a result of this journey. As we embark on this journey, our goal is to continue this learning experience collectively by inviting people to participate and share their ideas for a better future. The future is a collaborative process, and this program is an open, multidisciplinary platform that welcomes everyone’s ideas to improve the quality of life in our communities.

We are interested in creating a living collaborative laboratory for ideas. Our focus is to work openly with the community, engaging in conversations and publicly contributing to the future of San Antonio and the region. This living document is intended to remain open for improvement by incorporating community feedback.

Our focus is education and innovation. Our research is collaborative. Our approach is multidisciplinary and multi-city. Our vision is a conduit for everyone’s vision for Better Futures.

Program Goals:

  • Experiential Learning: Providing hands-on experiences that combine data science, software development, policy design, and community research to address urban challenges.
  • Leadership Development: Equipping scholars with the tools and skills needed to become future leaders committed to social impact.
  • Interdisciplinary Collaboration: Fostering a collaborative environment where different disciplines come together to create innovative solutions.
  • Community Engagement: Working with local communities to understand their unique challenges and needs, and co-create sustainable and equitable solutions.
  • Future Design: Using design thinking and technology to imagine and build the future of cities, focusing on urban sustainability and workforce development.

Core Themes of the Program:

  • Urban Planning & Public Infrastructure: Learn how urban planning and public infrastructure can create sustainable and resilient cities.
  • Quality of Life: Explore the factors that contribute to a good quality of life, including mobility, sustainability, health, and housing.
  • Economic Development: Understand the role of education and workforce development in economic growth and explore ways to support business retention and development.
  • Governance, Policy Making, and Public Engagement: Discover how city governance works, how policies are made, and how technology can enhance civic engagement and transparency.

Through these themes, the Civic Tech Scholars program aims to provide participants with the knowledge, skills, and mindset to make a real difference in our communities. By connecting different fields and using technology, we aspire to co-create a better future for everyone.

Civic Tech Scholars Program Outputs and Takeaways

The Civic Tech Scholars will have the unique opportunity to work on improving the 311SA App, expand our South Texas Triangle research, and help craft the narratives for our Better Futures Series. Our current projects enable them to apply theoretical knowledge to practical situations, honing abilities to tackle complex challenges and implement solutions in the real world. The program's emphasis on social impact and urban challenges ensures the development of a keen sense of responsibility toward building sustainable, equitable, and resilient communities.

By engaging in community research, interns develop a deep understanding of the unique challenges and needs of different populations, enabling them to contribute meaningfully to the creation of sustainable and equitable solutions.

During the program, we will produce various outputs and obtain multiple takeaways. Below is a preliminary list:

A Series of Skills and Competencies:

  • The Civic Tech Scholars program will cover multiple threads, including:
    • Entrepreneurship
    • Design Thinking
    • Human-Computer Interaction
    • Civic Technology
    • Leadership
    • Project Management
    • Emerging Technologies
    • Data Visualization, Information Visualization, Information Aesthetics
  • Scholars will engage with content, discussions, workshops, and mentoring sessions on all these topics. This will include overviews of how these disciplines can be used to address social issues. Groups will then form to address one or multiple threads, diving deep into each issue, exploring root causes and effects, and contributing to a final project and report to be presented at the end of the program.

A Series of Social, Economic, Technological Considerations:

  • Each topic of the Civic Tech Scholars program has profound, complex, and systemic root causes that perpetuate legacies of inequalities in our communities. These topics include urban planning, public infrastructure, mobility, sustainability, health, economic development, education, workforce development, talent and business retention, governance, policy-making, and civic participation. While exploring complex urban and social systems, we will examine and reflect on how to integrate data, software development, community building, and emerging technologies in our work to address these issues.

A Final Presentation of the Solution Designed at the End of the CTS Program:

  • The CTS program will produce a series of outcomes to be exhibited at the final event:
    • A predictive model that aligns 311 service requests with Public Works’ street repair schedules to optimize maintenance workflows.
    • An evaluation of the effectiveness of using 311 service calls for prioritizing IMP tasks.
    • Identification of geographic trends in service requests and proactive repairs.
    • Information for community outreach and education regarding 311 services.

A New Civic Technology and Policy Design Thinking Framework:

  • As part of the Better Futures Institute's ongoing efforts to define a theory of change, we will host, in collaboration with the City of San Antonio, an event series called Better Futures Institute: Public Policy and Civic Lab. This series will facilitate conversations with public city administrators, experts, and community leaders around urban and social issues in San Antonio and the South Texas Triangle region. During each session, we will document the discussions and processes, examining the information through design thinking activities to uncover insights that can help us formulate questions, generate ideas, expand conversations, and inform the BFI’s programs and initiatives. We will use our work to develop a guide for creating a theory of change while designing policy recommendations through a series of workshops, conversations, and community feedback sessions.

A Series of Reports About the Findings of the Lab Sessions:

  • We will produce final reports that include all findings, ideas, and solutions explored during the Better Futures Conversation sessions. These reports will inform future initiatives, programs, and further research. The final findings will be included in the BFI’s yearly impact report to be shared with stakeholders.

Conclusion: This Program is a Collaboration

Our goal with this program is to lay the groundwork for a collaborative research initiative that harnesses community ideas about what a better future looks like. Our methodology includes conversations, discussions, and workshops where we invite industry experts, academics, community leaders, and the broader public to participate in creating the future of our region.

Interested in shaping the future with us? Sign up to our newsletter to learn about future events and engagement opportunities, or send us an email to info@bfinstitute.org

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