Sabina Deitrick and Abigael Wolensky (University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs)
Over the digital age, civic movements and technological processes have advanced the use of information in governments and communities. At the end of the 20th century, democratizing data became a movement of information transparency, dedicated to making public data public, with today’s technology now enabling “open data” for many governments.
Unfortunately, there exists today a new “digital divide,” where many smaller municipalities have few digital support systems, continued reliance on paper public records, and limited access to public information for residents. This project and Spring Capstone class pulled together partners across the University of Pittsburgh interested in piloting a demonstration of how students can help to create and implement digital technology use in smaller communities, help to build the capacity for sustainable improvements, and help them move from paper to digital formats. Working with the Homestead and West Homestead boroughs and other partners, undergraduate and graduate students: 1) “Liberated” municipal data from paper to digital formats via scanning and data entry; 2) Developed electronic forms, with residents filling out permits on line rather than with pen and paper as the only option; 3) Created a web management and alert system that automated the rental property/fee notifications for the collection of rental property fees; and 4) Created a 311 mobile phone application available at Apple to submit complaints on five non-emergency, nuisance areas. The students’ work has led to direct advances in digital applications in these communities and can be extended to others. The capstone work will continue Spring 2016.