Reflecting on Five years of Fellowship

What is BetaNYC’s Civic Innovation Fellowship?

The Civic Innovation Fellowship (CIF) is BetaNYC’s immersive civic tech training program where an annual cohort of qualified fellows work on data, technology and design challenges inside New York City government. BetaNYC has been running CIF in partnership with the CUNY Service Corps and Office of the Manhattan Borough President for 5 years! Over the years, our students have hailed from 10 CUNY campuses, including Lehman, Queens, Hunter, City College, City Tech, LaGuardia Community, Medgar Evers, John Jay, the College of Staten Island, and Macaulay Honors. With headquarters in the Manhattan Borough President’s Office, we structure the program in two distinct semesters: a civic tech bootcamp, and applied work projects.

CIF Y4 Students at the Manhattan Borough President’s Office with Borough President Brewer and BetaNYC staff, 2017

What is the CUNY Service Corps?

The CUNY Service Corps melds the needs of students for professional work experience before graduating, with public service organizations seeking assistance with perpetually heavy workloads. After a rigorous application process with CUNY and prospective placement sites, admitted fellows land in as many as 75 different organizations throughout the City, suited to their interests and skills. From September to May, fellows dedicate 10-12 hours a week to their placement site, helping their host organization grow and bring about positive change for NYC.

The Office of the Manhattan Borough President, Gale A. Brewer, has been a Service Corps placement site / community partner since 2014, with BetaNYC running the program since 2015.

Thank you, Fellows and Partners!

Congratulations, cohort of 2020! Fellows’ life stories, energy, and enthusiasm keep us on our toes and humble every day. They are a fixture in the Manhattan Borough President’s Office, occupying a centrally-located cube “farm”? “bullpen”? “horseshoe”! large enough for ten. We co-mingle with friendly, hard-working BP staff and source and ideate interesting projects to work on. Thank you, Borough President Brewer, and your staff – Daniel, Stephanie, Hally, Shula, Aldrin, Jessica, April, Andrew, Elka, Brian, Vanessa, James, and many more! 

Highlights and Stories from 2019-2020:

Fellows during our NYC Civics and Data Analytics bootcamp learning about ArcGIS Online
  • For BetaNYC’s fifth cohort, we turned our NYC Civics and Data Analytics bootcamp into a complete course, with a syllabus, and a semester of material – lectures, assignments, and a final project. **Colleges**, let us know if you want to teach it too!
  • We launched RADAR, working on data and research assistance requests from the Budget Department, Land Use team, and Community Affairs within the Borough President’s Office, and, among our external partners, the Restorative Justice Initiative, Housing Data Coalition, and CUNY Graduate Center.
Explore completed RADARs and submit one yourself through this gallery.
  • Fellows presented their research on Community Board demographics at a festive final presentation in December, networking with Civic Innovation alumni, civic tech and open government leaders, and future colleagues.

After Winter Break, they began applied work projects:

  • One fellow went directly into a Community Board office (Manhattan CB 8) to help them modernize their workflows and office operations.
  • Two helped BetaNYC prepare, run, and later analyze School of Data 2020, our largest community conference to date. Read more about that epic event at the CUNY School of Law here.
  • Others worked on RADARs, honing their data interpretation and visualization skills. For example, check out the Religious Facilities Story Map, and the CB Membership Story Map here and here
  • Meanwhile, a mighty pair developed their tech and community science skills, prototyping a tool that scrapes and presents public meeting data and other important information about all 59 community boards. It’s called….59 Boards, check it out here.
  • One welcomed his first child to the world and worked on CiviCRM for community boards, mostly in the company of his newborn. 
  • An “adopted” tenth fellow from City-as-School, a NYC public high school that emphasizes experiential learning, worked with the Borough President’s transportation policy analyst to map curb cuts and other data for pedestrians.
  • Valiant mentors put together a RADAR Report and Gallery on BetaNYC’s website, as well as an Alumni Gallery, and all in all, provided instrumental assistance to BetaNYC.

Navigating Unruly Waters – March 2020 and beyond:

When the COVID-19 outbreak began, we gathered ourselves and quickly transitioned to working remotely. Fellows lives were disrupted but not their engagement. Using collaborative software, active Slack channels, weekly video check ins, and a handful of Zoom calls, the semester culminated with a rewarding presentation to President Gale Brewer and her staff on May 8, 2020 from 3-5….I mean 6pm!

No Better a Time for Service and Civic Innovation:

Circling back to where we began, the CUNY Service Corps began in 2014 to help the City get back on its feet after Hurricane Sandy. For six years now, it has enabled thousands of students to assist at hundreds of work sites throughout New York City, earn money, and gain real-world exposure and experience. Read about how Service Corps is a unique employer-partnership that drives systems change here (featuring our program exclusively, to boot!).

How CUNY drives system change, featuring CIF.

Now, New Yorkers, organizations, small businesses, government, everyone – need help again, and despite the challenges presented by sending students to diverse work sites, Service Corps is dedicated to finding a way. BetaNYC is helping them hold their annual Matching Fair virtually, as it has for other organizations since the coronavirus hit.

Fellows and Zhi at the Municipal Building.

So, for all these reasons, we are toasting to the Civic Innovation fellows and alumni, to the Borough President’s Office and community boards, to CUNY and the Service Corps, and to all New Yorkers for staying strong and committed amid these difficult, sometimes tragic, and constantly shifting times. We will embrace our next cohort, in a way, like no other yet.*

*we always say this, and it’s always true 🙂