Civic Innovation Fellows Program (CIF)


The NYC Civic Innovation Fellows Program (CIF) is fostering the next generation of community leaders by developing digital and data literacy practices that are appropriate for the local constituencies they serve. The Civic Innovation Fellowship is the first and only comprehensive program dedicated to training the next generation of civic leaders from CUNY while improving open data and public interest technology within community boards and other civic NYC organizations. 

What and How

For their first few months, CUNY Service Corp Fellows are trained in the fundamentals of public interest / civic technology, data, and design. They learn the City’s history, how our good government movement developed, and are oriented to a suite of digital communication and analytical tools. After the boot camp training, fellows are partnered into innovation teams who explore a variety of public interest technology projects.

The Fellowship is hosted out of the Manhattan Borough President’s Office, with support from the Office of Technology and Innovation’s Open Data Team, and CUNY Service Corps. Fellows are carefully selected from the CUNY’s annual Service Corps program.



Someone who is comfortable with a computer, digitally literate with Google docs or Microsoft Office, has access to high speed internet, and a desire to address problems with technology, data, or design.


This program is a partnership between the Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, BetaNYC, CUNY Service Corps, and the Fund for the City of New York. The program was started by Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer and is financially supported by Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the City University of New York.

Fellowship Curriculum 


Build and execute a community development curriculum that integrates civic design, technology, data, and leadership. The curriculum provides a foundation for community members to use their technical skills to support community boards and develop personal leadership, engage in the civic technology ecosystem, and hone digital skills.

We have broken down content into something easily understandable for anyone new to civic literacy, public interest technology, open source software, mapping, and civic hacking. The following is what an ideal multi-year curriculum would look like.

  • We are testing multifaceted assumptions that cut across government operations, public civic engagement, and open data education.
  • It is possible to build a technology, design, and data curriculum that improves community engagement.
  • There are shared digital inclusion practices that can be replicated across community boards.
  • Municipal data education can be broken down into bite sized chunks.
  • We can successfully deliver a simplified civic technology education to a broad age group.
  • CUNY-SC come from diverse backgrounds with the potential to be the City’s future civil service employees. Regardless, we believe they will carry these digital literacy skills forward, throughout their careers (longitudinal study needed to assess this).
  • Using a lean model, college level technologists, with the assistance of full-time professionals, can improve Manhattan Community Boards’ information flows.
  • Once trained, Community Board Members and Managers can support each other’s data needs.
Being a good neighbor
  • NYC’s history & Government Structure
  • How to participate and join your Community Board & NYPD Precinct Community Councils
  • How to testify at a City Council Hearing or Agency Hearing
  • How to file a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request
  • What is open data and open government?
Welcome to Public Interest and Civic Technology
  • What is Public Interest Technology and Civic Hacking.
  • Roots, values, and the future.
  • A civic hackers guide to Google
  • An introduction to open source licensing, copyleft, creative commons, and copyright.
Service Design
  • What is Civic Service Design and Human Centered Design
  • Intro to Civic & Service Design
  • Building “With, not for…” and the fight for Social / Digital Justice
Open Source Foundations
  • Beginners Guide to Open Source
  • Three key elements that define every open source project
  • Getting started with GitHub
  • Things newcomers to open source rarely ask but often wonder
  • Key Books to Read and Open Source Organizations
Application Fundamentals
  • Building apps for a complex world.
  • How the internet works.
  • Harnessing / maximizing cloud based software.
  • Encrypt all the bits, an introduction to security.
Open Data
  • Big data, small data, and the open data movement.
  • Using Data and “Data Wrangling”.
  • Data Biases and data for good.
  • New York City’s and New York State’s Open Data Portals.
  • Web Apps
Team Communications & Project Management
  • How to use Slack & other group chatting tools.
  • How to communicate via safe and secure channels.
  • The story of self and motivating a movement.
  • Project management 101 and tools.
  • Getting Commitment, conflict resolution, & de-escalation.
  • Building Relationships.
  • What is a hackathon?
  • Basic First Aid and CPR skills.
Mapping and Cartography
  • The wonderful world of maps
  • Online Mapping Tools (i.e. Intro to Google Maps, Google Earth, and CartoDB)
  • Beginners’ guide to OpenStreetMap
  • Introduction to Geographic Data Formats and QGIS
  • Maps

Program Outputs

Fellowship History

Community Boards are New York City’s local, volunteer representative bodies. Established by the 1963 City Charter, they oversee land use issues, budget recommendations, and local service delivery. 

This project was started by BetaNYC, the former Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer, and CUNY Service Corps (CUNY-SC) to empower Community Boards in the rapidly changing digital environment. Hon. Brewer recognized the unique potential for data and technology to improve the way that municipal government interacts with its constituents. Human centered design principles and updated tools would extend the relevance of Community Boards in a political environment where a variety of stakeholders, such as real estate developers, are already digitally empowered. This project started with the ideal to level the playing field to enable better decision making.

In 2014, the Manhattan Borough President’s Office (MBPO) brought in CUNY Service Corp Fellows to expose Community Boards to open data practices. This first, successful iteration of the program lasted six months. While students learned about Community Boards, Community Boards learned they wanted to know more. When the MBPO reviewed the program, it recognized the need for assistance in curriculum development as well as for a partner in managing the program.

In the fall of 2014, Noel Hidalgo came to a similar conclusion: New York City’s relationship to open data would be improved by a concerted effort to expand the knowledge and availability of open data practices to as wide a variety of community based organizations as possible. Towards this end, Hidalgo has been collaborating with Pratt University to develop a six-hour long workshop to demystify the process of map making and the flow of data from NYC’s open data portal.

This project combines the competencies and resources of MBPO, BetaNYC, and Fund for the City of New York, in an effort to demonstrate the potential for digitally driven communities at the hyperlocal level.

“I am welcoming student members of the CUNY Service Corps who will help both our office and our Community Boards navigate City data so that New Yorkers can use the data in meaningful ways.

Gale A. Brewer, Former Manhattan Borough President

“We are so proud to welcome these students. With their expertise, we’ll be able to not just retrieve and access vital City information, but also create ways to visualize it – through spreadsheets, graphs, neighborhood mapping, and other organizational means – and get it to our Community Board chairs, district managers, and committee chairs. This way, our Boards can make informed decisions about planning, development, and land-use, armed with data on everything from demographics, to number of school seats, to safety statistics, and so on.”

Aldrin Rafael Bonilla, former Manhattan Deputy Borough President

“ Our program has created NYC’s first open data training program.

Together we are bringing experience, passion, and innovation into one unique government program.”

Noel Hidalgo, Executive Director of BetaNYC
Program Team
  • Jazzy Smith, Civic Innovation Fellowship Manager
  • Dimitri Mimy, Civic Innovation Apprentice

To learn more or explore partnership opportunities,
email us at < cif at beta dot nyc >