NYC Civic Innovation Fellows

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Members of the 2015 Fellowship class with Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer and danah boyd, founder of Data & Society Research Institute.

Photo of Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer and danah boyd, founder of Data & Society, with New York City’s Civic Innovation Fellows.

The NYC Civic Innovation Fellows Program is empowering NYC’s Community Boards to develop digital and open data practices that are appropriate for the local constituencies they serve. This program is a partnership between the Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer, BetaNYC, and Fund for the City of New York. The program is supported by Data & Society Research Foundation and the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics’ goal of making “Open Data for All.”

New York City’s fifty nine Community Boards are an important part of local oversight of municipal service delivery. However, because each one is run by two full time employees and volunteer representatives, they struggle to engage effectively with the demands of the digital landscape.

This program offers a curriculum that is designed to enhance the basic digital literacy skills of Community Board Members and CUNY undergraduate students. For a period of seven months, CUNY Service Corp Fellows, selected for competency in a variety of relevant skills, are trained to in the fundamentals of civic technology, data, and design. After this boot camp training, graduates are partnered into innovation teams who explore projects with Manhattan’s twelve Community Boards.

To date, Fellows have performed a comprehensive look at Manhattan community boards use of technology, data, and social media to engage their constituents. A report forthcoming.


To explore partnership opertunities, email cif at beta dot nyc




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. Though this project, BetaNYC and Data & Society, in partnership with Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer (MBPO) and CUNY Service Corps (CUNY-SC), seek to empower Community Boards in the rapidly changing digital environment. MBPO recognizes 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 will 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 attempts 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.

This curriculum is openly licensed and constructed in such a manner to help all 59 NYC Community Boards. You can check out this curriculum on github.

Curriculum’s Mission:


2015 Fellows learning media theory and service design.

Build and execute a community development curriculum that integrates civic design, technology, data, and leadership.

After two years of working with Community Boards and Fellows, this program will develop a “digital civics” curriculum for High School and college aged students. The curriculum will provide a foundation for younger 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.

Curriculum’s Audience:

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.


  • 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 are primarily lower economic status students who are the City’s future civil service employees and we believe they will carry these skills forward through 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.

Selected Highlighted Topics:

  • Building individual capacity.
  • Creating safe spaces for all.
  • Understanding existing governmental structures and processes.
  • Human Centered Design.
  • Digital communication skills and traditional media engagement.
  • Broadening digital participation.
  • Designing with multiple perspectives and with underserved communities.
  • Understanding Data and making Government data work for communities.
  • Making maps.


We have broken down content into something easily understandable for anyone new to digital civic literacy, open source, civic hacking, and mobile development.

Being a good neighbor:

  • NYC Government Structure
  • How to participate and join your Community Board & NYPD Precinct Community Councils
  • How to testify at a City Council Hearing or Agency HearingIMG_6563
  • How to file a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request

Welcome to Civic Technology:

  • What is Civic Technology
  • Getting started in Civic Hacking
  • Roots, values, and the future.
  • What is open data and open government?
  • A civic hackers guide to Google
  • An introduction to open source licensing, copyleft, creative commons, and copyright.

Civic & Service Design:

  • What is Civic and Service Design?
  • 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
  • Getting started in android development
  • How the internet works, mesh networking, and onion Routing
  • Harnessing / maximizing cloud based software

Digital Security and Networked Privacy

  • Encrypt all the bits, an introduction to mobile security
  • How to Key Sign and perform identity management
  • How to communicate via safe and secure channels

Team and Project Management

  • How to use Slack, IRC (Internet Relay Chat) & other group chatting tools.
  • The story of self and motivating a movement
  • Top five open source project management tools
  • Five ways to boost community engagement
  • Getting Commitment, conflict resolution, & de-escalation
  • Building Relationships
  • How to host a hackathon
  • First Aid and basic CPR skills

Open Data

  • Big data, small data, and the open data movement
  • Open Data Management (OKFN)
  • Using Data and “Data Wrangling”
  • Data Biases and data for good
  • Open Data Portal
  • Web Apps

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
  • Introduction to QGIS
  • Maps and Mapping Tools