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Ushering Government Services into the Digital Age

Sonal Shah — Founding Executive Director at the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation at Georgetown University
State Capitol, Austin Texas

Our lives intersect with government services in countless ways — giving veterans access to healthcare, caring for children in foster programs, and even helping us get around using public transit. In an effort to improve those interactions, governments around the world are working to reimagine how they provide public services in a digital age.

While early leaders in this work are already providing measurable outcomes showing cost savings and efficiencies, most governments are not equipped for this new way of working. Which is why the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation is proud to launch the Digital Service Collaborative with support from The Rockefeller Foundation to provide expert support to government teams in delivering better results for society at scale.

The Digital Service Collaborative (DSC) adds to the Beeck Center’s digital portfolio and joins a robust community of technology and society initiatives at Georgetown University.  In addition to building a body of research around government digital services, DSC will create tangible resources for practitioners, cultivate the community of digital service leaders in governments to share and scale efforts, and explore policy considerations including ethics and privacy. DSC will also support other data and digital efforts at the Beeck Center, including ethical and responsible use of public and private data to address challenging problems such as health and education and leveraging digital tools for better civic engagement with public institutions.

From Georgia to San Francisco, digital services teams are already focused on delivering high-quality services to their communities. Yet government officials continue to announce new initiatives, resources, and support for this type of work including in Connecticut, Maine, and California. Nationally, leaders across the U.S. government have made service delivery a priority throughout federal departments and agencies, as well as in the U.S. Digital Service and 18F. Some of these great work includes:

  • Making it easier for military veterans to apply for benefits by consolidating 1,000 separate websites and 950 different telephone numbers so military veterans could more easily determine their eligibility for services;
  • Providing students and families better information on higher education including full costs, average loan amounts borrowed, and graduation rates;
  • Creating a people-based process immigration process to help individuals and families understand and follow the naturalization process; and
  • Helping people find affordable housing in San Francisco; and
  • Improving live-saving alerts for flooded roadways in Austin, Texas.

To carry out this work, the Beeck Center is assembling a world-class team at the leading edge of technology, data, and society. Cori Zarek, a leader on government digital transformation, ethics, and technology policy has joined Beeck and Georgetown University as Director of the Digital Service Collaborative. She will oversee the Collaborative and manage our efforts on data, technology, and society. Cori previously served as Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer under President Obama, leading digital government efforts across the federal government. Additionally, DSC welcomed Emily Tavoulareas as a fellow to lead user research on communities we hope to serve. With Christopher Wilson and Vandhana Ravi, they will continue to build out DSC, including programming for students through seminars, pop-up workshops, analyst positions, and other efforts.

We have spoken to more than 100 leaders over the past few months to better understand the challenges governments face in digital services and will use those key insights to develop an overarching strategy. We will carry this work out in close collaboration with many others already working in this space including organizations like Code for America and New America, academic centers like Digital HKS and other members of the Georgetown tech and society initiative, and, of course, government teams and people. We look forward to publicly sharing our learnings from those expert interviews and our plans for approaching this work.

The Digital Service Collaborative expands upon the Beeck Center’s existing data for social good efforts and we look forward to working with our colleagues across digital service efforts to build out the network and global community to help accelerate progress.

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