Sustainable Jersey: Bringing the “Tech” into Sustainability

December 21, 2016

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 How does technology relate to sustainability and Sustainable Jersey? The classic definition of sustainability suggests that our future depends on supporting three interdependent domains: environment, economy and society. Among these, society often gets overlooked. But in fact, it may be the most important of the three, as it determines not just our quality of life, but our capacity to act together to solve our problems.

If our government, as an extension of our society, is ineffective, our attempts to solve sustainability issues will also be ineffective. Through Sustainable Jersey’s new suite of Public Information & Engagement (PIE) actions, we hope to enable municipalities to upgrade how they operate to provide better public information and services, engage citizens in public decision making and problem solving and track and communicate sustainability goals. In many cases, innovative technologies already exist to help municipalities, but in some cases, technologies still need to be created.

First State-Wide Civic Tech Competition in NJ: Coding for Community

You’re invited to dream big as Sustainable Jersey towns will be paired with innovative minds to create a tool that can address a sustainability or public engagement need within your community. Think apps, data and input gathering, visualizations and beyond.

What would benefit your community? For example, do you need community members to help locate potholes or invasive species in your park? Or how about an app to empower community members to start and fund art projects to beautify your town? Would it be useful to have a way to collect community input on master plans, upcoming events and new ordinances? Even better, let’s have a tool to map or measure data such as energy usage, waste reduction and bikeways. The options are endless; that is why we need your town’s ideas.

Local governments are increasingly tasked with figuring out how to share important information and data, providing services and responding to resident requests instantaneously, since people have become accustomed to receiving answers in real time.

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Brian Platt, the director of the Jersey City Office of Innovation said, “Governments traditionally have limited technology resources and data analysis capabilities, but typically have a high degree of need for these types of advances.” He explains that there is a lot to be learned from the private sector and other communities that have brought successful technologies to address local public information and engagement issues. “Our team is focused on leveraging technology and data to improve quality of life and solve a variety of challenges we face as a city, and many of our tools and approaches have private sector origins.”

Brought to you by Sustainable Jersey, Coding for Community (CfC) is the first of its kind, New Jersey-wide civic tech competition. We’re pairing municipalities with techies to develop real sustainable solutions for local public information and engagement issues. Professional and student coders, programmers and digital designers from across the region will work with municipal staff, green team members and elected officials, similar to the now popular hackathons.

The competition kicks off with an all-day event on January 27, 2017, in Newark, where potential tech solutions to local issues will be identified and teams will form. AT&T is providing $10,000 to Sustainable Jersey to use for prize money. Brian Platt added, “We see the Coding for Community event as a way to connect other towns in New Jersey with a talented pool of tech experts that can help drive transformative change through the use of technology.”

Sustainable Jersey is partnering on this event with the City of Jersey City, Code for Trenton, Code for Jersey City, Code for Princeton, OpenGov, the New Jersey Innovation Institute, the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Sustainable Princeton. The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the Knight Foundation are project funders.

Apply for the Pilot: Free PIE Technology Assistance for Two NJ Towns

Sustainable Jersey will also select two pilot municipalities to take part in a Public Information and Engagement (PIE) Technology Assessment. New Jersey municipal governments that are registered in the Sustainable Jersey program can submit an application for consideration.

If selected, the pilot town will be provided with a consultant who will conduct a PIE Technology Assessment to assist in the implementation of the PIE actions. The assessment will provide a roadmap for transitioning to new forms of communications and engagement through emerging technologies that include digital and online tools. If this sounds interesting, make sure that your town submits an application by February 7, 2017.

“There is no time to ‘wait and see’ with technology. This is where the world is headed and local governments will benefit from providing new ways for citizens to engage and better understand local challenges and opportunities,” said Justin Heyman, a municipal information technology director with over 13 years of experience in municipal technology.  Justin will be leading the PIE Technology Assessments and is also the president of GMIS International, which is a professional information technology association of worldwide government information technology leaders.

“If a municipality is thinking about applying for this opportunity, they should know that they don’t have to be far along the technology path; they just need to be ready to engage and support the recommendations that best fit the needs of their community,” Justin explained. “The selected towns will leave the process with a detailed roadmap complete with solution options allowing them to advance their efforts in public information and engagement.”

  • Apply for the pilot by February 5, 2017: The eligibility requirements, application and complete information can be found here: PIE Technology Assessments application:

Webinar: Join Us on January 4 to Learn More about these Initiatives

To help get you up to speed on these initiatives, Sustainable Jersey has a webinar planned for January 4, 2017 at 1:00 pm. Register for the webinar and learn about the Coding for Community competition and the pilot program.

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