Technology and data can be an effective route to more civic engagement, according to a panel that gathered Saturday at Politifest.

The goal of the panel was to show citizens of San Diego how new tools like data websites and text alerts can keep them up-to-date on local issues.

Panelists Xavier Leonard of Open San Diego, Christopher Rice-Wilson of Alliance San Diego and McKenzie Richardson, the chapter chair for the California Public Interest Research Group at UC San Diego spoke about appealing to young voters, the use of apps to encourage civic engagement and strategies to get people involved in the political process.

As the brigade captain for Open San Diego, Leonard’s mission is to bring transparency to government processes, civic initiatives and other civic works. His organization’s mission is to ensure residents are aware of resources available to them.

Leonard discussed a brand new tool conceptualized by Open San Diego called “Subscribe to San Diego.” Subscribe to San Diego is like a newsletter that gets delivered to your phone via text message that talks about what is going in your community.

Leonard said this tool allows people to have access to things the way they truly want to receive things.

“When you’re going and looking for something, you have to specifically go there every time, particularly if you want information that is updated regularly, and it would be nice to have a way to get that without having to go through that massive information site that is your city’s website,” said Leonard. “Open San Diego built a tool that allows to you to do that.”

Open San Diego is currently working on launching more onto the subscription service, such as adding in notifications when people have requested permits.

They already have notifications in place for code violations.

“What we’re able to do is go and grab it programmatically, and then serve it up when you want to get it,” said Leonard.

Creating this tool was made possible because of the data research efforts of Almis Udrys, the director of performance and analytics for the city of San Diego. Udrys’ office and department, which is focused on creating new data-driven tools, contributed to putting all of the information together and making it available to the public.

During the panel, Udrys quickly ran through data-driven technological resources the San Diego community could use to be more civically engaged.

Here were examples he offered:

Community members can find and use data that relates to the city government by browsing the datasets and reading data stories on the City of San Diego Open Data Portal.

The City of San Diego Performance Dashboard informs citizens exactly which efforts in the city have been improved or are in the process of being improved, such as fire and police response time, crime rates and counts, street repairs, water usage and more, which is presented through charts, graphs and other infographics.

Using San Diego’s Financial Reporting Platform, citizens can access reports and data that show them how San Diego spends and receives money.

Those sites account for a small fraction of the accessible resources for citizens that Udrys works toward developing and maintaining. Other sites include information on when streets have been or will be paved, and even include a site that allows citizens to report any damages in the city, such as broken street lights or broken traffic cameras.

Another panelist was focused on using technology to encourage voting.

Rice-Wilson’s organization, Alliance San Diego, a local non-profit organization, strives to increase turnout among young voters and low-propensity voters.

Rice-Wilson said his ultimate goal is to reach young voters where they are. He caters to what those voters will actually pay attention to – and that’s led to success with text messages and engaging video on social media platforms.

Rice-Wilson found a 10 to 12 percent increase in voters in 2014 after using such multimedia platforms. They also found a five percent increase in 18-year-old voters in 2014 thanks to those tactics.

Richardson, a chapter chair for the consumer advocacy nonprofit California Public Interest Research Group, also talked about their efforts to use technology to encourage voting.

Richardson’s CALPIRG organization, as well as other CALPIRG organizations across the country, work closely with the New Voters Project, a volunteer effort to help register and inform young voters.

To help register and inform young voters, Richardson worked to create a website that helps students register and vote online. This website also tracks how many voters have already signed up to vote.

While working with the New Voters Project, Richardson has helped register more than 40,000 students across the state to vote. In the next year, Richardson aims to register 10,000 new voters.

This post was written by a student in San Diego State University’s School of Journalism & Media Studies who’s...

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