CTCL: An Organization for All Seasons

Across the country, the spotlight throughout 2016 was on elections and governance, making it an exciting second year for us at the Center for Technology and Civic Life. 

As we celebrate CTCL’s two year anniversary, we wanted to share a season-by-season look back at what we accomplished in 2016, and take a sneak peek at what’s ahead.

Winter: A Hot Start in the Cold Months

The snowy part of 2016 started with a flurry of activity. In January our Civic Data team brought together 30 different organizations from across the civic tech space. The focus of the convening, hosted at Google’s Washington DC office, was how groups can work together to better provide voters with information about elections. After a lively day-long discussion, we identified a number of areas for future collaboration. That same week the team attended a meeting at the General Services Administration focused on similar themes. At the meeting, Donny Bridges presented on how investing in local government can make civic technology a more sustainable field.

While the Civic Data team battled the snow in DC, the Government Services team headed to California for a series of trainings and presentations about online voter engagement. The team started the trip training 56 election officials across two trainings in conjunction with the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials (CACEO). Later, at the Future of California Elections (FoCE) conference, Whitney May spoke on a panel about engaging historically disenfranchised communities around elections. This was the first trip of a whirlwind year of trainings and panels for the Government Services team, who presented to hundreds of elections officials across the country and attended conferences in ten different states. 

Spring: Turning the Clocks Forward on Technology & Democracy

As the weather warmed up, CTCL headed to Boston - well to a school near Boston, at least. Our Executive Director, a 2015-16 Technology and Democracy Fellow at Harvard’s Ash Center, led a workshop focused on leveraging digital tools to reach today’s voters. Later in the spring, CTCL’s Ballot Information Project (BIP) was selected from a pool of over 1,300 programs as a finalist for the Classy Awards, which were held in Boston in June.

June also saw the launch of the Election Toolkit, a library of free and low-cost tools for election officials. Presented complete with step-by-step instructions, the tools are designed to help promote civic engagement and make voting easier. The entire project was designed by, with, and for election officials, and was a collaboration of CTCL, the Center for Civic Design, and the election offices of Cook (IL), Hillsborough (FL), and Inyo (CA) counties. Funding for the project was provided by a Knight News Challenge grant. As of the end of the year, we had over 5,000 unique visitors to the Toolkit site, and they came from all 50 states!

Summer: The Dog Days of the Election

When not traipsing across the country training, promoting the Toolkit, and collecting its success stories, the Government Services team found time over the summer to partner with our friend Monica Crane-Childers of Democracy Works to record two data workshops with the Election Assistance Commission (EAC). 

In the first-ever Tech Time video we talked about the importance of creating a data culture in election offices. The second video discussed data visualizations and how they can help tell a compelling story about election administration. 

Our Civic Data team (with its heroic set of 2016 research fellows) was holed up all summer, preparing for the election, but our existing data projects continued to make an impact. The Women Donors Network's Reflective Democracy dataset of election official and candidate demographics, built on top of our Governance Project data, was cited by everyone from Congresswoman Donna Edwards to the Netflix documentary 13th. We also saw the benefits of keeping our data open when Fusion and Color of Change collaborated to build an interactive look at prosecutorial elections.

Fall: A Bumper Crop of Election Data

On November 8th, in case you missed it, there was a Presidential election. The hard work of the Civic Data team's Ballot Information Project (BIP) once again answered voters' most asked question around elections: "What's on my ballot?" This was BIP's third major election cycle collecting and publishing a nationwide dataset of candidates and ballot measures, and by far its most ambitious. In 2016 our candidate dataset included over 85,000 candidates for more than 45,000 offices across the country - from President all the way down to mosquito control boards and township trustees.

This year our ballot information informed more voters than ever before. Our data provided the ballot information for Google's Voter Assistant, which was accessed 150 million times in the run up to the election. BIP data was also served 44 million times through tools like Twitter's @gov election service, built on top of the Google Civic Information API.

We also partnered with Facebook for the first time in 2016 to provide ballot information to their users across the U.S. More than 9 million unique people previewed their ballot using Facebook's vote planner tool.

It wasn't just tech giants using our data. Thousands of other people across the country used BIP data in their own voter information tools, including 32,000 students across 76 high schools in North Carolina who voted in an election simulation powered by BIP data.

All told, in 2016 CTCL had the largest nonprofit voting information program in the country.

What’s next in 2017?

Once again, we’re roaring into the new year with ambitious efforts already in the works. Early this year, the Civic Data team will be convening a sequel to last year’s discussion around how to make civic technology more collaborative. We’re also in the process of updating our Governance Project data to reflect the results of the 2016 election, so that we can continue to power tools that make it easier for people to interact with their representatives.

One of our Government Services team’s biggest accomplishments of 2016 came at the very end of the year, and will surely have a big impact on 2017: we hired Victoria Nguyen as our Outreach Associate. She’ll be cultivating our network of election officials, promoting our new professional development courses, and coordinating our social media campaigns. Be on the lookout for the launch of a full webinar series of digital and data courses for election officials this spring.

A new set of opportunities and challenges face us in 2017, both as a country and as an organization. We will meet them head on, striving to improve our democracy through our partnerships with election officials and the civic engagement community.