On Sunday, November 20th, the Institute for Education hosted the 10th Year Celebration of Civic Tech with dynamic discussion, a delicious brunch, and an honoring of Justice Stephen Breyer and Dr. Joanna Breyer at the historic Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland.
The White House Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) program, started by the Obama administration in 2012, matches top private sector innovators with top government innovators to bring technological solutions to the public quickly and effectively. President Obama signed the program into law as his final act in office, emphasizing the continuous need to “harness new ideas and technology to remake our government.” The PIF program catalyzed the civic tech space, which organically grew to include 18F, USDS, Technology Transformation Services, Defense Digital Service, Tech Congress, Coding It Forward, U.S. Digital Corps, and others who gathered for this anniversary.
Coach Kathy Kemper, dubbed Mayor of Civic Tech by IFE Steward Todd Park, orchestrated the festivities. A lightning panel of leaders, “Looking Back, Looking Forward,” moderated by Josh Di Frances, discussed how the civic tech movement has accelerated digital transformation and redefined how the federal government uses data to improve people’s lives. Along with Park, civic tech legends John Paul Farmer and Megan Smith emphasized the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to public sector innovation. Justice Stephen Breyer eloquently asked the tech-minded audience to seek an understanding of and to find beauty in how our institutions work and challenged everyone personally to contribute to and advocate for civic service. His words resonated with everybody present. Justice Breyer and Dr. Breyer then received the 2022 Civic Tech Diplomacy Award to a rousing standing ovation. The atmosphere was that of a civic tech pep rally.
As befitting a group focused on bringing public and private sector talent together to improve government, the event was hosted at Congressional Country Club. Founded in 1924, the Club was meant to be a place where bipartisan members of Congress could recreate and socialize with people outside of government. Businesspeople and government officials developed mutual trust, understanding, and respect for each other. Several Presidents and their cabinets have held retreats at the Club, including President Obama. In 1943, due to budgetary limitations, the Club was leased to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). It became a training ground for American spies to learn the tradecraft used to win the Second World War. After the war, OSS became the CIA, and the Club returned to what it was built to do: provide a gathering space for decision-makers to exchange information and ideas and to help strengthen our country and government by building friendships and relationships among leaders across sectors.
In keeping with this ethos of partnerships, the Institute of Education has championed the civic tech movement since its inception ten years ago. The crowd’s spirit, energy, and passion at IFE’s Tenth Year Civic Tech Celebration speak to the movement’s history and past successes and motivate everyone with optimism regarding future aspirations for its next ten years and beyond.