Digital solutions to community problems: Lessons from the US

Published: 11 Aug 2014

Author: Luke Loveridge
Digital solutions to community problems: Lessons from the US

Luke Loveridge was awarded a Fellowship to find out how some US communities, non-profits and citizens are using digital applications to solve local problems, and make services more effective.

Luke Loveridge, from Bristol, works in change and service improvement in local government. Travelling from San Francisco to New York, he talked to city officials, charities, technologists, innovators and academics.

He was particularly inspired by the ‘Fellowship’ initiative developed by Code for America, a non-profit organisation known as ‘the peace corps for geeks’. Teams of talented software developers and other experts work together for a year, creating apps and other tools that help address a specific problem in that city, particularly using data that city governments had opened up and made freely available.

Luke was introduced to a range of cutting-edge digital tools, including an app that alerts the user when their food benefits are about to be stopped, and another that helps parents to find the right school for their child.  Other tools enabled people to make a positive difference in their community – from adopting a tree to helping out a neighbour.

Luke also investigated the Open Referral project, which aims to make it easier for people to find information on human, health and social services by using a standard that global search engines can pick up and display in their search results. 

“I met some truly inspirational people on this trip,” said Luke of his experience. “It confirmed to me how technology and opening up data can potentially help transform the role of government: from trying to solve problems by itself, to helping the whole community address their most pressing issues and needs.”

In his report Luke recommends incorporating elements of these US initiatives into national and local recruitment programmes for local government, and developing existing voluntary networks of local innovators here in the UK. This is particularly useful in Bristol, for example, where the city is launching an open data platform and releasing 100 datasets in 100 days. He will also be doing more research into local community resource directories to see if Open Referral could be introduced to the UK. 

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