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NYC Civic Innovation Fellowship – Building 21st century community leaders

NYC Civic Innovation Fellowship creates new working relationships between NYC Community Boards and the next generation of community leaders through both training and employment in human-centered, data-driven decision making.

Welcome New York Civic Innovation Fellows!

The NYC Civic Innovation Fellowship is a government innovation and youth education program produced by BetaNYC in partnership with the Manhattan Borough President's Office, and CUNY Service Corps. Each year, the program trains CUNY students in technology, data, and design before placing them for six month internships at a Manhattan Community Board. The program develops important technological skills and jumpstarts youth participation in government, as well as aids Community Boards in developing appropriate data-driven decision making in hyper-local settings. Eventually, the program will grow to include additional boroughs and city council offices.

**You are the future! **

Over the next six months we will unpack a number of issues that affect our local communities. Your job is to observe, empathize, and outline how these problems can be addressed.

Through this program, you are joining the Manhattan Borough President, Hon. Gale A. Brewer (MBPO) and BetaNYC to empower Manhattan Community Boards with human centered design principles and 21st Century tools to improve the lives of those who touch the Borough of Manhattan.

Collectively, we recognize the unique potential for technology, namely big data, to improve the way that government interacts with its citizenry, and to enable better decision making. For six months, you will be assigned to a Manhattan Community Board and partner with Community Board Members. Together, you will be challenged to outline problems, design solutions, and build lightweight maps and tools.

As part of this program, we will educate you while demystifying government technology and sharing NYC open data best practices. This program you will learn off the shelf mapping tools; federal, state and municipal open data resources; gain an introduction to software development philosophies; software development tools; and gain invaluable leadership training.

This program is designed to support the goals of Mayor de Blasio’s 2015 Open Data Plan, namely the mission of making “Open Data for All.” Working with NYC Community Boards and related community organizations, we will bring open data decision making to neighborhood government, while bringing in new perspectives on how to improve data publication and presentation from government.

Statement from Borough President Brewer

"Once this program is fully implemented, New York City's Civic Innovation Fellows will help Community Boards make better, data-driven decisions about local development, quality-of-life issues, and budgeting."


Month Objective
Sep & Oct Welcome Bootcamp Introduction
Nov Bootcamp Research Project
Dec Bootcamp Research Presentation
Jan CUNY Winter Break
Feb Field Work Assignments & Deployment
Mar Field Work
Apr Debriefing and Report Writing
May End of fellowship report


Manhattan Borough President’s Office

  • Gale A. Brewer, Borough President
  • Aldrin Bonilla, Deputy Borough President
  • Jessica Mates, Chief of Staff
  • Lucille Songhai, Community Affairs Director
  • Lucian Reynolds, Urban Planner, Land Use Division, (Fellowship Coordinator)


  • Noel Hidalgo, Executive Director, (Fellowship Director)

Partnering Organizations

Fund for the City of New York – The Fund for the City of New York was established by the Ford Foundation in 1968 with the mandate to improve the quality of life for all New Yorkers. For over three decades, in partnership with government agencies, nonprofit institutions and foundations, the Fund has developed and helped to implement innovations in policy, programs, practices and technology in order to advance the functioning of government and nonprofit organizations in New York City and beyond.

Data & Society – a research institute in New York City that is focused on social, cultural, and ethical issues arising from data-centric technological development. Noel Hidalgo is a 2015 Data & Society fellow.

Manhattan Community Boards – created through the 1963 City charter, these hyper-local Community Boards are the most direct form of self-governance and civic engagement for NYC communities. They oversee land use, budgeting concerns, and local services.

City University of New York (CUNY) Service Corp – creates opportunities for students to work on projects that improve the city’s short and long-term civic, economic and environmental sustainability. CUNY SC coordinates CIF students and funds their internship work up to 12 hours a week for up to six months.

Carto – a cloud-based mapping, analysis and visualization engine that lets users build spatial applications for both mobile and the web. The platform is already being used by major news organizations, research institutions, non-profits, and geospatial application developers throughout the world. CartoDB is donating its software and staff to help train and educate CUNY SC and Community Board Members.

The Wise City – a socially responsible civic engagement, service design, and product strategy practice. The Wise City is donating staff time to educate CUNY SC students on human-centered design.

Program Background

The Civic Innovation Fellowship (CIF) program is an initiative of the Manhattan Borough President’s Office, in collaboration with City University of New York (CUNY)’s existing Service Corps program. Produced and executed by BetaNYC, the CIF program holds a six-week “bootcamp” intensive for participating CUNY students – training them in technology, data, and design skills. Afterward, these students are each placed at one of Manhattan’s local Community Boards. Therefore, participating students not only receive training in a wide range of newly-relevant technical skills, they also receive exposure to and experience with a professional and active branch of NYC government. At the same time, Community Boards receive otherwise unattainable support – from student members capable of applying the most up-to-date methods of civic technology to each Community Board’s day to day operations as well as their long-term planning. In this way, CIF seeks to move Community Boards into the 21st Century through the thoughtful application civic technology and the creation of new collaborative relationships between community leaders and motivated youth; from its outset, the CIF has been a program of both government innovation and youth service.

The CIF program began as the brain-child of Manhattan Borough President, Gale Brewer, as yet another step in her career-long commitment to implementing open data in government. Collaborating with CUNY, the CIF program was able to offer previously unavailable opportunities to local students interested in new data technologies as well as civic engagement. BetaNYC was brought in based on their years of experience teaching tech, data, and design skills in the NYC area. BetaNYC’s mission is to create an informed and empowered public that can leverage civic design, technology, and data to hold their government accountable, and improve their economic opportunity. With the program’s executive director (Noel Hidalgo) now in fellowship at Data & Society, there is a new opportunity for both structural and fiscal development of the CIF program. Data & Society, a research institute in New York City that is focused on social, cultural, and ethical issues arising from data-centric technological development, conducts original research, creates policy frameworks, and hosts and funds a diverse network of fellows. They have created one of the strongest platforms for considering the new challenges and opportunities provided by emerging digital technologies – a platform which now directly benefits the local government and youth of NYC.

Ultimately, the driving vision behind CIF is to accomplish both government innovation and youth service through the application of human-centered design thinking. Rather than simply improve government procedures, CIF iterates by establishing a sustainable, and agile design cycle. The needs of each participating group will change from person to person, Community Board to Community Board, and year to year. Thus, a primary component of the CIF program is observing, assessing, and altering its youth technology curriculum. By being willing and enthusiastic about updating the program from year to year, CIF’s parent organizations can not only keep the program human-focused, they can continue to develop what civic engagement should look like in the 21st century.


The CIF program serves two primary constituencies.

First, the CIF program addresses the needs of NYC’s Community Boards to update their technical programs, their facility with government data, and their ability to address community member needs. The program enables Community Boards to develop new technological tools that address community problems while adhering to open source and open data principles. CIF allows Community Board members to move toward data-driven decision making – currently embraced by NYC government, but lagging in effective implementation.

In addition, the CIF program serves the needs of participating CUNY youth looking to be involved in careers in technology, design, or civic engagement. It fosters a up-to-date digital literacy in addition to real world job experience. The program jumpstarts youth engagement with civic engagement and community action.


CIF completed a pilot year of the program during the 2014-15 school year. With an initial group of 12 students (placed at 12 participating Manhattan Community Boards), the first year of the program proved the validity of the formula. A simple data curriculum was developed and delivered to students. Community Boards were surveyed and observed to assess the program’s effectiveness. The MBPO’s review of the program revealed that new leadership would be necessary to grow the program. BetaNYC, which began a fellowship at Data & Society in June 2015, was brought in to oversee the development of the CIF program. In response to feedback from the program’s pilot year, a timeline for growth has been created, a new budget has been put in place, staff and program resources have been reorganized, and a wide-ranging round of fund-raising has begun.

Planning for 2015-16 and beyond, BetaNYC has recruited new volunteer instructors and updated the open data design curriculum intended for participating students (the up-to-date curriculum is open source – always publicly accessible at Partner organizations CartoDB, The Wise City, and SeeClickFix have committed to providing expertise in the tech, data, and design “bootcamp” to take place at the outset of the program. Additional operation and development funds have already been secured from Data & Society as well as NYC Media Lab.


In the short term (next 5 years), a successful outcome of the CIF program would be the establishment of a basic, effective curriculum and the solidification of the relationship between Community Boards and the Service Corps program. These accomplishments would improve the experiences of both youth and Community Board members as well as increase the NYC’s commitment to (and implementation of) open data quality & standards. After two successful cycles completed for Manhattan Community Boards, the program will reach out to the other 4 Borough President’s offices with the eventual goal of establishing the program for all 5.

In the long term (5-10 years), the goal of the project is to expand the number of participating youth and Community Boards. Ultimately the program should be able to accommodate Community Boards from all 5 boroughs, as well as have the resources in place to serve City Council member offices, as well as selected New York State Senate and Assembly offices in the same fashion.

The program will develop channels for past Service Corps students to take on mentorship roles in subsequent years. The clearest mark of success would be having CIF student alumni graduate and secure their own positions on NYC Community Boards – cementing the relationship between one generation of community leaders and the next.

Ultimately, the program should achieve a fully sustainable agile cycle, done in a capacity to perpetually accommodate ever-shifting standards in digital tools, open data, and civic technology.

Key Documents


The New York City Civic Innovation Fellows program help connect college students with civic tech opportunities and NYC community boards with civic tech resources.



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