By Livio Zanardo
This is the first of three articles in a series about Public Interest Technology by Code For South Florida Co-Director Livio A. Zanardo. The first is highlighting the departure of the organization’s Director Gregory Johnson for a data governance venture, the second posits a theory of change for a stronger South Florida through Community Driven Public Interest Technology, and the third explores the opportunity of a civically engaged technology workforce for South Florida.
Gregory Johnson has a proven track record for social impact technology in South Florida. As a Civic Technologist, he modernized affordable housing processes in the City of Miami through Code For Miami. In September of 2019, he assumed the captainship of Code For Miami and founded Code For South Florida, the ecosystem’s only non-profit for Public Interest Technology.
After spearheading the organization through numerous successful initiatives, Johnson is now stepping aside from the role of Executive Director to lead DataGovs, a data governance solution for governments and institutions engaging in mass data collection.
“Over the years we have received many asks by c-suite leaders to have a better model of serving data infrastructure projects,” he writes on a post on Code For South Florida’s blog. “Often these projects required more resources in terms of dedicated staff with bigger budgets as a vendor. In response to that, I will be leaving to focus on a new challenge aimed at solving those problems which will require my full attention.”
“The problem I see is mass data collection doing a lot of harm to people, communities, and enterprises”, says Johnson. How data is collected, utilized, and regulated is perhaps one of the biggest challenges created by a lack of policies or standards. DataGovs would enable organizations to implement a policy and governance structure around data to improve
“There is a lot of value in building communication frameworks and models that can help create visibility and internal data policies,” adds Johnson. “We already know that technology is not neutral. The bias baked into the algorithms and AI already do damage. How do we have governance around these systems?”
His motivation for tackling this systemic challenge stems from his work in Civic Technology. Among the projects he spearheaded in the organization is LocalAir.org, a pilot program for Smart City and Open Data infrastructure led by Code For South Florida in partnership with the City of Miami focused on air quality. Feedback from multiple Chief Information Officers both in and around this work fortified his conviction that developing standards of transparency and implementation for data collection efforts by governments and organizations is a new frontier in need of exploration.
Johnson sees a massive opportunity for systemic impact through DataGovs, especially as mass data collection and surveillance risk infringing on the rights and freedoms of citizens if left unchecked. “While we can't erase the harm, policies eventually will be placed on how data is used. We are looking at being one of the solutions that help implement policies and standards around data governance. There is also space in using data to drive progress especially for tracking environmental, social, and governance goals.” DataGovs is already helping organizations and enterprises.
Johnson will stay on the board as an advisor for Code For South Florida while Joan Lee and I drive the organization to develop a local ecosystem of Public Interest Technology, an emerging niche of the technology industry at the intersection of government, social entrepreneurship, and nonprofits. The organization is shifting its focus from project-driven organization to focus on workforce development opportunities for a civically engaged technology workforce.