What did you do this summer? I attended the third annual White House LGBTQ Tech & Innovation Briefing!
The one-day event gathered LGBTQ tech leaders from across the country to meet and discuss how technology can help with the issues the U.S. government faces. I feel honored to be included; more than 3,500 people applied and just 200 people were invited.
Solving the big problems
The meeting kicked off with a welcome from Megan Smith, the Chief Technology Officer of the United States, who noted that the country is looking to technology to help solve the really big problems. “Obama said he loves all the restaurant delivery apps,” Smith said, “but can we get some help with poverty?”
Case in point, why is it that the government can get meals to 22 million hungry children during the school year, but not during the summer?
Learning from the tech industry
There are many ways knowledge from the tech sector can help the government, beyond just the technology itself. For example, Smith shared a “lifecycle map” that her agency created to track U.S. veterans’ interactions with the government. Guess what? It looked just like a product lifecycle map, familiar to tech workers everywhere, but apparently less so to people in the federal government. Of course, Smith also reminded us of the importance of inclusion and creating human networks to solve problems.
Progress is being made
Luckily, the feds know they have a tech deficit. Ellie Schafer, director of the White House Visitors Office, explained that when she came on board in 2009, requests for tours were still being handled by fax! The White House has since modernized that process, and welcomed more than three million visitors. On a larger scale, the Obama administration has been working hard to address the government’s tech challenges with the United States Digital Service (USDS) and 18F, a new unit of the General Services Administration focused on IT delivery.
See also: The USDS’ Mikey Dickerson Has 10 Tips for Dealing with Bureaucracy [Video]
Data driven to solve problems
It turns out that the federal government is very data driven. It needs numbers to understand problems, propose solutions, and justify spending tax dollars. Government representatives from various agencies gave lightning talks on issues where they needed our help: criminal justice reform, education, the environment, health and mental health, women and STEM, youth and foster care, small business and entrepreneurship, and improving federal stats on LGBTs.
Then we spent the afternoon in breakout groups based on those issues. We discussed possible solutions, and planned for the larger TechUp Innovation + Inclusion Week, happening in Washington, D.C., November 14-20. My group discussed challenges facing America’s youth, and decided to focus on creating scholarships to help more young people attend the TechUp summit. (Do you or your company want to sponsor a youth to go to Washington? Contact me!)
It was an amazing day that left me with three big takeaways:
- The federal government is finally recognizing its LGBTQ citizens. (Same-sex households are now a listed choice on census forms!)
- The government really is closing the technology gap with Silicon Valley. (Do you have serious tech chops? Consider serving your country for a year on the USDS or F18. They could really use the help and would welcome you!)
- Harness the energy of everyone on your teams. We were giddy as school kids when touring the White House. “Pinch me!” said one fellow attendee. I know what she meant. I was surprised and grateful that as an open lesbian, I would be invited to share my insights and tech knowledge to help the U.S. Government. Imagine how much energy you could generate when everyone (women, introverts, people of color) on your team feels valued and eager to contribute?
For more information, watch a video of the morning presentation below, and check out coverage of the event from TechCrunch (White House LGBTQ Tech and Innovation Briefing addresses national issues) and Recode (I joined a bunch of LGBT techies at the White House to help tackle some world-threatening problems).