At least four important civic-minded digital leaders I know left or are about to leave the Cleve: Jeff Schuler; my OpenNEO partner, Beth Sebian; former Cuyahoga County CIO, Jeff Mowry; and Catherine Bules, previously with OneCommunity. Three of these four are Millenials. Just in case I really have to say it: This is not a good thing.
HOWEVER! (it’s New Year’s Day – must be positive), as we look toward the best of how some high profile Northeast Ohio nonprofit and public sector establishments are about to influence our digital economy – i.e., the addition to the Cleveland Foundation of Chief Technology & Information Officer, Leon Wilson, Cuyahoga County Government’s hires into top positions related to information and innovation, and OneCommunity’s Data Curation Challenge to name just three – please consider these thoughts from UK Digital Architect, Nick M Halliday, as you think about who is a digital leader (and frankly, a leader in any sector):
“What about the first people who blogged about what they do in the public sector without explicit permission that they could do?
“Or the pioneers who set up the social media channels at their own risk; channels that are now taken a core communication tools?
“How about the people who give up their weekends or evenings to attend Meetups to talk about digital issues; or go to events such as the various unconferences or camps.
“What about the people who take the initiative to set up and run such events which eats deeply into their personal lives?
“Or the person who championed the users or open data long before it became fashionable?”
There is zero doubt that Northeast Ohio’s digital leaders are and have been, for nearly a year now or more:
- Open Cleveland, our Code for America Brigade
- Hack Cleveland, the social justice civic tech force galvanized by the Cleveland consent decree and criminal justice system needs
- NEO CANDO and the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development at Case Western’s Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences (for over twenty years now)
- The Urban Health Initiative of Case Western Reserve University, through its Health Data Matters
Then there are community organizers and educators like Bill Callahan and Wanda Davis, coding bootcamp-preneurs like Matt Fieldman (of Cleveland Codes which is teaming up with Cuyahoga Community College) and Mel McGee (founder of We Can Code IT), the Cleveland GiveCamp organizers and Case Western alum Cal Al-Dhubaib. Credit must also be given to individuals and foundations willing to back these efforts, including Doug Wang, the George Gund Foundation, St. Lukes Foundation and others I’m either missing or I simply don’t know about.
Maybe you’re furrowing your brow thinking that you read about tech in NE Ohio all the time. You might be right – I’m sure you are. But that news is almost always in the field of corporate, for-profit, health sector, business growth tech. Here we’re speaking specifically about digital leadership in the civic and public sectors, which, by the way, often partners with or enables leadership and achievement in the private sector.
The visibility given to digital leadership in these arenas is less than expansive and inclusive. Yet one of our central institutions, the Cleveland Public Library, is involved and engaged through numerous activities in digital literacy and the United Black Fund recently received a Community Connectors grant to provide coding education in elementary through middle school years. And, hopefully, the ecosystem mapping work OpenNEO and four other organizations will be doing for a Civic Tech and Data Collaborative grant through September 2017 will both illuminate the full array of digital and open data leaders and the spaces into which we need to elevate, cultivate and deploy leadership to raise our digital and open data game.
Who do you think of when you think civic, public-sphere digital leaders in Northeast Ohio, whether Halliday’s definition or something that is meaningful to you? Feel free to comment below.