I couldn’t be more excited: TechCongress has been selected for the Points of Light Civic Accelerator! The program (CivicX for short) is unique because it’s focused on helping organizations that are tackling public-interest problems. The accelerator provides expert training and mentoring from successful startup entrepreneurs, connection with other founders and a network of partners and a $50k potential investment for the top two organizations. TechCongress will be one of 15 startups participating in the program, which will run over ten weeks starting on April 11.
As some might remember, last summer I participated in the Kick Accelerator program at the San Francisco Impact Hub. Kick helped me build fundamentals of the organization. I spent time refining the mission of TechCongress, conducting customer development interviews [pdf] with Congressional staff to understand pain points, and building a business model canvass to map out the TechCongress stakeholders and develop my value proposition. We followed the Lean Startup methodology to build the TechCongress minimum viable product (MVP)-- recruiting, selecting, and placing two Congressional Innovation Fellows.
Now that we’ve built our MVP, our challenge has shifted. We need to measure how that product is performing, learn about we are doing well and not doing well, and integrate those learnings into the program.. It’s my hope that CivicX can help us do this, and my priorities for the program include exploring the following:
Effective monitoring and evaluation. What can we be doing-- in addition to our After Action Reviews and ongoing analysis of the program with focused interviews with our fellows and their supervisors-- to build feedback loops for monitoring and evaluation? How can we measure whether the program is achieving our mission of modernizing Congress?
Creative ideas for program funding. Fellowship programs are expensive. We are paying the salary and benefits for each fellow. Scaling the program will require a lot of money. There may be some solutions to creatively funding the program, perhaps by tapping into existing federal or state programs that are funding fellowships or exchanges.
Innovation fellows at the State level. In contrast to the national level, many state legislatures are still tremendously productive. In many cases, because of the inaction at the federal level, states have taken the lead on consequential tech policy issues like regulating drones, the gig economy, and digital privacy. However, based on some preliminary conversations, it’s clear that state legislatures share the same deficit of technical advisory capacity in the policymaking process. What would a TechCongress pilot at the state level look like? I’d like to map out some ideas.
I’m excited to learn from our trainers and from other participants running their own civic-startups. You can have a look at the other companies and nonprofits that will be joining TechCongress in the CivicX Accelerator here.