CIVIC 2021 — Community Impact and Next Steps for the Inaugural CIVIC Projects

MetroLab Network
6 min readDec 19, 2022

On September 22, 2022, seventeen teams of community and academic partners presented at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC to present the culmination of their work over the last twelve months of bringing fast-paced civic research concepts to local communities. In addition to the teams, seven federal agencies joined this event to learn more about the outcomes of the projects as CIVIC provides funding directly to communities on critical national issues, including mobility and access to jobs, as well as resiliency and climate.

CIVIC is a multi-agency, federal government research and action competition that aims to fund ready-to-implement, research-based pilot projects that have the potential for scalable, sustainable, and transferable impact on community-identified priorities. It aims to flip the community-university dynamic, inviting communities to identify civic priorities ripe for innovation and to then partner with researchers to address those priorities. It is a two-stage competition in which 52 teams received a 6-month planning grant, a group that was down-selected to 17 teams that received up to $1 million in funding to implement a pilot in twelve months.

The Stage 2 full award projects began their 12-month pilot in fall of 2021. While this group faced unpredictable challenges, such as COVID and implementing nascent ideas, much was accomplished.

SCALABILITY: often pilots scale their services or concepts as concepts are proven or learned.

  • The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) and Georgia Tech have expanded the CIVIC pilot program that provides a rideshare service designed to connect riders to-and from MARTA bus and rail. The pilot was expanded to additional areas of Atlanta, including Dixie Hills, neighborhood and cities of Avondale Estates, Alpharetta, Roswell, Forest Park, and Morrow. MARTA is now examining whether and how to deploy on-demand transit in the future based on the pilot analysis. This process should occur in the next year.
  • Environmental Defense Fund, The Center for NYC Neighborhoods, and the NYC Mayor’s Office for Climate and Environmental Justice are piloting a new approach that harnesses innovative insurance models to improve the post-flood financial resiliency of lower-income household to the increasing risks of rainfall-related flooding.

SUSTAINABILITY: teams have worked to develop plans and diversified sources of funding to continue their pilot beyond the 12 month pilot period.

  • The State of Wisconsin will provide $4M in funding to continue FlexRide Milwaukee, an on-demand microtransit service that aims to connect workers living in segregated neighborhoods in Milwaukee with jobs in suburban employment centers.
  • New York University and the City of New York are working towards mapping the very complex and crowded environment under the ground in New York City. This project strengthens infrastructure resiliency by engaging stakeholders and developing a roadmap. The efforts of UNUM are being transferred to the NYC Mayor’s Office of Operations, who have obtained a $10M HUD CDBG block grant for wider implementation of this 3D Underground project.

TRANSFERABILITY: as local pilots address priority challenges, it is to everyone’s benefit that these concepts can go from one location to another — creating national impact, one local community at a time.

  • The Convergence, Inventory, Matching, and Assignment (CIMA) solution is a management platform for housing recovery deployable by a recovery partnership, municipality, LTRG, or VOAD responding to housing damage and displaced populations stemming from flooding, earthquake, or tornado. CIMA facilitates the management of converging volunteer labor and donated materials, and next prioritizes these resources to the scheduled repair of vulnerable households likely to experience the greatest displacement times. Designed for the first adopter, a recovery partnership within the Hampton Roads region, the team is in the customer discovery phase and in conversations with potential commercial partners.

Other outcomes from the full award teams include:

  • In partnership with the Ohkay Owingeh board of Governors, and law enforcement and emergency officers from the Ohkay Owingeh pueblo, a team of University of New Mexico researchers, and engineers and scientists from High Water Mark LLC have deployed 70 low-cost wireless sensors to understand flood and fire risk, empowering the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo community with affordable, accurate, and validated data from rain and flooding at seven different strategic locations chosen by Ohkay Owingeh.
  • Fort Smith, Arkansas, a smaller community of 90,000 found a path to bring bike-share to a community that wouldn’t otherwise have market appeal by a private company for this service.
  • The University of Hawaii NSF CIVIC PIs worked with the Haleleʻa community to gather knowledge of historic and changing flood risks and to build resilience to future flood events through stream monitoring and restoration, removal of dangerous invasive trees, installation of weather stations, development of an information hub for real time flood and road safety data, and training of younger generations of watershed stewards.
  • Five counties in upper-Michigan are now engaging their community to update riverine and coastal flood hazard modeling and risk assessment and increase preparedness and access to federal funding to combat flooding. As part of the project, open-access tools for flood hazard and risk assessment are developed that will assist in sustaining and scaling this effort to other rural communities.
  • Calhoun County, Florida is now working with its public librarians to have resiliency hubs — better informing and empowering a community response to weather event.
  • The University of California, Los Angeles, People for Mobility Justice and neighborhood organizations have created an app called CIBIC to encourage nervous bike riders to use a bicycle for their commute by pairing riders with bike mentors, and creating a “bike pack” of riders — like a bicycle carpool.
  • The City of Austin is building a mobility hub (a physical area bringing together multiple modes of transportation) designed by the University of Austin, and operationalized by local non-profit Jails to Jobs.
  • Students (and teachers) in five high schools are learning how to use drones and AI software to help emergency managers predict disaster event impacts in Bryan and Galveston, Texas.
  • Students in Savannah, GA participated in a newly developed summer camp and after school curriculum focusing on social and physical infrastructure solutions to disasters in their communities using data visualization and virtual mapmaking. This project with Georgia Tech, Savannah State University, The City of Savannah, Savannah — Chatham County Public School System, and the Harambee House will empower the next generation of youth to be community leaders and to help shape their future by learning about and advocating for climate interventions in their own backyards.
  • The Connect KC mobile transit app for youth to get to out of school activities is working with school partners, out of school providers and shared mobility partners to assess a fall pilot with hundreds of school students from 3 area high schools in the metro area.
  • Houston Food Bank (HFB) and its research partners are continuing the Tabletop Exercises to perfect AI-SERVE, an AI-based software tool assisting HFB in disaster planning and recovery for weather-related disasters and recovery.
  • This project enhances and transforms the resilience of older adults in our communities during disasters. Applied to wildfires, hurricanes, pandemics or other large-scale disasters, the CareDEX tool reduces disproportionate suffering for older adults that result from lack of effective triage, evacuation and healthcare provision. CareDEX was tested in the Great California Annual ShakeOut in October.

The work from these teams is not over. Indeed, it is just getting started. The CIVIC program will continue to work with these civic entrepreneurs as NSF and MetroLab Network, a supporter of CIVIC, develop a community of practice. These innovative concepts will continue to iterate and scale. And each of these seventeen teams will continue to strengthen their partnerships.

Supporting actionable civic research will bring positive and inclusive impacts to our communities. As CIVIC 2022 begins working with 56 new teams in Stage One, NSF and its supporting federal partners are committed to this important effort and look forward to continuing this program.



MetroLab Network

35+ city-university pairs bringing data, analytics & innovation to city gov’t thru research, development & deployment. Launched at #WHSmartCities 2015