On February 2, innovative minds gathered at Twilio to offer technology-driven antidotes to seemingly insurmountable dilemmas. Some of these challenges include noncriminal ICE arrests, fake news fatigue, and murky governmental paperwork.
The Public App Good House, a nonprofit powered by TechSoup's own Caravan Studios, hosted this event. Its purpose was to illustrate how mobile technology can be used to mitigate some of the world's most pressing problems.
Here are six new apps that are solving problems creatively.
Recently, the number of noncriminal ICE arrests has doubled, and surprise sweeps can result in immediate deportation. Those affected are often left no time to safely and securely notify their lawyer, families, friends, and places of employment.
Labeled as a "portable panic button" by Wired, Notifica allows you to send a pre-populated message to a hand-selected list of trusted contacts. The chilling sample text projected at the event stated:
"I'm having an encounter with the police or ICE. If you do not hear from me in two hours, it means that I have been deported or detained. Please pick up my child from day care."
Messages sent with Notifica are securely sent within five seconds, and they disappear almost immediately.
With the continuous stream of click-bait and fake news, it can be difficult to separate the important stuff from the noise. The developers behind Hope are working to address this problem.
Dubbed your own "personal political advisor," the app breaks what news matters most to you and offers actionable steps you can take so you're not left feeling helpless or stuck. The interactive app texts you a news story and then offers you a short list of choices such as "next story" or "take action." Based on your responses, the app will either provide you with more news or offer you some guidance on how you can help.
The app is left-leaning, so it will not appeal to the entire political spectrum. But the concept behind Hope could be a model for nonprofits to follow to engage their communities.
3. Case Companion
When an individual files for assault in Multnomah County, Oregon, the path to justice is extremely unclear. For example, when a crime victim files a report, the case often gets handed off from one law enforcement agency or branch of the criminal justice system to another. As a result, victims may not have visibility into something as basic as the offender's release date. Victims feel unsettled.
Case Companion by Tom Dooner of Code for America is the first public website to to help crime victims clearly understand where they are in the justice system. It shares resources, offers plain English descriptions, and also allows victims to search its database for offenders to find out their release date and if that date might change. Most importantly, Case Companion tells you who you can talk to in the justice system to get the answers you need.
Running for a cause drives a reasonable amount of fundraising dollars and serves as a great fundraising tool for many organizations. But what about those miles at the gym or on the trail that aren't taken into account?
Atlas is a social engagement app that raises money with every step you take. Participants choose their cause of choice, and corporations will sponsor their mileage. This partnership increases fundraising and engagement for nonprofits and promotes a healthy lifestyle and positive brand awareness for corporations.
5. Civic Chatbots
Government forms can be confusing, even for government employees. In fact, even government employees often rely on Google to find information about the various forms and processes that they encounter.
To address this, Yeti partnered with the city of San Francisco to create Civic Chatbots. It's a resource for government employees to get the answers they need and to guide them through government procurement processes.
Civic Chatbots uses artificial intelligence to guide employees through frequently asked questions and walk them through different forms. By providing a little extra direction, Civic Chatbots allows government employees to feel more confident that they are correctly following protocol.
One of the biggest challenges for underrepresented students is the lack of access to homework help and mentors after school.
Qalaxia, a for-profit social impact startup, has created an online platform to allow students to connect with mentors and ask questions (a little like Quora and similar services). The platform uses artificial intelligence to keep track of student questions and progress, and it can share information on learning gaps with teachers to help improve student performance.
Additional Resources: Apps for Social Good
- To learn more about Caravan Studios and its upcoming events, please visit the Caravan Studios website
- To learn more about the Public App Good House, visit its website or join its Facebook community
- Find out about research on apps use in humanitarian situations
- Read about Mozilla and Nonprofits: Working Together for Common Good