SXSW Features Local & Federal Government

March 21, 2016   |   Kelly Callahan-Poe

Local & Federal Government, Oh & The President, Increase Presence at SXSW Interactive 2016

Local and federal government have increased their presence at SXSW Interactive over the last few years. The 2016 SXSW Interactive book now has an entire section featuring “Government & Policy” sessions.

President Barack Obama spoke on the importance of civic engagement in the 21st century in regard to technology. His goal was to get people in the tech industry to help modernize government through a focus on innovation, use of big data, analytics and technology to make civic participation easier. President Obama at SXSW

For its second year, We DC, a campaign by the Washington, DC Economic Partnership showcased local innovative startup companies. Held at the WeDC House the showcase is meant to foster partnerships among the DC, regional and national business community.

Featured government and policy sessions included topics such as intelligent cities, technology in the 2016 election, urban housing, ICANN, surveillance, encryption, cyber security, broadband, mobility, open data and more.

The session that demonstrated what government is doing now to embrace technology was We the People: Using Tech to Solve Big Challenges. This session featured tech officers from the US Digital Service (USDC), the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the Executive Office of the President.

The US Digital Service provided case studies to show how it is redefining the experience of government through its online enhancements of the immigration process, services for veterans, and the new and improved version of They also created 18F, a team of designers, developers and product specialists inside the General Services Administration headquartered at 18th & F Street in DC. 18F is a civic consultancy for the government that enables agencies to rapidly deploy tools and services for the public that are cost efficient and reusable.

Access to affordable housing Each of the speakers talked emphatically about their endorsement of open data. They see data as a pathway for building trust and engagement. The importance of this data was shown at the home of the US Government’s open data website, from providing citizens with access to data on job options and their proximity to transit, to affordable housing and proximity to grocery stores, to the best schools by neighborhood.


The eBay Foundation, through the Opportunity Project is another example of technologists working together with community leaders and government to apply resources like funding, technology, mentoring and training to connect disadvantaged people with opportunities to become economically independent.

Many of these new organizations and government entities, including USDS, were modeled after Code for America. Code for America pairs local governments with teams of experienced technologists for a year to redesign core government services in health, economic development, safety, justice, communications and engagement.

The speakers said that the biggest problem that government agencies have with technology is that they are waterfall in their approach. They need to be more agile to work incrementally and show results quickly. This will help shift the culture by providing better services faster and making “the art of the possible” real.