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Digital Counties 2021: California Jurisdictions Place Well Again

In the 19th annual Digital Counties Survey from the Center for Digital Government, leading jurisdictions have moved on from immediate emergency response and are now looking at lessons learned as well as at what work should turn permanent. Today, Techwire looks at one county that garnered first-place honors in its population category.

This year’s 19th annual Digital Counties Survey from the Center for Digital Government* was conducted against a unique backdrop, with county governments nationwide facing a second consecutive year of fast-changing, unprecedented challenges and circumstances.

Whereas last year’s surveys were collected and publicized in the earlier months of the pandemic — at a time when what passes for an end was still well out of sight — this year’s were perhaps completed in slightly rosier times. Just a little bit, as vaccination distribution continues and the country begins to open up. As such, there is almost a pivot evidenced by this year’s group as compared to last year — a move from response to recovery within much of the work reported.

What this has specifically meant for many counties is a continued emphasis on as well as an acceleration of work related to digital equity and broadband. That’s not all, of course. Strong work started before as well as during the pandemic in other areas also continued, but there is definitely a sense in the surveys of new lessons learned, a changed attitude — among all involved with the work — and a desire to make some initiatives started amid crisis permanent.

Following is a look at one California county that placed first in its 250,000-499,999 population category: Marin County.

The county saw more than one emergency last year. There was, of course, the pandemic, but the jurisdiction was also ravaged by wildfires.

Liza Massey, the chief information officer for Marin County, said these dual disasters fostered a sense of togetherness that permeated the entire IT staff, as well as the rest of the county government. In fact, public servants found themselves helping the community in many ways outside of their usual workflows.

“With COVID, we had to go out on the front line,” said Massey, who herself worked for a time in a mass vaccination center, helping to schedule appointments. “I had employees working at testing centers, housing sites ... carrying around food and other things, as well as helping set up the temporary sites. It was both IT and, really, residential community service.”

Doing those things paved the way for success in the areas of interest captured by the Digital Counties Survey, specifically by fostering great working relationships between IT and the other internal county government departments, Massey said. If there was a challenge for Marin County during the pandemic, Massey said, it was encouraging staffers at times to take a step back, to do less and care for themselves when necessary.

The partnerships forged in the time of COVID-19 also extended past the pandemic, with IT partnering closely with other county departments on elections, cybersecurity and digital equity, especially in the county’s traditionally underserved Canal District, where cross-sector partnerships helped get school students online via free Wi-Fi.

Looking ahead, major areas of interest for Marin include continuing the recovery from COVID-19, as well as using technology in ways that can foster racial equity. Massey said they are working on more projects to help close the digital divide, as well as to offer digital literacy training. In addition, they are looking at new data dashboards that can help bring together and share information about racial disparities.

“When you shine the light on things, they change,” Massey said, “and technology can make that happen.”

This article is excerpted from a longer report in Government Technology, sister publication of Techwire.

*The Center for Digital Government is part of e.Republic, parent company of Techwire and Government Technology.

Techwire will report in coming days on the other California counties that were honored with Digital Counties Survey recognition.
Zack Quaintance is the assistant news editor for Government Technology magazine. His background includes writing for daily newspapers across the country and developing content for a software company in Austin, Texas.