Link Lab Partners with the Center for Civic Innovation to Support Citizen Innovators

University of Virginia School of Engineering professor Jonathan L. Goodall and Smart Cville founder Lucas Ames have been awarded a Public Interest Technology University Network Challenge grant to grow a fellows program in UVA’s own community of Charlottesville. Goodall holds a primary appointment in the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment and is associate director of the Link Lab.

Goodall and Ames collaborated in the co-founding of the Charlottesville-based Center for Civic Innovation that, among other activities, sponsors the Community Fellows Program. The program supports community members who are civic innovators piloting ideas to improve social welfare. The network challenge grant will allow the center to hire a part-time director to formalize the fellows program, making it sustainable and replicable.

The Public Interest Technology University Network is a partnership of colleges and universities convened by New America, the Ford Foundation, and the Hewlett Foundation. The network aims to support the evolving field of public interest technology, or the discipline of using data and technology to deliver better outcomes to the public.

UVA, through the Office of the Provost, is the only Virginia university that is a founding partner of the Public Interest Technology University Network, which announced its inaugural cohort of grantees in 2019. Goodall’s $44,000 grant is one of two awards UVA received from the network in 2020.

“When we announced the creation of the University Network, I was thrilled to work with these wonderful institutions of higher education to advance and expand the field of public interest technology towards a more just technological future,” said Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation in a press release. “The projects supported through this most recent round of awards demonstrate just how innovative and driven the faculty, staff, and students within the University Network are in their commitment to ensuring technology is a force for public good.”

This award highlights a long-standing strength at UVA for multidisciplinary research aimed at creating 21st century technologies that broadly benefit society.

The Link Lab is UVA’s research incubator where over 40 faculty and over 200 graduate students from all areas of engineering develop and disseminate cyber-physical systems technologies in the areas of hardware for the Internet of Things, autonomous systems, smart and connected health and smart cities. As a part of its smart cities focus, the Link Lab works with community leaders and citizen advocacy groups.

“A large part of our work in designing cities powered by smart technologies includes working across traditional boundaries to serve society,” Goodall said. “We must engage leaders and members of the communities that are utilizing smart technologies to ensure the technology serves everyone equitably.”

  • Lucas Ames Smart Cville

    Lucas Ames, right, speaks with a visitor at the Center for Civic Innovation open house on September 25, 2019. Link Lab, along with UVA’s Schools of Data Science and Architecture, helped launch the center.

  • Jon Goodall at Center for Civic Innovation

    UVA Link Lab associate director Jonathan L. Goodall makes a presentation at a Civic Innovation Meetup for community dialog on infrastructure upgrades.

Link Lab, along with UVA’s Schools of Data Science and Architecture, joined forces with the non-profit Smart Cville to launch the Center for Civic Innovation in 2019. The shared objective was creating a public forum where academics and citizens, as well as local leaders, discuss ideas around using technology and data for novel approaches to solving complex problems.

In the first year of the center, Link Lab co-hosted a Civic Innovation Meetup series to foster an open dialog about shared issues, like environment and infrastructure. Link Lab faculty and UVA engineering students also mentored community fellows.

Goodall’s and Ames’ collaboration to formalize the Community Fellows Program is the first grant-funded project jointly spearheaded by the Link Lab and the Center for Civic Innovation.

“Working with the Link Lab has helped us be more strategic in formalizing and launching this pilot program,” Ames said. “We are asking citizens, who are experts in what is needed in the community, to voice their vision for projects aimed at social good so that they can receive support in the tech and data realm to move their ideas forward.”

“Contributing to citizen-defined projects supports Link Lab’s vision for empowering people who have good ideas around civic innovation.” Goodall said. “UVA faculty and students get to share their expertise in the areas of engineering, technology and data to promote the public good.”

The Center for Civic Innovation will remain the lead on the Community Fellows Program and is a liaison with the community. Link Lab will provide fellows with space to work and access to training, coaching and mentoring resources. Fellows will also receive stipends from the City of Charlottesville.

Goodall and Ames also plan to create a process model in growing the Community Fellows Program, so that a proven set of best practices can be shared with other civic-minded organizations and cities. A basic blueprint could be a game changer for communities that have limited resources but want to pilot their own fellows program.

“Jon is setting an example of a very important aspect of our work in developing smart city technologies,” said John A. Stankovic, UVA Engineering BP America professor of computer science and director of the Link Lab. “Shared technologies are most equitable when designed with input from all community stakeholders. This program brings engineers, citizens, and business leaders together so that they can collaborate in solving problems with technology.”

The new cohort of community fellows will be announced in 2021.