Fellow Profile: Prathm Juneja

 |   MSNY Staff

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in Edison, NJ, a town famous for its diversity, Indian food, and almost being where Thomas Edison lived. Edison is close enough to The City that I spent a bulk of my weekends visiting my dad’s work in Flatiron and eating Joe’s Pizza, so I’m excited to be back.

School/Grad Year/Majors:

Notre Dame / 2019 / Political Science and Computer Science

Last thing you searched on Bing:

“Best coffee roasters in Manhattan”

Why did you choose the Civic Tech Fellowship Program?

I first heard about the Civic Tech Fellowship program when I attended Civic Hall’s Personal Democracy Forum in 2017. I had a chance to meet some of the members of the Cities team from Boston and NY as well as former Chicago fellow Erin Simpson, and the opportunity instantly struck me as a great way to immerse myself in both technology and government while making demonstrable change. I spent that summer working for the South Bend Mayor’s Office of Innovation and that work really cemented for me that civic tech can really impact governance. Months of e-mails later, I had a chance to talk to John Paul Farmer over Skype and joined the team soon after.

What projects are you working on for your position as a tech fellow for Microsoft New York?

As of right now, I’ll be making improvements to Civic Graph, an incredible project that usefully demonstrates the reach and network of civic tech across the world. I’ll also be working closely with our friends over at BetaNYC on BoardStat, a tool that leverages NYC 311 data and a series of PowerBI visualizations to help community boards and citizens find insights about everything from noise complaints to garbage pickup. I hope to pick up more projects along the way, and I also hope to contribute more to the blog in the future.

What’s your favorite civic project in the New York area?

There are a bunch, but of course I’m partial to BoardStat. I think too often we obsess over “open data” without using it for as much as we could, and I’m grateful to BetaNYC for taking a buzzword and turning it into something incredibly useful and pragmatic. BoardStat empowers politicians, community boards, and citizens to use visualized data to make a difference in people’s day-to-day lives. Less local, but still based in New York, is DemocracyWorks and their vastly impactful TurboVote. At a time where voting rights are under attack in our country, TurboVote has simplified the voter registration and absentee ballot process for so many. They’ve proven how we can use tech to make crucial aspects of democracy more accessible, which is the best thing about civic tech.

Who are your civic tech mentors/idols?

My intro to civic tech came from stumbling upon former U.S. CTO Aneesh Chopra’s book, “The Innovative State.” After reading that and seeing the incredible role technology played on the Federal level under President Obama, I got involved locally. Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend put me in touch with Santi Garces and René Casiano of the South Bend Mayor’s Office of Innovation, and all three of them consistently inspire me with their commitment to creative, practical innovation in local government. I wouldn’t be here if not for Erin Simpson, Soren Spicknall, and Ro Encarnacion (all former fellows!), and they’ve all shown me the impact that young people can have in this space. Of course, in my first two weeks John Paul Farmer has, with his immense knowledge of the field, already mentored me so much, and I’m excited to keep learning from him.

What excites you about civic tech?

What excites me about civic tech is that it strives for serious change without carrying the mentality that technology can solve everything. The civic tech that I know isn’t arguing to “run government like a startup” or replace policymaking with technology, because the people involved are keenly aware that civic tech and policy are already linked. That’s incredible, because it means we’re using technology in conjunction with policy: two means towards the same end of a better government and society for all.

What’s one problem you hope civic tech will solve for cities?

I think civic tech can really change the machine-style political culture that a lot of cities still hold on to. By empowering voters and activists, civic tech can be a catalyst to a more active civic society. Whether that’s making voting easier, holding elected officials accountable, making government more efficient, or connecting citizens to each other, by using tech to improve civic engagement we make our democracy stronger and as a result improve all aspects of politics and governance.

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