Hi, I'mJohn Cruz, AICP

Urban Planner and Professor in Greater Boston

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YourSTLCourts and CivTechSTL

In late 2014, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation presented a funding opportunity for collaborations between National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP) partners, Code for America (CfA) brigades, and local governments looking to strengthen their local civic technology ecosystems.  In response, local partners Rise (NNIP), OpenDataSTL (CfA), and the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership (local government) submitted and were approved for a $200,000 grant beginning May 1, 2015 and ending April 01, 2018. The aims of this project are twofold:

  1. To increase the capacity of the civic tech ecosystem. This goal includes increasing the capacity of local data providers (such as Rise, which already provides data to community partners through our neighborhood indicators work) as well as strengthening collaboration at the local level between civic technologists, neighborhood data practitioners, government officials, and the broader community (including community development corporations and other neighborhood nonprofits Rise already partners with.)
  2. To demonstrate what is possible when data and technology are intentionally applied to address problems affecting low-income people – and specifically to use data and civic technology to improve the navigability of St. Louis area municipal court systems for people with tickets, fees, and warrants.

Results of aim number one:

The local data and civic tech ecosystem was created, bridging a gap between community development, the civic “hacking” world, programmers, and the justice system as numerous partners worked to complete this project.

Results of aim number two:

What was possible was the creation of a public service that addresses various public concerns with equity and information access in the justice system. The goal of St. Louis’s project became to decrease the number of people who were incarcerated as a result of minor traffic fines.

Two prototypes were developed for this initiative at Globalhack V, a programming competition with cash prizes, in fall of 2015. The two winning programs were an interactive website where you could view your court case information on, and a text message system where you could get court case information as well as reminders on when to go to court. This product became branded as “YourSTLCourts” and entered the pilot stage, serving unincorporated St. Louis County. In 2018, it was expanded to include over 30 municipalities in the St. Louis area, including all of St. Louis city. Approx. 75% of all people in the City or County live in an area that is served by YourSTLCourts. The scope of this project made it one of the largest CivicTech projects to ever come to life.

The St. Louis Civic Tech and Data Collaborative became a standalone 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in August of 2018. The board of this nonprofit will continue to the work started at Rise in order to sustain YourSTLCourts into the future and tackle new tech challenges.

John’s Role

John’s employer, Rise Community Development, was a the lead grantee for the Civic Tech and Data Collaborative Grant. John was responsible for reporting and collaborating directly with Living Cities, the technical assistance provider who was hired by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

As project co-load along with Laura Kinsell-Baer (formerly of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership), John worked directly with people who are part of the judicial system, including judges and court clerks, as well as local and state officials to gather support for YourSTLCourts.

As a former software developer, John was able to work directly with the software developers on this project to ensure that goals were reached. This included not just developers who were working on the project locally, but also with the software companies who supplied the various municipalities with software that created ticketing and court date systems for police cruisers.

Additionally, John had an active role in managing personnel, HR, and hiring decisions as well as community engagement and software testing.

The Civic Tech and Data Collaborative was turned into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. John served as a charter member of the board of directors for one year, serving as treasurer.

YourSTLCourts.com screenshot

YourSTLCourts areas served