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A graphic of aerosol spread shared by El PaÍs, Spain’s English-language newspaper. Their article on how COVID-19 spreads, airborne, has more and better “explainers” than Washington State Public Health’s own website.

Washington State deems all indoor spaces as equally unsafe in the pandemic and unequally essential. We’re 10 months into COVID-19 and the science has evolved. It’s time Washington changed its approach.

As a small town commercial building owner, I spent most of the summer preparing for this moment. Fall would see a third wave and it would be worse than the others. With small businesses and nonprofits as tenants, I saw it as my job to increase building safety. I turned to Washington State Public Health guidance but found it lacking. Everything boiled down to masking, distancing, and social isolating.

Washington State doesn’t have any guidance on reducing COVID-19 aerosols indoors*. Employees think they could take off masks when six feet apart indoors. An asymptomatic, distanced, maskless staffer could fill their indoor space with the COVID-19 virus. …


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1947 image from the City of Minneapolis Archives.

The civic technology community are “helpers,” the type of people you want with you in an emergency. They’re people who intervene to prevent an emergency. Sitting here in Seattle, the COVID-19 Pandemic feels like the beginning of a months-long emergency. Many reputable news stories have been churned out, but clear data on the COVID-19 crisis is as rare as toilet paper at Costco. The pandemic has led me to reflect on lessons learned from working with open data standards in partnership with public health agencies.

I count myself as part of the civic technology community at the rare intersection of public health, civic technology, and open data. I’ve spent the last seven years working with public and environmental health agencies across the US. My career pivoted in the wake of a terrifying personal experience with the second E. Coli outbreak in my life in 2013. I became a food safety advocate and served on local, state, and national public health committees. Later, I developed the 2.0 of the LIVES inspection data standard as a consultant to an open data company. At an early age (when my family was in the ’93 Jack in the Box E. Coli outbreak), I learned how economic, public relations, and risk management angles of outbreaks can wreak consequences on the vulnerable. In the last year, I produced an ecosystem scan of over 1,000 environmental health agencies (frequently overlaps with “public health” agencies) in the US and a niche of their inspections. Through key-informant interviews, days spent at industry conferences, and learning directly from epidemiologists, I’ve developed a unique lens on how the civic technology community could assist Americans and the public health field. …


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I’m working to invigorate my hometown and I’m not sure my late mother would approve.

I spent my childhood watching the vibrant downtown of Oak Harbor, Washington wither under economic and zoning pressures. Located on the largest continental island in America, Oak Harbor is the town my grandparents met in during World War II, both working of the US Navy. It’s where they formed a successful women’s clothing store and spent their long, active lives contributing to the community’s civic life. Its where my mom managed their business and spent free time on one “downtown redevelopment” committee after another as the downtown whittled away, Walmart moved in, salaries failed to keep up with inflation, and business life decamped to the highway. …


Word. Microsoft Word. The wordprocessing software that’s been around longer than some of us have been alive. It’s the software government runs on. But it’s also the software holding back governments from being open, transparent, and modern. And, really, you can’t blame governments for a design oversight Microsoft has made for decades; Word was never designed for governments’ unique legal compliance needs yet it’s still ubiquitous software across governments.

In the 1980’s and early 90’s, document processing tools were desperately needed by governments looking to transition away from paper-based processes and document storage. Word offered a simple, affordable tool to craft and share documents. But that doesn’t mean it was designed for the legal compliance and document structure needs of government documents. Word wasn’t designed with the public’s needs in mind, nor was it designed with an eye towards government’s data-driven future. To allow governments to be more open and efficient, Microsoft could release a new version of Word, specifically for governments. -More on this later. …


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Photo by Jeanne Menjoulet

I’m wondering, what’s changed?

After all the heart-wrenching, outrage-inducing #MeToo stories over the last year or more, what has changed?

Sure, I could point to changes I know of, but what’s more useful is to hear about the changes you noticed. The changes you implemented. How you changed. How your workplace is — or isn’t — different today. How’d that make you feel?

Me Too stories can shock, anger, or dispirit us. But the reason any survivor comes forward, I believe, is to change how our workplaces and communities treat each other. …


On a fast-growing, progressive, tech-driven presidential campaign, a fellow staff member attempted to rape me. I was not on the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. This assault happened during my year working on the Howard Dean presidential campaign in 2003. It marred my career as my attacker’s career flourished.

This week’s revelations of harassment and unequal pay within the Sanders 2016 campaign may shock outsiders of campaigns, but not those of us who have been within them.

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Photo by Phil Roeder, CC by 2.0 license.

We know these frenetic work environments intimately; their controlled chaos hides a multitude of flaws within a vast network of (mostly) well-meaning, hard-working campaign staff. The work is high demand and fast-paced. It means that issues like harassment don’t get addressed with the full weight of consequence because it is too time-intensive. It means that campaign leaders don’t get fired because the stakes are too high. Particularly on fast-growing campaigns — where millions of donor dollars suddenly pour in and staff numbers hockeystick in parallel with funding — creating a safe workplace relies more on reputations of those hired than practices and policies in the campaign. …


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A clear “call to action” hasn’t gone out to our village.

Understandably, my “me too” story horrified many in our field. What I didn’t expect is that so many would identify with my story and seek me out to share theirs. I listened to dozens of individuals in open gov and civic tech whose stories shocked and saddened me. In their stories, patterns and character types emerged.

Victims (and their allies) left workplaces and our industry after bullying and harassment. We have experienced a brain drain of our own making. …


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“Brave women” have names, more importantly, they have teams.

People call me “brave” for speaking on the record about my “Me Too” story which spanned over a decade of my career. Truth is, I wasn’t brave. I was prepared.

After I anonymously shared my story with Shine Squad two years ago, a major media organization wanted to publish my story. They reached through to Shine Squad (who protected my identity) to contact me. The reporter said I could stay anonymous. It was well before the #metoo movement hit its stride.

Absolutely not. Hard pass. Nope. The fear of being revealed, of repercussions, of being known as a victim, the fear of losing myself in victimhood and cruel reactions… it overpowered me. Frankly, the fear of being labeled a “whiney little bitch,” by those in my field terrified me. It would be the end of what had already been a difficult road. The road of quiet suffering was fifteen years long. Shine Squad passed along my anonymized response of “No, thanks” to the news organization. With that, I went back to my life, one in which I would not give voice to the personal and professional challenges I faced. …


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I’m thrilled to be on the NEHA Informatics committee. I wish more committees were as thoughtful about their approach to having public voices on their committees.

When I serve on government committees, I do so voluntarily, unpaid, and I am the only one who could be considered a “member of the public.” When asked by my fellow committee members where I’m from, they don’t mean where I live, but who I represent or which government I work with. I have taken to explaining my background, concluding, “I’m a rare species.”

Increasingly, though, I wonder if I might be an endangered species. Generally, public boards, commissions, and committees are made up of members of the public. They include industry, government representatives (often), and usually have dedicated spots for members of the public. In Washington State, “Boards and commissions are designed to give citizens a voice in their government and provide a means of influencing decisions that shape the quality of life for the residents of our state. Participation on a board or commission is one of the most effective steps citizens can take in becoming an active voice in their government.” They’re voluntary roles, without pay, and maybe (that’s a big maybe) some of their costs (like a hotel room for a two day meeting) are covered. But, increasingly, it seems these boards and committees are professionalized. …


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Quite possibly the best t-shirt I’ve ever owned.

I had just finished sharing my story at #YxYY on surviving e. coli twice and my successful fight for posted restaurant inspection scores, when one woman after another walked up to me and said something like, “Your talk was great. I need to know where you get clothing.”

The quick segway to fashion didn’t bother me. Clothing has been a part of three generations of my family’s business and identity. My grandmother opened a clothing store 55 years ago and my mother ran it for the last two decades. It was (and is, under a new owner) like a mini women’s Nordstrom’s. I spent most of my childhood’s unstructured time in the stock room, offices, or sales floor of the store, learning the industry (and being free child labor) via the family business. By 12, I began buying clothing and jewelry for the store. …

About

Sarah Schacht

Decade+ in #opengov, civic tech, & open data innovation. Surfer. Accidental #FoodSafety advocate/data standard expert. Author. #MeToo

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