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Serving California: Angie Quirarte

Photo: Angie Quirarte

Photo: Angie Quirarte

Angie Quirarte is a behind-the-scenes hero for the state of California, leading on issues such as public sector workforce recruitment and retention, public data, creating a user-friendly government, improving  internal government processes and more.

Let’s start with your personal story. How did you get to where you are today?

I grew up in humble beginnings and benefited from public services that I now work on to improve.

The morning of September 11, 2001 I was at the Mexican border with my parents and two younger brothers. The uncertainty of the promised American Dream was worth the risk of leaving our lives and family behind. I never imagined myself working in government; but now that I am here, I realize that this is where you can honestly make a difference.

I found my way to public service through the Capital Fellows Program as an Executive Fellow in 2013 after graduating from UCSB. As an Executive Fellow I was exposed to the highest levels of state government and worked on policy issues that strive to make government better.

I didn’t think I’d stay in Sacramento after the fellowship, but the work and the mission made me fall in love with public service.

What is your role with the state of California, and what are you working on?

I was recently promoted as the new Assistant Secretary for Digital Engagement at the California Government Operations Agency (GovOps). The Agency oversees the departments with functions that make government run, including technology, procurement, and the state civil service workforce.

Within the Innovation and Accountability team at GovOps, I primarily work on policy and pilot programs that help create tomorrow’s government today by delivering better digital services, promoting the use of data to drive decision-making, and putting Californians and users at the center when designing technology projects meant to serve them.

Over the last few years I have focused on building and sustaining the open data program for the state and most recently helped coordinate the creation of the new Department of Tax and Fee Administration within a span of six weeks.

My role is to identify pockets of innovation, pilot, implement and iterate!

What’s the state of open data in California and what can we expect in the future?

Open data has slowly evolved at the state level. When I first started no one knew what open data was or why it was important. The world was fastly publishing data and I was working on steering the state in the same direction.

As I learned more about our departments and what other governments were doing, I realized that the important thing wasn’t how many datasets we could publish. What matters is the quality of the data and what one does with it.

With this in mind we highly encourage and guide that departments that publish data onto data.ca.gov must also have civic engagement. This not only validates the value of the data, but also creates a collaborative environment where government can partner with others to solve common problems.

I hope to apply more of this for the future of open data in California. We have to democratize the access of data to the people affected by programs that aren’t using it to drive positive change.

Can you share more about NxtGov and why it matters?

NxtGov is a network of public servants and partners that know government has the potential to work better for its people.

I founded NxtGov to bring pride into the profession of public service and recruit the next generation of government leaders. We provide a safe space for change agents that want to connect with others and provide professional development opportunities and community engagement events. We consult government agencies on things they should consider when recruiting and training the next generation workforce and actively coach students on the benefits of working for the state and recruit and onboard them into the state workforce.

NxtGov matters because we break the silos of government and empower our members to become change agents in their departments. We make a difference by identifying key issues affecting our workforce now and bringing decision makers to the table to address the problems as the arise.

Can you share more about the Eureka Institute and why it matters?

The Eureka Institute is a hub of the Innovation and Accountability team within GovOps.

We established the Eureka Institute to make sure that government has a space to constantly innovate. Our focus lies on innovating government by developing programs, pilots, training and tools that develop our people, improve our processes, and leverage our technology to drive better program outcomes.

Within Eureka we have the CA Statewide Leadership Academy, the CA Lean Academy, and CalData which includes the open data program. These programs are changing the way the departments operate and that matters because the Eureka Institute allows government to adapt to a changing world.

While most people would think that innovation comes from fancy technology and robots, I’ve come to learn that innovation is just another word for adaptation. Government bureaucracies must adapt their business operations in a changing world so that people can work collaboratively and leverage tools to better prepare for the government of the future.  

Who are your government heroes?

I am surrounded by many individuals at all levels who inspire me on a daily basis.

Working in public service you encounter people of all backgrounds, and I have a long list of people I’d love to recognize, but one of the most influential heroines is my boss and GovOps Agency Secretary Marybel Batjer. She was recently named as one of Governing’s Public Official of the Year, and she deserves the recognition. I’ve been fortunate to witness many leadership styles over the last few years, and she stands out for her kindness and ability to dive in. I strive to learn from her leadership and kind demeanor. Marybel constantly reminds us that we are here to serve the public.

How can others connect with you?

A few ways to fix a government

IBM Research Manager Charity Wayua’s “A few ways to fix a government” talk is an inspirational example of how government (and its partners) can — when tasked with goals and measurable results — leverage user and data analytics research to successfully create better results for those it serves.

It also accentuates the importance of empathy during the government transformation process.

In 2014, Kenya’s president tasked Wayua’s team with helping the country achieve a top 50 ranking in the the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index. At that time, it was 136 out of 189, however, three years later, Kenya nows ranks 92. For two years in a row, the country has ranked as one of the top three global reformers in the world.

Wayua, who leads IBM’s public sector research team in Kenya, shares insights into their process with an empathic and aspirational tone towards changing the way government works.


“But when we dug deeper, we didn’t find corruption in the classic sense: slimy gangsters lurking in the darkness, waiting to grease the palms of their friends. What we found was an overwhelming sense of helplessness. Our government was sick, because government employees felt helpless. They felt that they were not empowered to drive change. And when people feel stuck and helpless, they stop seeing their role in a bigger system. They start to think the work they do doesn’t matter in driving change. And when that happens, things slow down, fall through the cracks and inefficiencies flourish.”

“Now, guess what we started to see? A coalition of government employees who are excited and ready to drive change, began to grow and form. And together we started to implement changes that impacted the service delivery of our country.”

“It’s easy in this political and global economy to want to give up when we think about transforming government. We can easily resign to the fact or to the thinking that government is too inefficient, too corrupt, unfixable. We might even rarely get some key government responsibilities to other sectors, to Band-Aid solutions, or to just give up and feel helpless. But just because a system is sick doesn’t mean it’s dying. We cannot afford to give up when it comes to the challenges of fixing our governments. In the end, what really makes a government healthy is when healthy cells — that’s you and I — get to the ground, roll up our sleeves, refuse to be helpless and believe that sometimes, all it takes is for us to create some space for healthy cells to grow and thrive.”

The talk was given during TED@IBM, held November 2016, in San Francisco. More background on the project at the IBM Research blog.


Telling Detroit’s stories

Photo courtesy of Aaron Foley

Earlier this year, I visited Detroit for the first time, spending a quick 48 hours in downtown and areas such as the Artist Village, and local businesses Motorcity Java House, Good Cakes and Bakes and Artesian Farms.

I quickly fell in love with Detroit, the energy and sense of local pride, but felt I didn’t get the full story, and left wanting to spend more time taking it all in, hearing more about its history and people and future.

Aaron Foley is Detroit’s first chief storyteller, appointed by Mayor Mike Duggan in April 2017, to help the city go beyond formalized bureaucratic communications and public relations and share the stories that don’t always get heard.

A Detroit native, he is the author of “How To Live In Detroit Without Being A Jackass” and former editor of BLAC Detroit magazine.

Aaron shares his personal story, Detroit’s and why a role such as his is important for the city.

Let’s start with your personal Detroit story.

It really doesn’t start with me, it starts with my elders. I come from a very Southern family who migrated to Detroit like thousands of other black southerners who came to the Midwest and northern cities to work in the factories. My great-grandmother raised three children in the city’s North End and later the east side of the city. My grandfather grew up to get his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and worked in health-care management in various capacities in Lansing, the state’s capital, and here in Detroit. My mother was a longtime reporter and editor at the Michigan Chronicle, a Detroit-based black weekly newspaper. They (and countless others, to be sure) were of greatest influence to me, because of their passion for Detroit and Detroiters. I grew up on the west side being proud of who I am and where I’m from, but when I went to college at Michigan State University, I found myself having to constantly defend critics of the city who were misunderstood about what Detroit was about. I heard all the stereotypes you could ever hear about an urban environment, but no one knew about the Detroit many of us know and love. So I’ve made it my mission to educate people about what it’s like here, something I’ve done as a journalist for many years.

What is your role as the city’s first chief storyteller?

I oversee a multi-platform initiative where we gather stories and information from all across the city under an umbrella we’re calling The Neighborhoods. We believe the neighborhoods — there are more than 200 spread out across 140-ish square miles — are the spirit of Detroit, and we’re committed to telling the stories of who lives here. There’s definitely an information gap about what people know about what’s happening in downtown Detroit and what people don’t know about what’s happening in the more residential areas. It’s my task to fill in that gap with news and feature stories on our website, TheNeighborhoods.org, and our cable channel for which I produce content.

How did this role transpire?

It’s something Mayor Duggan had been thinking about for a few years but didn’t fully realize until now. It’s something new for our city government, where we can utilize one of our cable channels and maximize it to its full potential, but also deliver content in a new way through our website.

Why is this important, for Detroit and other cities who might need a role like yours?

It’s important because I think there’s an opportunity here for people across to Detroit to see that not only can their voices be heard, but that the City of Detroit is making sure that their voices are heard. It’s another form of validation, but it’s a different form of validation beyond providing basic city services. All Cities have an opportunity like this, to really show that residents matter.

When you announced your new role, you said Detroit’s narrative is getting lost in translation? What’s the Detroit story we typically don’t hear?

We typically don’t always hear about residents who stayed in Detroit over the last decade or so. It’s no secret that the city has suffered a massive population loss, but for those of us that love the city so much, when do we ever hear from them? This is a way (but to be clear, not the only way) of showing “hey, thank you for loving Detroit enough. We’re going to do our best in return.”

Who is your local hero, the one person that is the embodiment of Detroit and why?

I’d have to say my late grandfather, Dr. Harvey Day. He beat all the odds — coming up from rural, segregated Alabama up here to the North End. When he was in high school, he helped charter the school’s first National Honor Society at (now-defunct) Northern High. He graduated early, went to the Army, came back and decided he wanted to be a nurse, but Wayne State University at the time didn’t believe a black man could be one. He broke that barrier, and then went on to co-found a scholarship for nursing students a year later. And he didn’t stop there. He got his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, and went on to turn around a troubled health system, then went on to work for the State of Michigan’s health department. After leaving the State, he co-founded a pharmacy benefit management corporation, and one of his last major career accomplishments before his passing was protecting the benefits of retired Detroit police officers that would have been lost after the city’s bankruptcy. It’s his level of commitment to Detroiters that I hope to aspire to.

I’m in Detroit for 24 hours. What’s the ‘Aaron Foley Tour?’

Where to begin? I love Mexican food, so I would start at Taqueria el Rey or El Camino Real. Then I’d hit up the Detroit Institute of Arts (there’s a massive local hip-hop exhibit on display there now), and maybe a quick tour of some of Detroit’s most architecturally distinct neighborhoods like Indian Village or Palmer Woods. Some of the best food for dinner is takeout; maybe hit up Uptown BBQ or Asian Corned Beef, and take it with you to Belle Isle and watch the sun set over the river. If you don’t want to get it to go, I suggest Chartreuse for dinner and cocktails.

How can others connect with you, what you’re doing and the city of Detroit?

Pretty easy. I’m all over Twitter (@aaronkfoley), or you can email me at FoleyA@detroitmi.gov. To see the stories we’ve been telling, visit TheNeighborhoods.org.


Seven reasons why you should apply for this federal government innovation fellowship

Photo: CFPB / Justin James

Photo: CFPB / Justin James

If you’re interested in working for the federal government with an agency that doesn’t have the institutional legacy of entrenched bureaucracy and truly gets design and open source innovation, and has a direct impact on American consumers, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has just the opportunity for you.

CFPB is looking for the best and brightest designers, developers and security and data experts for its 2015 class of technology and innovation fellows.

Here are seven reasons why you should apply:

  1. CFPB openly supports a distributed work environment for its fellows. After an initial onsite immersion, fellows can work from wherever they please (but still get to visit DC once a quarter).
  2. It’s a two-year program, which means you have enough time to have a sustainable impact.
  3. You’re required to use the latest open source technologies, such as GitHub and WordPress, because they actually use these on a day-to-day basis.
  4. They are committed to open source and even have an established policy for that.
  5. This line in the FAQs: “If you like to learn new tools and technologies and pick them up very easily, we want to hear from you.”
  6. Their approach to design is probably better than anyone else in the federal government and they actually have a design manual that every agency should mimic (related: this “Design at CFPB” video).
  7. Mike Byrne works there!

Application deadline is July 14. Apply here.

For bonus points, view source on this page.

FCC CIO David Bray on social media, open source, agile development and more

David Bray

Federal Communications Commission Chief Information Officer David Bray participated in our first GitChat, an open Q&A with civic innovators, that leverages GitHub as a discussion platform.

Bray discussed extensively on topics ranging from social media, open data and open source, agile development, IT procurement and more.

Here are key excerpts of the conversation.

On how C-level government executives can leverage social media:

“Pick a few channels to invest in, learn from, and monitor. You don’t have to be everywhere (because your hours are limited) but you do have to be open to inputs and ideas from the public and other partner organizations. Social media is much more than “broadcast” — it is being #open2ideas and #learning&listening from folks … I find I learn a lot from hearing from the views of others, and then have a chance to also share some of the day-to-day challenges facing us in modernizing IT within an existing organization.”

On why gov CIOs aren’t more social:

“Good question — it might be a combination of concerns about ensuring the agency’s message is consistent and uniform. There’s also a lot of pressure right now on public service folks to not take too many risks, because there does seem to be an element that is quick to point out those who take risks and have them not always work out as planned.

I also think there’s a huge pressure on the time commitments for CIO. More of them might be more social if they felt like they had a supportive environment and that them taking the time to do it was valued by their agency leadership.”

On personal vs. public social media usage and voice:

“personally I feel like as a public servant, I have a responsibility to recognize I’m always serving the public and thus under the public view. The role of a public servant requires that we aspire to be available to the public and operate with (1) benevolence, (2) competence, and (3) integrity.

I try to embody these three things wherever I go. What I do and say in-person is the same I would do and say online.

As for content – I do think I have a responsibility to recognize that an in-person context conveys tone of voice, emotion, facial expressions, and eye contact. Online takes that a way so the opportunity for misunderstanding increases.

Also if a question is asked that isn’t in my area of responsibility, I’ll defer and say I’m not the one who can best answer that question for you. Or if it is a case where someone on my team is the better expert than I, I’ll also defer to that individual – as I firmly believe any Agency leader should #empower-your-coders”

On the challenges of being a federal CIO:

“So being a CIO in the public sector requires you to be a “digital diplomat” internally and externally on these challenges and the need to change cultures plus reward mechanisms. It also requires you to be a “human flak jacket” as you work to address these challenges, work horizontally, change cultures, and reward mechanism. Sometimes being that flak jacket means taking metaphorical bullets from all angles.”

On attracting talent:

“I’m working on my end to ensure our HR processes are chugging as best and as fast as they can, and our Procurement processes are also chugging as best and as fast as they can. We’ve 18 months to do something great that’s never been done before, so now is the time to make it happen.

If there are altruistic, dedicated folks who want a reverse IPO = OPI = Opportunity for Positive Impact @FCC … we’re your place, and we’re actively looking for great, proven #Rockstar talent to enable this transformation to happen.”

On open data:

“Some of our data could be made more open in a better fashion, or in some cases a better draw. So as we modernize our systems, we will be planning and implementing both thin UIs as well as APIs to make the data more open to the public and partner organizations. The vision is the FCC is a trusted broker of data in and out appropriately, so that others can remix and analyze the data that we share in new ways.

@GigiBSohnFCC is here and a great advocate for #opendata which I 100% support. Also part of our on-going strategy will be regular engagement with the public and our partners on what data would be most valuable for us to focus our energies first, and go from there. The FCC Chairman’s Process Reform just sought public comment on elements of this and that will help inform what we focus on as top priorities: http://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-seeks-public-comment-report-process-reform”

On open source:

“In general, public service should use existing code — ideally open source code — if what the code provides fits their needs.

If public service is developing code, I generally would like to recommend the code be open source unless there is sufficient legal or mission integrity reason to not make it so.”

On the role of data officers:

“It is also why you’ll note the FCC Information and Data Officers are just that — Information and Data Officers, as separate tracks doesn’t make a lot of sense since the data is in information systems. Plus, since access to the data is tied to modernizing our legacy systems, you will see we have a FCC Chief Enterprise Architect — a new position since my arrival — since frankly the FCC was lacking an enterprise view to either its information systems or its data.

The FCC Chief Enterprise Architect has a Lead for Enterprise Information and Data Integration which is serving as what you might call a CDO, however we opted to call this role that because it emphasizes what we need to do to get the data in a usable form: Enterprise Information and Data Integration.”

On the new 18F:

“I am watching the news reports and want to remain optimistic, however my observation is 18F has not does a great job communicating to other government agencies what they’re doing. In fact, it appears to have been fairly secretive, which seems curious and somewhat odd for an era of increased transparency and open endeavors? Maybe an approach that includes going to other agency CIOs and asked what the big issues you need fixed are, and having that dialogue with other #PublicService CIOs help inform the issues — would be a great one?

To be honest other agency CIOs & I have commented that we hear more about 18F from outside news reporting than inside the public sector itself — that may need to be fixed? :-) Also, naming your endeavor after your street address seems curious in an age where the internet means great #PublicService does not need to be location-based seems puzzling?”

On agile development:

“The good news is FCC has been doing agile and lean since my arrival. We’ve had at least 4 different FCC-wide training sessions on agile, through our IT contractors to both IT staff and programmatic stewards (the folks who the mission-centric systems are being built for) on agile, as the process needs to involve them in tandem, working together. Another reason why I believe you can’t abstract too much from the programmatic stewards and succeed with IT. It’s why I’m encouraging Intrapreneurs — entrepreneurs on the inside — at FCC.”

On IT procurement:

“Lastly, if I was to urge where to place attention and energy, it would be on educating Procurement shops — and the General Counsels of agencies that provide legal guidance on what can and cannot be procured — as to what’s possible. If you want people to take risks, be lean, be agile, and do great stuff taking these steps to #empower-the-edge and #empower-your-coders are great first steps!”

Read the full discussion.

Pete Peterson on public engagement and, literally, a platform for civic innovation

Photo courtesy Pete Peterson

Photo courtesy Pete Peterson

Davenport Institute’s Pete Peterson has spent the last seven years working with local governments on improving their approach to public engagement. Now, he’s running for California secretary of state on a platform centered around civic innovation.

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Can Clay Johnson save federal government procurement?

Clay Johnson (Photo: Joi Ito)

Clay Johnson (Photo: Joi Ito)

Clay Johnson has been talking about procurement and how it’s America’s big problem since (at least) 2010, and he has yet to let up.

Knowing Clay, he’s not going to, so let’s give him a shot at fixing it.

What Clay had to say about procurement in 2010, before he became so well-versed on the subject, will resonate with many given our current technology crisis:

Both the liberal and the conservative ought to jointly care about federal procurement. From “gov2.0” to financial reform to healthcare to defense, there isn’t a single political issue that the federal procurement process does not impact. If you’re a healthcare advocate, for example, how government buys things will greatly affect any form of universal healthcare’s cost. If you’re pro-security, I’m sure you want government to have the best flak vests and armor available. You want procurement to work.

Let’s face it, when most people hear the word “procurement,” their eyes glaze over before falling into a deep coma.

Clay brings procurement to life as if it were a puppet show, leaving us captivated, laughing, engaged, wanting more. He’s the Aneesh Chopra meets Todd Park meets Jim Henson of procurement and he may be the one who can save us.

But more than that, he has the chops.

Clay is currently co-founder of the new startup Department of Better Technology, whose flagship product, Screendoor, includes an easy-to-use public-facing RFP listing platform. Previously, he served as a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow with Project RFP-EZ. Working at Sunlight Foundation and Blue State Digital, he proved he can execute technology and build community around a cause.

He’s co-authored a white paper, “7 Simple Ways to Modernize Enterprise Procurement.” He served on California’s Task Force on Reengineering IT Procurement for Success that produced recommendations to improve large IT procurements.

Here’s more from Clay on the recent technology issues related to healthcare.gov:

All this and he loves the intersection of technology and procurement more than anyone else in America.

If you have doubts, watch Clay discussing procurement at this year’s Code for America Summit:

I’m not naive to think one person can make wholesale reform happen overnight, but we have strong examples that appointing the right person with the right personality in the right C-level role at the right time can be a game changer.

We’ve seen this in technology with the appointments of the nation’s first chief information officer (Vivek Kundra) and chief technology officer (Aneesh Chopra) and, subsequently, Steven VanRoekel and Todd Park. None of them are in the weeds coding (Clay will be), but they served as linchpins for opening the doors to opportunity. They created plans and roadmaps with agency deliverables. They brought hope to the disgruntled innovators fighting the good fight within government.

Sure, they’ve ruffled feathers, but that’s what was needed for government technology and needed even more for procurement. And, if you don’t already know this, I can assure you, Clay Johnson is not afraid to ruffle feathers.

Appoint Clay Johnson as U.S. chief procurement officer.

He may be the one who can save us.