San Francisco

‘The woeful state of government technology’

Photo: U.S. Department of Energy

San Francisco Chief Digital Services Officer Carrie Bishop published an excellent commentary piece that touches on several issues we in the digital government industry don’t talk much about, or at all.

Particularly, her pointed thoughts on the dismal state of government technology are something we as an industry need to discuss more openly and deeply, and emphatically address if we truly care about the future of a healthy democracy.

This part of Carrie’s commentary speaks to me, and is something everyone in the industry should read, talk more about, actively get unsettled with and do something to change:

Looking at the woeful state of government technology it’s clear there is a crisis in our sector. The struggle of legacy technology is real, and the market is ripe for disruptors, but the lead times, the slow pace of change in the sector, and the age-old problem of procurement all make it a bleak market for new entrants.

The systems are rotting from the inside. Their molasses code, their disintegrating interfaces, and their putrifying business models are at the core of government service delivery, but they persist because they are so entrenched. In theory, it would be easy for a company to breeze through and disrupt the incumbents. The hard part is the change.

The true challenge is the time it takes to procure from cold contact to signed contract, and convincing people to go with an unknown entity instead of an entrenched inevitability. The hard work is helping cities imagine services that are designed around the people that use them, instead of department silos. Based on my experience as a vendor in this market I’d say that this process takes about two years from start to finish with just one city client.

The most viable option for governments is to build internal teams who can absorb the impact of this hostile environment. Expecting new vendors to have enough financial backing and mature enough products is too big of an ask. I have realized that there are some things only government teams can do. Only an internal team can build for the most complex use cases and the edge-cases, as well as the mainstream. Vendors, and even non-profits, especially new entrants to the market, are just not financially able to do this hard work, but this is exactly what government should be focused on.

For many legacy institutions, empowering democracy has become a secondary priority to maintaining the status quo for profit or personal stability, whether it’s the business model of a government-focused nonprofit organization or legacy vendor or a public sector leader that’s been in the same comfortable role for years. This isn’t meant to condemn, but more to emphatically point out that a sense of purpose for some needs to be re-established. This is tough for entrenched people and organizations.

There is a gray area with respect to internal digital service teams and external vendor support. What we don’t talk about much is that the reality is the smaller a government gets, the less likely they’re able to attract or afford digital talent, regardless of the sense of mission it brings.

Unfortunately, this is where we see even worse habits with respect to legacy organizations. We often conflate what is happening at the national, state or big city level to what everyone else (and there are a lot of everyone elses) can realistically accomplish on their own.

The state of government technology is woeful. The expectations we have for those in executive technology positions, as well as the legacy institutions (organizations and vendors) who have captured much of the market, are low. What’s unfortunate is that many inside government don’t realize how bad legacy vendor technology really is, judging it not by merit, but by an established relationship or how entrenched it is within the market.

As Carrie mentions, this environment makes it tough for civic entrepreneurs to get and stay excited about their potential to help re-imagine civics in their own way, in a way that serves everyone. Speaking from firsthand experience, it is a challenge for new entrant disruptors to gain a foothold, and there are many reasons for this. This is a conversation we need to have, and I’m thankful Carrie opened up that door.

I look forward to continuing it.

Read more: The same but different

San Francisco seeks CIO

San Francisco City Hall

San Francisco is looking for a chief information officer.

From the announcement:

The Director of DT/CIO will have outstanding leadership qualities that will bring stability and credibility to the position. With a commitment to success and a genuine desire to be a long-term technology leader for a world class city, the Director will have frequent opportunities to focus on internal operations across a broad spectrum of needs. Top candidates for consideration will have had prior senior-level and management experience in a complex organization that promotes best practices. The Director will have an engaging and energetic style; be self-confident yet humble; and believe in inspiring, motivating, and empowering staff to achieve well defined goals.

Salary range is up to $235,820. Applications are due February 28.

Details and how to apply.

Bay Area cities team with startups to solve civic problems, scale government innovation

STIR 2016

Bay Areas cities San Francisco, Oakland, West Sacramento and San Leandro teamed with startups this year as part of the Startup in Residence program to “explore ways to use technology to make government more accountable, efficient and responsive.”

The 2016 cohort included 14 companies that worked with the cities over 16 weeks, and the teams made their presentations Friday (see #STIR2016).

All of the projects were fantastic, but Binti really stood out and opened my eyes to the impact modernized technology can have on truly changing lives.

The STIR program started in 2014 and serves as a model for other geographic regions that want to create momentum around civic technology and scaling government innovation.

Big shout to Jeremy Goldberg, Krista Canellakis, Jay Nath, the SF Office of Civic Innovation, an incredible team of ambassadors and mentors, Monique Woodard from 500 Startups and, of course, Lawrence Grodeska and the CivicMakers team. It’s inspiring to see public sector leaders working proactively with startups to break through the procurement and technology mold and bring better digital services to those they serve.

For those interested in participating in the the 2017 cohort, see the participation requirements and apply.

San Francisco seeks chief digital services officer to lead online strategy, execution

Port of San Francisco (Photo: Luke Fretwell)

Port of San Francisco (Photo: Luke Fretwell)

San Francisco announced the creation of a new internal digital agency and is looking for a chief digital services officer to lead its efforts.

From the announcement:

The Digital Services Team will partner with departments to modernize digital services citywide. Four fundamental principles guide this task: put the needs of residents first, focus on delivery and outcomes over process, promote an agile and data driven culture, and make City services accessible to everyone.

It’s unclear what the roadmap is for building a support team to execute the city’s digital strategy, and what influence the new role will have in determining its underlying technology, but this is currently the best job opening in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Plus, you get to work closely with Joy Bonaguro and Jay Nath.

Apply here.

City enthusiasts, innovators: Register for BRIDGE SF

Golden Gate Bridge (photo: Luke Fretwell)

Golden Gate Bridge (photo: Luke Fretwell)

San Francisco Bay Area city enthusiasts and innovators can now register for BRIDGE SF, “a collaboration of public, private, non-profit, and academic institutions coming together to challenge assumptions, develop skills, share best practices, and build partnerships that drive innovation for a better tomorrow.”

The conference, held in multiple areas around the Bay Area over four days, will foucs on topics such as smart cities, mobility, Internet of things, sustainability, resiliency, economic development and arts and culture.

BRIDGE SF is a collaboration between the San Francisco Mayor’s Office, the University of California, Berkeley and City Innovate Foundation.

Learn more and register.

Superpublic wants to supercharge municipal government innovation

City Innovate CEO Kamran Saddique

City Innovate CEO Kamran Saddique

Earlier this week, the City Innovate Foundation was joined by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, U.S. General Services Administration Administrator Denise Turner Roth and the U.S. Department of Commerce to announce a first-of-its-kind Innovation lab to solve urban problems and scale solutions at 50 United Nations Plaza — the birthplace of the U.N.

The 5,000 sq. ft. lab Superpublic unites under the same roof for the first time innovation teams from the private industry, federal, state and city government agencies and from universities. City Innovate Foundation staff will coordinate the activity of member organizations and put on programming that builds capacity among members to solve problems, prototype solutions and create innovative approaches to policies that accelerate change.

City Innovate CEO Kamran Saddique sat down with GovFresh to share how Superpublic will work and what’s next for the innovation lab down the hall from 18F.

Give us the 140-character elevator pitch.

Superpublic is a platform for public, private, and non-profit sectors to work together to address the most pressing challenges facing cities.

What problem(s) does Superpublic solve for government or residents/citizens?

To start, we expect to work on three main problems:

Digital services in government: More than ever before, residents now expect services to be available online. The development of new digital services is an opportunity to rethink how we deliver services to ensure every resident has the access they need. The City of SF is looking to replicate the success of 18F and U.S. Digital Service to create new teams within their respective organizations

Smart cities: How we move ourselves and goods around is rapidly changing. We can either embrace and shape these changes or be at the mercy of them. San Francisco has chosen to lead the way by putting people first in developing safer, more equitable and innovative solutions to transportation challenges. The City of SF is working with DOT, DOE, and DOC on advancing smart cities in San Francisco and nationally – specifically on mobility in the near term.

Performance-based procurement: How do we make sure that the money spent by the government delivers tangible results? How can we use procurement terms to cut cycle time and/or improve quality? We will work to advance innovative financing models to increase impact and accountability.

What’s the story behind starting Superpublic?

We were inspired by the example of the Superpublic lab in Paris, which was opened in November 2014 by the 27e Région and a group of innovation professionals (Plausible Possible, Care and Co, Counterpoint), with the City of Paris, the French National State (SGMAP), and a public bank called Caisse des Dépôts.

For us, Superpublic means providing a workspace where city, state, and federal agencies can come together and work on problems facing the Bay Area. San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose are all expected to benefit from the work of Superpublic as are agencies that operate at the county, state and federal level.

Superpublic provides space, curates programming, convenes summits, roundtables, and training programs to build capacity so that all parties to the lab (government, private companies, non profits, universities) can work together better.

Superpublic will open its doors July 2016.

What makes Superpublic different than other innovation labs?

Across the globe, cities look to San Francisco as the “innovation capital of the world” – to quote San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee. This is the first innovation lab set up by a city government to solve problems prioritized by the city.

The lab, managed by the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation, GSA and City Innovate Foundation will break down silos between different layers of government. Superpublic will bring together multiple layers of government in the same location and act as a catalyst for product and service development to drive more responsive and efficient government. Solutions that come out of the Lab will get commercialized by City Innovate Foundation with the objective to be scaled to other cities in the City Innovate Foundation network.

What will a typical day will look like at Superpublic?

The day starts off with a morning coffee session in the community area where new members introduce themselves and open discussions can take place to ensure communication flows freely between representatives from different organizations.

The project teams have dedicated team work spaces which they can configure to their needs to execute their tasks within the overall milestone-based project management method based on Lean Startup for the process and Scrum for technical development work.

The Superpublic Steering Committee through city/state and federal agencies have sourced a list of problem sets through their constituents which get narrowed to a focused list of 3 or 4 problems. These are explored by a taskforce led by City Innovate for a screening process for approval by the Steering Committee. Upon approval, representatives from lead cities, academic, and industry prepare the proposed projects for financial feasibility and scalability to other cities in the U.S.

This now includes formulating the city problem to be solved, developing a user narrative, mapping out the relevant ecosystem, and key skills needed in a project team as well as an estimation of project timeline, cost and possible funding of the effort.

The afternoon will have delegations visiting from other cities to exchange on city problems and discussions how the Superpublic model could be applied to their cities. The approved projects are kicked off by the team taking over their dedicated working space, being celebrated by everybody from the other teams, partners and City Innovate Foundation.

I’m part of an organization that wants to become a member of the Lab, what should I do?

Send an email to concierge@cityinnovate.org stating your name, your organization’s name, and the nature of your interest. A phone number is helpful.

How can those interested connect with you (website, Twitter, Facebook, email, etc.)?

You can learn more about Superpublic at www.cityinnovate.org/superpublic and on Facebook and Twitter.

‘No ugly, old IT.’

"No ugly, old IT."

“No ugly, old IT” jumped out at me when I first reviewed DataSF’s strategic plan, “Data in San Francisco: Meeting supply, spurring demand,” and it still sticks, mostly because someone inside government was so bold as to make this a priority and openly communicate it, and also because this should be a mantra for everyone building civic technology.

Whether the end-user is the resident, citizen or bureaucrat, let’s build more civic technology that, as Google Product Lead Sandra Nam says, is “something someone would want to do instead of just another stressful part of their day.” (HT Alex Schmoe)

Here’s the full DataSF mission, vision, approach:

  1. Say no to perfection. We don’t have enough time for perfect. Something is better than nothing and you can always improve it as you learn more.
  2. Fail early and often. Failing is ok – not learning from a failure is not ok. Small experiments, failed or successful inform our next steps.
  3. Plan for the future. Create infrastructure and systems for future growth – but solve immediate problems and pain points along the way
  4. Use long division. If a problem seems too big, break it into manageable bits. There’s always a hook or a starting point to move something forward.
  5. No ugly, old IT. We leverage existing, modern, and light-weight tools and we want our designs to be beautiful, inviting but also a little fun.
  6. Use storytelling and data. We must work to find the people in the data and tell their story. Data without people is just academic.
  7. Seek institutional homes. Distribute, share and foster excellence. While we may incubate programs, ideas or projects, we ultimately need to find a full-time home.
  8. Learn to infinity and listen with humility. Continuously learn from ourselves and others and build on existing frameworks. “Not invented here” attitudes are strictly prohibited.
  9. Start with problems, move to opportunities. We start with people’s needs and problems but also use the chance to show them some cool, new stuff for the future.
  10. If we don’t start now, we’ll never get there. We don’t want to look back in five years and think “if we had just…”. Every shady street started with a row of saplings.

Read the full DataSF strategic plan.

San Francisco publishes year two plan, continues to lead on open data

San Francisco City Hall

San Francisco’s DataSF team continues to quietly and effectively demonstrate what an efficient, holistic and personable approach to open data looks like with the announcement of its year two plan and retrospective of the past year.

SF Chief Data Officer Joy Bonaguro and Open Data Program Manager Jason Lally are a dynamic duo building the blueprint for government open data offices and initiatives. According to the city, DataSF has 264 published datasets and 740 inventoried datasets, but the number isn’t as important as the approach they’ve taken since Bonaguro was appointed a little over a year ago.

Key to their success is having a long-game plan, building internal community, education and awareness and bringing a sense of aesthetic and uniformity to SF’s open data initiative.

Also, I love the “love” messaging throughout the collateral (“Written with LOVE in San Francisco.”, “Made with <3 in San Francisco”), as it humanizes the efforts more, making data less about the technical and more about the people.

Key links for those who should be watching:

City icons and Vocativ’s livability index

Vocativ 'Livability Index'

Image: Vocativ

Vocativ published its 2014 Livability Index of the 35 best cities for people 35 and under, and the best part of it is the montage of city icons they created for the piece.

I’m a big fan of cities creating a brand strategy and modern, friendly logos, much like Colorado did, and Vocativ did a great job highlighting the iconography of the featured cities.

My favorites are Reno, Kansas City and, of course, San Francisco.

What are yours?