June 28, 2012 By Steve Ressler
I love the fall. To me, fall means crisp breezes, college football, beautiful leaves. But for those in elected office, it means it’s politics season.
During the political season, there’s a lot of turmoil going on. Elected officials wonder if they’ll be back, while new entrants fight for a seat and the opportunity to make their mark. Career staff put potential projects on hold rather than starting them and potentially getting them killed by the next administration.
So what is an IT leader to do during the political season?
To me, the best bet is to focus on projects that are quick wins for the current political leadership but at the same time, great technology that will be needed for some time to come.
As such, here are my four favorite political projects during this time.
1. Improved 311 — The phrase goes “happy wife, happy life,” and for an elected official, happy citizens equal more votes. 311 is the main funnel for citizens to report problems with the city that they’d like to have fixed. Many citizens are still using old approaches — encourage your city leadership to take a look at the modern 311 systems that use mobile reporting and crowdsourcing. It’ll make citizens happier and politicians look good, and you just fixed a critical system.
2. Communications Makeover — Every politician instinctually understands the importance of one’s image and marketing message. So how is your city presenting itself — what does your website look like? Your email messaging? Your social media presence? Perhaps you are a few years out of date but never received the resources to give it an upgrade. Make a pitch now — the current administration wants to look good and so will a new one if changeover occurs.
3. Parking Fix — Nobody ever has quarters. Nobody likes the meter enforcements. Now’s the time for your leadership to fix those complaints and show that your city is with the times as part of its re-election campaign. It’s a great time to pitch mobile parking solutions that remove quarters and let people pay by credit cards and mobile phones. The city looks modern, there will be fewer complaints from citizens, and you have a long-term fix for a big problem.
4. Hackathon — It’s during the political process that mayors start reconnecting with various city groups. One group of constituents the mayor must court is the technology and entrepreneurship leaders. A hackathon is a great way for a city to show that it cares about the local tech and entrepreneurial community. Additionally you can tie in the mission of the hackathon or open data released to other key constituents (maybe it’s transit data or data on homeless shelters). The politicians get easy quick wins, media coverage and buy-ins with constituencies. You receive tie-in with the tech community and help on your key projects.
It’s tricky during the election season. You don’t want to start new projects that are going to die, but you also don’t want to twiddle your thumbs for four to eight months.
Hopefully you can pick one or two of my suggestions above to keep the ball rolling and get some wins. Multiple administrations may take credit, your project will probably be renamed, but at least you will have made a dent in improving your agency and city.
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