When someone has good idea, take it — if it won't land you in jail or a lawsuit, that is. It's the mindset Sacramento, Calif., Mayor Darrell Steinberg took when releasing the city’s Demonstration Partnership Policy — a policy that enables the city to engage in partnerships with business, nonprofits or other government agencies in a timely fashion to make quick improvements where needed.
The policy, approved in late April, gains inspiration from the demonstration partnership policy from San Jose, Calif., and the Boston Smart City Playbook. The mayor's team saw how many vendors were approaching those cities with products and solutions for improving residents’ quality of life, so “we thought that would be a really good way for us to test things on a pilot basis," said Ash Roughani, program manager for the Mayor's Office for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “This is a process that allows us to try something before we invest dollars behind more robust solutions.”
The logic of testing a product before a massive investment is not a novel concept. Essentially, Roughani explained, the partnership policy is applying the principles of agile software development to procurement processes. “This type of experimentation through procurement will allow us to test these technologies that can improve quality of life in the city and allows us to really quickly try things, see what works and what doesn't and double down on the things that are working.”
Sacramento recently announced the intention for its downtown grid to develop an open set of standards for the testing and development of autonomous vehicles. Through this effort, officials have been conversing with several auto manufacturers about how testing and deployment would look.
"The policy seemed to work in perfect conjunction with our efforts on becoming a hub for autonomous vehicles," Roughani said, adding that it is the “perfect mechanism for actually thinking about the city as an open platform.”
The partnership policy, however, will not be solely for self-driving vehicle pilots.
“We think about smart city technology having to do with digital technology,” said Roughani. “Potentially the policy could be applied to things like housing.”
Homelessness has been a major focus for Steinberg, who has recruited local hospitals and private entities to allocate $20 million toward services for the homeless if the city and county move forward with the mayor’s plan to prioritize federal housing vouchers for homeless people. He has also announced that he will apply for matching federal funds through a program that is exploring more efficient ways of targeting Medicare money at difficult and high-use populations.
The city will use the new policy to form partnerships so long as they meet the city’s seven stated objectives:
“Hopefully this becomes an economic development tool for the city,” Roughani said, adding that while the “consumer technology space is super saturated, the next wave of technology is really going to be around cities and regions, and the ways these entities improve quality of life.”
With state regulators in its backyard, Sacramento is using its position as a selling point for vendors. However, Roughani noted that the city is not interested in companies just coming in, conducting one-off tests. This is truly meant to be a partnership, and the city is hoping that potential collaborators view the city as a living laboratory and take advantage of the young, well-educated labor pool.
Ryan McCauley was a staff writer for Government Technology magazine from October 2016 through July 2017, and previously served as the publication's editorial assistant.