In a Tweet and accompanying goodbye letter, San Francisco’s Deputy Innovation Officer Shannon Spanhake has announced her resignation and move to San Francisco tech startup Planet Labs, a satellite network providing earth imaging services.
“It’s taken me a long time to write this because it’s been hard to say goodbye,” Spanhake said in her letter.
She reflected on her nearly three years in the position; Spanhake was hired on in November 2011 to launch the Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation. Some of the milestones highlighted included the creation of the city’s first Open Data program, instituted to distribute city data more widely; the push for Living Innovation Zones, a program to encourage civic improvement in urban spaces; and the city’s Entrepreneurship-In-Residence program, which was a collaboration between the city and local entrepreneurs to support San Francisco departments.
Spanhake thanked the city, and partner localities and organizations that supported her work, such as Code for America, a civic tech non-profit; SF.CITI, a citizens tech initiative; and the cities of Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago (municipalities with similar innovation programs).
“I had the privilege of pursuing my life project, to decentralize power by enabling communities with tools and knowledge, as the deputy innovation officer of this amazing city ... to Jay, my team, my colleagues, and everyone I had the opportunity to work with and serve, I have learned a lot and have been inspired every single day,” she wrote.
Spanhake did not specify what her new role at the Planet Labs would be, but said more information would be forthcoming as she makes her transition.
“Little could have pulled me away from [the city], but I was offered an opportunity to scale this work with Planet Labs, a local space tech startup — yes really, space! — and I could only excitedly accept,” she said.
According to the Planet Labs website, the company designs, builds and operates 28 earth imaging satellites. The imaging data is gathered at low-cost and is intended to be sold to companies, jurisdictions and organizations that benefit from recent imaging data — such as in the case of city planning for government. Initial investors of the company, which began operations in April 2012, are Draper Fisher Jurvetson, O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, Data Collective and First Round Capital. The CEO is Will Marshall, a former scientist for NASA.
Spanhake, the city and Planet Labs were not immediately available Monday for comment.
In a response from San Francisco's Innovation Officer Jay Nath, the city confirmed it will rehire the deputy innovation officer position, however it has not set an official date. Nath said the Mayor's Office of Civic Innovation must formally go through the city's hiring process before an estimation can be announced. Speaking personally, Nath said his hopes are to make the replacement as soon as possible.
"We're looking for someone who has demonstrated entrepreneurial qualities, has experience with human-centered design and lean startup methodology, technology background, experience in small and large organizations including government, and is passionate about civic innovation," Nath said.
Reflecting on Spanhake's contributions to the city, Nath said she played an impactful role with him to establish the office and launch initiatives like the city's Living Innovation Zones, the civic idea and engagement site ImproveSF, and helped to secure a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor for city workforce innovations.
Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.