Earlier this year, Public CIO editors traveled to Chicago for a breakfast meeting with city IT officials. Near the end of our conversation about the technology opportunities and challenges facing the city, Chicago CIO Hardik Bhatt casually asked, “Have you heard of the G7?”

We hadn’t. But the more we heard, the more we liked the idea. G7 is short for “gang of seven” or “group of seven,” depending on who you ask. (Bhatt admits Chicago city leaders aren’t thrilled with the term “gang,” so he prefers “group.”) Whatever you call it, the G7 consists of seven of the nation’s brightest big-city CIOs, who work in a loose partnership that allows them to discuss problems, trade information and even share applications.

This issue’s cover story, written by longtime Public CIO contributor Merrill Douglas, offers a compelling look at how the group formed, what it does and how members hope it will evolve. We put the G7 on the cover because, frankly, it showcases the sort of collaboration and innovative thinking that’s ever more critical to survival in the public sector. As cities throughout the nation continue to cope with economic crisis, IT leaders need to find new ways to meet their organizations’ needs. These CIOs are doing just that.

Seattle CTO Bill Schrier summed up the idea succinctly: “We’re sick and tired of reinventing the wheel. In most cases, if we had better information sharing, we wouldn’t have to do that.”

Thus, G7 members talk via conference call every other week — and meet in person whenever possible. This type of collaboration already has produced shared software that’s used by both San Francisco and Washington, D.C., to connect their 311 systems to social networking platforms. Other joint projects are in the works.

In an era when almost all jurisdictions are strapped for funds, finding new ways to share ideas and applications simply makes good sense. And the G7 offers a terrific example.

This issue of Public CIO also gives a glimpse inside the 2010 Digital States Survey, an in-depth study of technology use in state governments that’s released every two years by e.Republic’s Center for Digital Government. We’ve collected best practices across seven critical government functions from some of the survey’s top-graded states. These examples show that even during a recession, high-performing states are using IT modernization to strengthen agility, efficiency and sustainability.

Clearly the tough economy is taking a toll on technological progress. Paul Taylor, architect of the Digital States Survey and chief content officer for e.Republic, likes to say “flat is the new up” for many states this year. But Michigan, Utah and other high achievers still found ways to protect strategic priorities and implement technologies that improved the performance of critical government programs.

Their efforts, as well as partnerships like the G7, show a way forward during hard times.

Steve Towns, Editor Steve Towns  |  Editor

Steve Towns is editor of Government Technology, and executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government Technology,Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market.