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Chris Vein Leaves White House for the World Bank

After two years as deputy CTO for the White House, Vein is taking what he's learned in open government and innovation, and applying it internationally.

On Dec. 10, 2012, Chris Vein checked out as deputy CTO of the White House and checked in to the World Bank -- as chief innovation officer for Global Information and Communications Technology Development.

Four hours later, he was on a plane to Moscow. 

"It's unusual for someone who starts at the bank to go on what we call a mission on the first day, so that trip was a little unique," Vein said. "But it was also special."

On Dec. 12, 2012, Vein was on stage with the Prime Minister of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, being asked to critique the country's approach to and plan for open government. The next night, Vein was asked to be on Russian TV to do the same thing.

When it comes to open government and innovation, Vein knows his stuff. As deputy CTO of the White House for nearly two years, he spoke frequently about creating the next generation of government, using open innovation and open government to do so.

Innovation Toolkit

Having experience at both the local and federal levels of government in the United States will no doubt help Chris Vein, former deputy CTO of the White House, in his new role as chief innovation officer for Global Information and Communications Technology Development at the World Bank. But, ultimately, many of the themes are similar, regardless of the region or level of government. "Innovation is innovation, whether you're in San Francisco or Dubai -- it is this need to solve specific problems," Vein said. "I would argue that all the problems are certainly different within states and whatnot, but the same challenges exist."

During Vein's recent international travel, he heard the same four challenges:

  • How to grow the economy;
  • How to create more jobs;
  • How to create a more efficient and effective government; and
  • How to solve one of a variety of social issues, whether it's gender equality or digital inclusion, for example.
Across Vein's career, he says he's built a toolkit of "different things that can be applied in different places -- whether it's federal down to local or local up to federal, it doesn't really matter," he said. "It's those core principles of interative design thinking around specific problem solving that are the true key to making meaningful change."

"One of the initiatives that, for me, tied all of that together was building on the work that others had done around the model," Vein said, "or creating a common platform for federal data to be released." Having served as CIO of San Francisco for six years before joining the Obama administration, Vein admits that he has a strong bias toward cities. While in San Francisco, he created, which publishes more than 100 public-sector data sets that residents can mash up to create shared applications. And Vein's federal position let him expand his open data efforts by integrating local, state and federal information. "The one thing I'm most proud of was the beginning -- because it's got a long way to go -- but the beginnings of that integration through, and then"

While in his federal position, Vein also worked with the government of India  to develop an international version of the open data portal -- and that work is a bit of a jumping off point for Vein's latest venture at the World Bank. The move also brings him back to his beginnings. "When I was in undergrad and graduate school, I was intending to work in the international arena, I just didn't know exactly what I was going to do," he said. "But I very much wanted to be doing international business or relations or government relations." 

Vein was sidetracked, "albeit happily," he says, to the White House, where he was CFO from 1987 to 1990 and director of Administrative and Financial Services from 1990 to 1993. "I ended up working for three presidents back then, and then was lucky enough, years later, to serve my fourth president," he said. "And then I decided that this opportunity [at the World Bank] was just too good to be true, and it was kind of returning me to my roots. And I'd have an opportunity to take what I've learned and apply it internationally."

Vein says he'll play multiple roles in his new position, helping other countries with open government initiatives. Vein's first trip, four hours after checking out of the White House, wasn't just to Russia -- it included a stop in Tunisia, which was hosting its first hackathon-type event. 

"They were successful in getting the public sector, the private sector and civil society together in a room for maybe the first time ever, with a lot of very committed business people, government people, citizens and youth," Vein said. "We didn't literally write code and create an app that day, but we did get people to think that it was indeed possible for all of these sectors to work together in a country where there isn't that tradition."

Vein also got the folks in Tunisia to share their ideas and create a group prioritization for their activities. "To really see people getting it -- you could see it in their faces, you could hear it in their voices -- the excitement really becomes palpable, and that's when open government becomes real. Open government is about that event, those people finally getting it and starting to build change within their particular country."

Photo of Chris Vein by Jessica Mulholland