What’s New in Civic Tech: Bloomberg Unveils Innovation Map

Plus, Cities of Service reveals three Engaged Cities Award winners at CityLabDC; a potential department merger in Chicago sparks a controversy within the civic tech community there; and more.

by / October 31, 2019
James Anderson of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Lamia Kamal-Chaoui of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development hold a new report on government innovation at CityLabDC.

With civic tech and government innovation work thriving on an international scale, stakeholders have created a new interactive map with an accompanying report aimed at tracking related projects across the globe.

The map and report are born of a collaboration between Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and interested parties can view each of them here. They were unveiled earlier this week at CityLabDC, a global summit billed by organizers as “the preeminent meeting of city leaders and the top minds in urbanism and city planning, economics, education, art and architecture, community development, and business.”

The session unveiling the map was led in part by James Anderson, who is the head of government innovation for Bloomberg Philanthropies. At CityLab, Anderson noted that it has been roughly a decade since this sort of work has evolved from fringe usage into a viable movement. Part of the hope for the map, he said, is that it will help track investments being made into the work as well as the corresponding benefits for people and quality of life that grow out of those investments. 

Anderson was joined at the panel announcing the map by Mayor Victoria Woodards of Tacoma, Wash.; Mayor Dagur Eggertsson of Reykjavik, Iceland; and Lamia Kamal-Chaoui, who is the director of the Center for Entrepreneurship, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, Regions, and Cities with OECD. The stories and insights they shared jointly emphasized some of the tentpoles of successful government innovation work, including creating a culture that enables experimentation, having dedicated staffers in city hall working on innovation, embracing human-centered design and more.

The map and report identify and catalog all of this, formally laying out key areas influencing city innovation: strategy and approaches, staffing and structure, data use and management, and evaluation. The report, which is based on a survey of more than 80 international cities, determined that ability to innovate depends primarily on bold leadership, skilled staff and a strong focus on data as it applies to targeting outcomes plus also measuring progress. 

To help, Bloomberg Philanthropies also announced a new program for cities, within which they can learn how to accelerate their innovation work. The program is open to all cities who have a chief innovation officer on staff. Cities selected for the program will be able to choose up to dozen staff members from across the government to participate alongside the CIO, learning new ways to solve problems facing residents.

In addition, each city will receive a dedicated design coach, virtual classes and a support network. The program is nine months long, and applications will open in November. For more information, cities can contact organizers by email at innovationtraining@bloomberg.org.

Cities of Service Unveils Engaged Cities Award Winners

Also at CityLab, which was held in DC, three cities netted $75,000-awards for doing innovative work in collaboration with their residents.

This was Cities of Service’s Engaged Cities Award. The winners were Flint, Mich., Plymouth in the United Kingdom and San Francisco.

The premise of the award is that cities are rich with citizens who have skills that can be used to solve civic challenges. The award goes to cities that find actionable ways to bridge the gap between those skills and the needs of government. This is the second year for the award, which is underwritten by Bloomberg Philanthropies, and has in the past seen projects that use citizen-sourced data to revitalize neighborhoods, or crowdsource ideas to use community funds, or capitalize on pro-bono volunteering in difficult fields.

This year's three winners were picked from a field of more than 100 applicants in Europe and the Americas. The $75,000 prizes can be used at the discretion of the winning cities to support further citizen engagement in the service of solving shared problems.

The work in Flint involved responding to property blight that has resulted from a massive drop there in population. This specifically meant the Flint Property Portal, which residents can use to quickly and easily report info about properties. Data collected through the portal has helped the city earn a $60 million blight elimination grant from the U.S. Treasury Hardest Hit Fund. That money has subsequently helped with the elimination of 4,000 blighted structures. All told, residents in Flint have used the portal to submit more than 100,000 messages. 

Plymouth, meanwhile, created an online platform for residents to propose improvement projects and also to give monetary donations to the work. While San Francisco built a program called Civic Bridge that connected volunteers from the private sector with city staff, who subsequently worked together on solutions for problems. All told, Civic Bridge has involved 26 city departments within 38 projects, and officials estimate that companies have provided $3.9 million in pro-bono services that way. 

More information about the award can be found at engagedcitiesaward.org.

Potential Department Merger in Chicago Sparks Controversy in Tech Community

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s proposed budget for 2020 suggests combining the Chicago Department of Innovation and Technology with its Department of Fleet and Facilities — a move that has now drawn a letter of questions and concern signed by civic tech leaders in the city. 

The budget suggests the two existing departments would be merged to form a new Department of Asset and Information Management. The letter is largely probing in nature, noting that those who have written about it don’t feel as if they have all the information they should about a proposal that stands to change so much.

“As members representing Chicago’s civic tech community,” the signees wrote, “we believe this proposal represents a significant transformation with many far-reaching consequences for the future of Chicago’s digital services and infrastructure.”

The questions involve matters of cybersecurity, reducing IT budgeting, examples of other major cities that have successfully carried out such a merger, how will Chicago stay competitive with other cities that maintain dedicated digital services delivery teams, and more. 

The signees include the president of Chicago’s massive weekly civic tech group, Chi Hack Night, Derek Eder; former Chicago Chief Data Officer Tom Schenk; former Illinois CIO Greg Wass; Eric Sherman of the Office of Design and Delivery in Austin, Texas; former Los Angeles Chief Data Officer Abhi Nemani; and Luke Stowe, the CIO of nearby Evanston, Ill., among others. 

Zack Quaintance Assistant News Editor

Zack Quaintance is the assistant news editor for Government Technology. His background includes writing for daily newspapers across the country and developing content for a software company in Austin, Texas. He is now based in Washington, D.C. He can be reached via email.

Platforms & Programs