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Illinois' New Education Cluster CIO Talks Training, Upcoming Work

After holding tech and innovation positions in government in Boston and Rhode Island, Kevin Parker discusses priorities for his new position in Illinois.

Kevin Parker, who was formerly Rhode Island’s director of government innovation, has been appointed the CIO for the Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology’s education cluster.

Parker started work in Illinois in July after spending more than a year and a half doing tech and innovation work for the state government in Rhode Island, where his title was director of government innovation. Before that, Parker spent just over eight years in a similar capacity with the municipal government in Boston. The Illinois position will have Parker overseeing state work that essentially falls at the intersection of education and tech and innovation.

During a recent phone conversation with Government Technology about his new role, Parker said the main thrust of the job is “coordinating the relationships with internal, education-focused agencies.” Although there are also outward-facing efforts underway in his office too. Parker also identified four specific categories that his office’s work falls into.

The first was working with the governor’s statewide data team and children’s cabinet, a group of senior-level leaders convened to improve the lives and futures of Illinois youth. That group has seven projects underway — ranging from early-childhood development work to apprenticeships for high school students — and Parker’s office is working to support those projects with data and other insights.

Next, Parker’s office is working to strengthen collaborations related to education, both within the state government and with key external partners, most prominently the University of Illinois system, which has campuses throughout the state. The collaboration with U of I is one with much potential, Parker said, noting that one key way the state can benefit is by lowering barriers of entry for college students who are interested in gov tech, even if it’s as simple as making sure that job postings are “written in a way that’s relevant and attractive to today’s workforce.”

A third major area of focus is digital literacy and inclusion, which is increasingly a priority for state and local governments across the country. Parker’s office is hoping to partner with school districts and other education agencies in Illinois to make sure that all students there have access to high-speed Internet, whether they live in Chicago, Peoria, Mount Vernon or Rockford.

And finally, Parker’s arrival in the state came just a few months before the launch of the Illinois Government Innovation Academy, which is designed to bolster gov tech knowledge, buy-in and skills among the state government’s 60,000-some employees by facilitating a five-week leadership development program, among other efforts.

“We want to make sure we’re helping to lead the state as best we can,” Parker said, “not only in our external, nontraditional approaches, but also with our own internal staff.”

The academy, with its lessons on everything from basic gov tech work to human-centered design as it relates to government, is key to bolstering the culture of innovation in Illinois, Parker said.

Jennifer Schultz, a spokesperson for the state, said they were happy to have someone like Parker to bring a new level of energy and a new way of thinking to the Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine