The city of Orlando, Fla., put innovation on the civic map in 2014 with the hiring of its first innovation director, Matt Broffman. Now the city is poised to take that effort to a significantly higher level.
Where other municipalities might grow innovation incrementally – hiring a data guru here, an analyst there – Broffman, pictured at left, is about to dramatically scale up his one-man shop. He expects to hire five new staffers before winter is out, in a push to make digital government a focal point of the city’s citizen offerings.
“A lot of cities struggle to build out their digital services because they have assigned two people who also have other jobs,” he said. “When we do things as a city, we do them the right way, and the right way to do this is to make sure we are providing the resources.”
Orlando’s push toward innovation didn’t start out with such grand ambitions.
Broffman came to the job with a background in journalism and entrepreneurship. He served previously as founder of the Bungalower, a blog about downtown Orlando and surrounding neighborhoods.
He brought to the table a passion for what he describes as “human-centered design,” the notion that civic problems are best solved by starting with looking at citizen needs and wants. Consider the customer experience first and build solutions around that.
With this in mind he led an effort to examine the city’s digital offerings, and quickly started advocating that Orlando put more of its services online. With this orientation, the innovation effort moved out from Mayor Buddy Dyer’s office to operate under the IT shop, where digital resources were more readily available.
In 2016 the city launched an open data site
, and more recently a beta site
went live with access to a dozen city services.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Broffman has identified 225 city services that could be Web-enabled and his plan calls for 50 of these to go live by the summer, hence the need to hire a full-fledged team, pronto.
The innovation team
Of the five planned hires, three will be “product managers,” meaning they will be dedicated to supporting the digitization of specific city functions.
Permitting, for example, cuts across multiple city departments. Rather than leave each department to put its own permitting process online, he’ll have a permitting line of business in the innovation shop, someone who understands how permitting should work as a digital service, regardless of where the permit originates.
There will likewise be a team member who manages the reporting of community issues online, and someone to handle all volunteering functions. “Every one of our departments has volunteer opportunities and it doesn’t make sense to have 154 volunteer forms. We want people to go online and have just one form for that,” Broffman said.
In addition to the product managers, he’s looking to hire a digital services designer, whose job it will be to help staff from across city agencies to thoughtfully digitize their department’s various services. Finally, he needs a software engineer to develop prototypes for online services and to connect related services on the back end.
Broffman estimates combined salaries for the innovation team will run $500,000 a year.
To win budget backing for his vision, he led the release of those first 12 services and then polled residents about their experiences. Citizen satisfaction rose 60 percent with the online offerings, a metric that helped to win funding for the plan.
“It was that quantitative improvement, combined with the anecdotal information. You don’t often see people posting on Facebook about how easy it was to fix a pothole,” he said. “When the mayor saw that, the question quickly became: What’s the plan to do more?”
He also makes the case for a more tangible return on investment. “We have millions of people on our website looking for information. If half of them can find that information online and not call our staff on the phone, that is a huge savings to the city,” he said.
Key to the effort is a strategy of staff engagement. When Broffman moves to digitize a service, he doesn’t just start writing code. Instead he rounds up owners of the civic process and puts them in a four-day workshop where they talk through the citizen need and strategize the implementation.
“We have surveyed the staff who were part of this process and every one of them said they would recommend it to their colleagues. They gained a new empathy for what it means to be a resident seeking government services. It changes your perception about how we can provide better information up front, and that makes you want to improve that interaction,” he said.
To Broffman, that sense of empathy is inextricably linked to the processes of innovation.
“Human-centered design is the idea that building a service or writing a policy starts with understanding what this means to our residents,” he said. “First let’s figure out how we can create a positive resident impact, and then figure out how to roll that out, rather than starting with a regulatory or a policy point of view.”
Looking ahead, Broffman acknowledges having set himself a pretty aggressive timeline with the push to take 38 more services online by the summer. “When you are designing a four-day workshop and engaging staff for each service, you need to schedule that time and make sure staff has the time to get the user feedback before you move forward,” he said.
It helps to have clear buy-in from the mayor. “By him making this a priority and having him communicate that to staff, that helps us manage through a lot of the minutiae,” he said.