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NYC Digital Playbook Prioritizes Service Delivery

A new portal makes the city's technology goals public and invites citizens to comment on NYC's progress.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new initiative May 9 that seeks to increase civic engagement and make it easier for citizens to interact with their city government. Through a blog post, de Blasio introduced the NYC Digital Playbook, an evolving portal that showcases the city’s technology principles and strategies, while inviting public input. The No. 1 principle of the city, according to the portal, is to “make services accessible.”

“The New York City Digital Playbook outlines how we want residents to experience city services and how we will use digital tools to strengthen communities, online and off,” de Blasio’s post reads. “The guidance within the Playbook will challenge all of our agencies and service providers to rethink the way they reach New Yorkers. … This is an internal vision and strategy document that we will immediately begin to implement across government.”

In addition to the Playbook’s digital presence, the city also created physical cards, a “strategy deck, that are being distributed amongst city officials," de Blasio wrote, noting that each card features one of the city’s principles, along with explanations and tips on the back. The purpose of the cards, he wrote, is to inform and inspire leaders on how to improve city services.

And according to Chief Digital Officer Jessica Singleton, coordinating digital projects among agencies and all levels of government is a key tenet of the Playbook.

"But we believe it's also important to improve our collaboration with the civic tech community," she wrote in an email to Government Technology. "By doubling-down on our commitment to openness and creating a formal pipeline from government to New York City's incomparable tech and design community, we will serve New Yorkers in a smarter and more effective way.”

The NYC Digital Playbook’s creation was inspired by the creation of a Web tool called the Pre-K finder, de Blasio explained, a map-based tool that makes it possible for smartphone users to find pre-K facilities that meet specified criteria. The experience of comparing the old way of doing things, which involved downloading PDFs and possibly faxing documents, and the new tool illuminated a global need in city government to improve service delivery, he continued.

The first iteration of the playbook was made possible from the city’s interviews with residents, civic technology leaders, service providers and private companies. The anonymous interviews allowed the city to obtain a holistic and honest view of what people wanted from their city, according to de Blasio. Though the Playbook is considered an internal operations document, he explained, it’s being shared with everyone in the pursuit of transparency, public feedback and progress.

The Playbook can be viewed and downloaded from its online resting place at Each of the 12 strategies can be browsed in detail, with each component of the strategy tagged with the office from which it originated. A comment form at the bottom of every screen invites public input.

The city's technology strategies are:

  1. Make services accessible
  2. Communicate simply
  3. Reach out to residents
  4. Test with residents
  5. Organize around needs
  6. Build city capacity
  7. Build on what works
  8. Integrate digital services with neighborhoods
  9. Create standards
  10. Design for mobile
  11. Engage private partners
  12. Be accountable and transparent
Colin wrote for Government Technology and Emergency Management from 2010 through most of 2016.