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Boston Hires Second-Ever Chief Digital Officer

Jeanethe Falvey, former digital director for National Geographic, said her personal mission includes helping people understand the role they’re playing in the cities, states and nations where they live.

by / October 11, 2017

The city of Boston has named Jeanethe Falvey, former director of digital strategy at the National Geographic Society, as its second-ever chief digital officer (CDO), Mayor Martin Walsh announced Oct. 10.

Falvey will replace the city's inaugural CDO Lauren Lockwood, who helped to launch the website, Lockwood announced her departure from the city suddenly in mid-May.

Lockwood, one of Government Technology’s Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers of 2017, also created the city’s digital team and helped make around 20,000 pages of Web content more easily reachable and understandable in re-envisioning its website.  

In a statement, Walsh said the city is pleased to welcome Falvey "as we continue to use our digital platforms to improve quality of life for our residents."

A native New Englander, Falvey said she and her digital team of a dozen hope to further transform Bostonians’ relationship with their government by making city services more mobile and easily accessible.

During her tenure with the National Geographic Society, Falvey helped to ensure the nonprofit arm of the organization had a website that supported its work and mission — even as it was purchased and divided by 20th Century Fox. The experience showed her the true power of a precision-built, data-driven website, she said.

Falvey said her ideas for extending the city's online reach center on digital identity and personalization, and potentially streamlining how residents engage with the city’s 71 departments.

“I’d like to see how the digital services we provide can actually boost civic engagement,” she said, emphasizing the need to provide a welcoming online experience not just for users “but making sure that people feel safe sharing certain information with us and feel safe perhaps getting a city account with us, and being able to manage and track their activity through that.”

It’s a sense of mission she identified in her nearly eight years at the EPA — spanning both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama presidencies — when a conversation with members of the National Archives and Records Administration prompted her to use social media to revive interest in the Documerica Project.

The 1971-1976 photojournalism endeavor, sponsored by the fledgling EPA to document the state of the environment amid the American experience, had been boxed up in the National Archives and largely forgotten.

Once the rescanned images from well-known photographers had a new Flickr home, Falvey drove significant interest there and to a new companion page, State of the Environment, empowering more than 3,000 visitors to submit photographs updating earlier scenes and documenting new environmental issues.

“That project is still a huge part of me. It’s a huge part of my own kind of personal mission of just helping people understand the role they’re playing in the city, in the country, in the state in which they live. In the environment in which they live. Helping people see those connections and feel a responsibility to that is why I do the work that I do,” Falvey said.

The work awaiting her in Boston will be ensuring equity and access to digital services, she said, and strengthening a sense of trust in the city’s 311 system by reassuring residents that a call to 311 will generate a response.

In order to engage and streamline users’ experiences at My Boston, Falvey said she hopes to move the city toward single-user accounts and, ideally, a single sign-on — both aimed at unifying and increasing access to content.

“My vision, although not fully conceived yet, is that five years from now, even two years from now, anyone who has a smartphone will be able to look at their My Boston account from it and will be able to see pull up any records of any engagement they’ve had with the city, any payment, any pending permits that they’ve requested,” Falvey said.

Unlike their private counterparts, public government services don’t offer the draw of flashy retail and social media sites. That’s something the new CDO said she hopes to address as well.

“It’s not just that they’re signing in and seeing an account, but they’re actually wanting to use it. Getting creative, actually boosting civic engagement and giving some sort of credit for that engagement is something that I’m really excited to dive into,” she said. “Hopefully it will be good for them and good for us.”

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Theo Douglas Staff Writer

Theo Douglas is a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.

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