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Bloomington Innovation Chief Wants Less Money for More Projects

In the first official report in two years, Innovation Director Devta Kidd told leaders of the Indiana city that she plans to ask for less money during this year’s budgeting process while moving ahead with more initiatives.

by Kurt Christian, The Herald-Times / June 13, 2019

(TNS) — In the two years since Bloomington's Office of Innovation gave an official report on its activities, several projects have spawned new city services and even more have been put into motion.

The city's first innovation director, Tom Miller, left his position last summer amid health issues. The city hired Devta Kidd as his replacement in January, and since the office's last report was given in June 2017, Kidd has spun pre-existing innovation projects forward into new programs and events.

During her first annual report, given during Wednesday's city council meeting, Kidd said her department is planning to ask for less money during this year's budget hearings to enact even more innovative city services.

One project explored during the Office of Innovation's first two years was the automatic transcription of city meetings.

"A lot of transcription technologies were explored and none of them really fit what we needed," Kidd said.

As the city pursued that technology, YouTube developed its own transcription and captioning services. Rather than re-invent the wheel, Kidd said the city plans to require Community Access Television Services (CATS) to upload its recording of city meetings to not just its own video database, but also to YouTube to take advantage of those transcription services.

Kidd also detailed how the Office of Innovation has helped the Bloomington Fire Department and the city's Housing and Neighborhood Development Department digitize their field reports so that they might be evaluated for trends. The city purchased two drones and is not only creating guidelines for how they may be used, but is also planning a "Dronepalooza" to educate the public on unmanned aerial aircraft in September.

Kidd said the city has also adopted new project management software, used Facebook Live to conduct virtual town halls and worked with the public works department to catalog the city's street, sidewalk and sign quality in three months rather than the three years previously required.

For 2019, Kidd said she has three new goals for the department. She's hoping to identify internal barriers to departmental flow by increasing organizational effectiveness. She plans to do that by helping departments analyze the more-than-180 data sets available though the city's B-Clear portal.

To nurture the culture of innovation, Kidd said she plans to leverage those places where city employees are already showing innovation by creating innovation squads.

"We have interns crawling through the organization and capturing those stories," Kidd said.

One example Kidd provided came from the city's fire department, which created its own drying rack for firefighters' gear out of PVC pipe and blow dryers. Finally, Kidd said, her office plans to prepare the organization for the future by applying for Bloomberg Philanthropies' "What Works Cities" certification and to become a member of MetroLab Network, two organizations assisting local governments that use data to address the challenges of rapid changes in technology.

© 2019 the Herald-Times (Bloomington, Ind.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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