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Philadelphia Appoints its First Director of Civic Technology

In this position, Tim Wisniewski will leverage technology like mobile apps for civic gains, and will work with the CIO and other city departments on how to be more efficient.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and CIO Adel Ebeid are strong proponents of civic technology, as shown by the Philly 311 and Licenses & Inspections mobile apps. And on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, the two took their dedication a step further by naming Tim Wisniewski as the city's first-ever Director of Civic Technology, according to a blog from the city's Office of the Managing Director.

This position, Wisniewski says, was created as part of the city's strategy for Innovation Management under the direction of both Nutter and Ebeid.

"At the Innovation Management Team, we want to leverage the huge -- and growing -- pool of resources and enthusiasm around civic technology here in Philadelphia in an official capacity," Wisniewski said, adding that the team wants to help civic apps have a sustainable impact beyond individual hackathons by partnering with civic coders, sharing data and collaborating on problems that technology could help solve. "And we want to apply the same technology and methods used at hackathons on the inside -- to help city departments reach their goals of improving efficiency and responsiveness."

Wisniewski previously served as an assistant managing director at the Managing Director's Office, where he provided project management for the Philly 311 mobile app, among many other technical projects.

Having been in his new position nearly a week, Wisniewski says he already has some ideas he'd like to see through to implementation, such as engaging departments -- who know their processes and their data better than anyone -- and connecting them with the technical resources and tools necessary to bring their ideas to fruition. "Specifically, we’d like to take advantage of the possibilities provided by mobile devices, both for internal uses like city service crews interacting with their work order system from the field to provide faster service," he said, "and external uses like the PhillyRising mobile app, which will connect neighbors to community groups, facilities, and each other."

The Innovation Management Team, Wisniewski says, also hopes to build on the civic engagement platform provided by the Philly 311 Mobile app whenever possible. For example, rather than building a separate application, the team launched the Election Day app with polling place lookup, ballot preview, and research of candidates, and the Licenses & Inspections app with property permits/violations history through the 311 app -- "an existing tool that we’ve already paid for and 10,000+ residents already have," he said.

When it comes to civic technology, Wisniewski said the products he's seen come out of hackathons often provide outside-the-box approaches to problem solving and civic engagement.

"These apps are also very inclusive," he said. "They engage the public to help solve problems, and provide information in a way that’s more practical to the average user. And they’re usually open source, which allows other cities to benefit and even improve on them."

Photo of Tim Wisniewski courtesy of Twitter/Tim Wisniewski