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A 10-point tech plan for Ed Murray's transition team

So he won the election. Next up on Murray's plate: Harnessing Seattle’s real technology power.
Mayor Ed Murray introduces Dwight Dively and Martha Choe as his transition team co-chairs.

Mayor Ed Murray introduces Dwight Dively and Martha Choe as his transition team co-chairs. Matt Fikse-Verkerk

Washington state has an extraordinarily robust tech community, anchored not only by big companies like Microsoft and Amazon, but by the University of Washington and an active start-up scene. Yet our city’s engagement with that tech community – and the technology used by government itself – are inadequate and falling behind other major worldwide centers of technology.

Here’s how mayor-elect Ed Murray can create a government that uses technology to facilitate citizen involvement and provide efficient effective services.

1. Appoint a Chief Innovation Officer. The Mayor needs an ambassador to the technology community with several specific duties: 1. Engaging the Seattle tech community in City Hall policy debates, 2. Promoting economic development in the Seattle area and 3. Kindling an entrepreneurial spirit within government. The CInO could also harness innovative products and services being developed in Seattle (Socrata’s GovStat performance measurement product, for example) to improve government. Boston and Philadelphia’s Mayor’s Offices of New Urban Mechanics and San Francisco’s Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation provide great models for what this position could be. 

2. Join eCityGov.net. Thirty-six cities, fire districts, libraries and other members around Seattle are a part of eCityGov.net, a set of collaborative websites that let users apply for building permits, bid on government contracts, explore parks/recreation opportunities and more. Seattle is not yet one of them. Mayor Murray should direct the city to join the coalition, which will send a signal to suburban mayors and city councils that Seattle wants to cooperate on a regional basis. Added bonus: Once these regional technology systems are connected, services such as permitting, recreation and joint procurement (which reduces the cost of buying stuff) will be improved.

3. 24/7 311. Everyone knows you call 911 in case of an emergency, but what if you just need to report a missed garbage pickup, an electrical outage or a dead animal in the street? In over 60 major cities nationwide (Seattle included), that number is 311. Here though, that line is only staffed from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on city business days – a far cry from the all-hours services employed by many other cities. Now that district-based City Council elections have passed, citizens will increasingly be calling council members to report problems. By implementing a 24/7 311 program, the city will significantly improve citizen services, keep council members sane and drive implementation across the rest of the region through eCityGov and King County government.

4. Mobilize everything. More than half of U.S. mobile phones are smartphones and over 30 percent of the adult population uses tablet computers. And yet, the City of Seattle’s website still isn’t optimized for mobile devices. The city has gotten a slow but decent start with find it fix it, an app that lets residents ID necessary repairs on local streets, and Seattle Travelers, which connects smartphone users with traffic cameras on major streets. Next up, it needs to make its entire website and all online services available on smartphones and tablets. And how about a single regional app that allows citizens across King County to report problems, like Massachusetts’ Commonwealth Connect, which works in over 40 cities and throughout the state.

5. Start Fastfwd Seattle. Philadelphia just launched an urban innovation refinery they call Fastfwd, which integrates entrepreneurs into government to create fast, innovative solutions to perplexing public safety and social issues. Instituted by Murray, this is exactly the sort of business-government-education initiative that constituents could love and which could rapidly change government for the better.

6. Harness the Internet of Things. Networked sensors and microchips have proliferated in our daily lives. With them comes the opportunity for more efficiency. LA has linked all 4,500 of its traffic signals together to ease congestion. San Francisco has done the same with parking spaces. Seattle could interconnect all of its traffic signals, sensors and parking spaces into an intelligent transportation system. It could also create utility smartgrids that use microchips in electric, water and gas meters, to monitor use minute-by-minute. Smartgrids would allow the City to turn on, monitor and shut off their utilities remotely, and allow for more exact outage detection and faster repair. Homeowners could even use smart meters to track individual appliances and faucets to reduce waste and monitor energy use, shutting off home appliances they inadvertently leave on.  


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Nov 12, 10:57 a.m. Inappropriate

I like these ideas. They will make the government more responsive and easier to get in touch with and more efficient. And networking the cameras together would help to reduce traffic congestion significantly. (This article http://ca.news.yahoo.com/blogs/geekquinox/smart-traffic-lights-game-theory-play-down-traffic-155547118.html?vp=1 shows how a 40% reduction in congestion was achieved in Toronto by linking traffic lights and traffic sensors.)

I'd add one thing to the "green neighborhoods" plan, though. The city should set a goal to eliminate home heating oil in the city limits within 10 years. This would require some incentives to property owners and perhaps to natural gas companies to run lines down streets without service.

It's a little scary to think of the number of 40 or 50 year old oil tanks sitting in the ground that are on the verge of failure. That represents a huge environmental hazard and a significant financial risk to property owners.

talisker

Posted Tue, Nov 12, 11:08 a.m. Inappropriate

Talisker:
Great idea about the oil tanks. Maybe we need a "10 points for a greener Seattle" list too.
-bill

Posted Tue, Nov 12, 12:42 p.m. Inappropriate


The City needs excellent workforce managers (and a couple of excellent librarians) more than it needs even one more green car, smart phone, or eco-techno so-called visionary.

Spare me the Chief Innovation Officer.

Posted Tue, Nov 12, 1:20 p.m. Inappropriate

This is great stuff, but how much ofitshould be region-wide and not just for one city? How about King County broadband implementation, or traffic coordination across the entire region?

Posted Tue, Nov 12, 2:23 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm not sure where Dow would get the resources to support a broad approach. I do support both, though.

Mr Baker

Posted Tue, Nov 12, 4:04 p.m. Inappropriate

Rosshunter and Mr. Baker:
Most of it probably should be region-wide, but we have to start somewhere. In my experience the suburban cities and the counties are often challenged financially just to keep services going (e.g. Metro) and don't have a lot of spare capacity. But if Seattle can implement something like 311 or complete traffic signal interconnection, with the required central technologies services (a constituent relationship management system for example), it is much easier to bring other governments on board step by step.
Boston proved this model with "Citizens Connect" now "Commonwealth Connect" and statewide.
-bill

Posted Wed, Nov 13, 2:05 p.m. Inappropriate

Bill, I like your ideas. I'm curious about your thoughts on improving Seattle's digital government services--core services like paying taxes, getting licenses and permits.

I presume you are familiar with how the UK (GOV.UK) decided to change their approach to digital government, it got some laudatory press after the failed Obamacare web launch. Basically the UK created a cabinet-level department in charge of creating and managing all digital government services. Plus they mandated a "digital by default" standard for all government services. So far it's a huge success. It's on a different scale than Seattle but there's a lot we could learn from their approach. What do you think?

rfpete

Posted Thu, Nov 14, 7:08 a.m. Inappropriate

RFPete:
I did see some of the news about the UK model and how they drove a "reinventing" of digital government in Great Britain. Haven't looked into it in detail.
Seattle - and most other cities, counties and states - already have a cabinet-level department responsible for IT. I headed that for 8+ years. Trouble is, that department operates data centers, desktop computers, networks and other infrastructure which can now be purchased - often less expensively - from cloud service providers.
We need to re-imagine the role to push forward with digital government. I hadn't really thought about it in that fashion until you mentioned it. Good idea! Food for more research and another column!
-bill

Posted Thu, Nov 14, 3:55 p.m. Inappropriate

In case you want to dig deeper into the GOV.UK approach:

Building digital by default services:
https://www.gov.uk/service-manual/start

NPR interview with GOV.UK director:
http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2013/10/23/240268497/u-k-official-urges-u-s-government-to-adopt-a-digital-core

rfpete

Posted Fri, Nov 15, 10:19 a.m. Inappropriate

Excellent, sir. Thank you again!
-bill

Posted Fri, Nov 15, 10:52 a.m. Inappropriate

Not sure how I missed this story, but really great suggestions, Bill!

picola30

Posted Sun, Nov 17, 4:24 p.m. Inappropriate

Bill - great ideas, but they can and should be the purview of a qualified, competent CTO. That should be the City's first priority.

Saratoga

Posted Mon, Nov 18, 9:59 p.m. Inappropriate

Saratoga:
I agree the Chief Technology Officer (present title) or Chief Information Officer (the more generally used title)is an important position to keep the City government's internal information technology on track and running. The problem is that having that position also interact with all the tech startups and apply their technologies to city government is too big of a job for just one person.
So I propose the Chief Innovation Officer as the "outside" tech person and the CTO as the "inside" person. This is the way San Francisco, Louisville, Boston and others do it.
On the other hand, Philly and Chicago have the two jobs in the same person.
Here's the important point: someone needs to focus on using Seattle's phenomenal startup community and their technologies to transform city government.
-bill

Posted Mon, Dec 9, 9:41 a.m. Inappropriate

TED.com just posted a talk by Toby Eccles - Invest in social change. (http://www.ted.com/talks/toby_eccles_invest_in_social_change.html)that is a similar program (Fastfwd) that the City of Philidelphia is implementing.

These concepts of bringing in private money and out of the box concepts to bear on social issues is exactly what I am attempting to do with the sub-URBAN Experience at Real View Tours (http://realviewtour.com).

Seattle, as a leader in many entrepreneurial areas, has a great opportunity to take up the problems of homelessness through such a Private Bond Program. I hope our new Mayor has the insight to begin a program such as these asap.

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