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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