Empathy Jam: New York City, August 2016
We need to insist on collaboration not merely as an ideal, but as a basic design element for government.1
-- The Collaborative State
This book is about how governments can support their core functions by developing new strategies for utilizing technology and data.
In the 21st century, governments make extensive use of software, data, and technology to provide public services. Government technology assets are often poorly designed, outdated, and difficult to maintain. Governments face unique challenges in obtaining and implementing technology solutions, and in hiring and retaining people with sophisticated technology skills. Governments can augment their toolsets for developing and implementing new technology solutions by developing strategies for engaging and collaborating with people in their local technology communities.
There are pockets of innovative and talented people in every state, city, and town in the U.S. These individuals might work for private or public organizations by day, but do innovative things outside of normal work hours or on weekends. Many are interested in helping others and are attracted to complex problems and challenges. Some may have unique skills that they can bring to bear on an important issue affecting the work of government. Many also feel invested in their communities and would like to help address problems affecting real people in their cities if given the chance.
New civic technology groups are being created around the country, many of which are part of a national network such as the Code for America Brigade program. Even in places that lack a formal organization, local citizens have probably started their own informal network. Regardless of their current level of engagement, these people are present in your community and are a resource that governments can leverage to help solve civic problems and provide new insights.
People who work outside of government can provide a new and unique perspective on complex or difficult issues; they are less likely to be encumbered by political or administrative roadblocks that typically hamper the bureaucracy; they may have proficiency in technologies or skills that governments face challenges in acquiring; they may be able to work more effectively across organizational and governmental boundaries; and they can often move more quickly to build out ideas and implement solutions.
Governments already have some well developed mechanisms for partnering with people outside the bureaucracy in instances where governments may not have the skills needed in-house to address a specific issue or problem. However, these existing mechanisms are not always a good fit for the kinds of collaborations discussed in this book, which have the potential to provide numerous benefits to governments and those they serve.
There are some impediments that could hinder government partnership with outside groups. These groups may use platforms and tools that are not supported inside the bureaucracy; they may not place the same value or priority on problems or issues as those working inside government; and they may not appreciate constraints that can sometimes slow down the rate at which decisions get made and solutions are implemented inside government.2 In addition to making communication and collaboration with outside groups more challenging, these factors can lead to miscommunication, frustration, and apathy in outside technology groups to becoming more civically involved.
These new opportunities for collaborating often occur after traditional work hours, or on weekends. This may cause issues for those in public service who work more traditional hours and who may be subject to policies and practices that reinforce work during traditional business hours, on site in government offices.3
This book offers strategies to overcome these barriers and leverage the talents of those outside government for the public benefit.
This book is meant for public servants and people working inside government (at the federal, state, and municipal levels) who want to connect with innovators and technologists outside of the bureaucracy. It is meant to complement other useful sources of information for government employees on engagement and outreach around data and technology.4
It is designed to help civil servants find, communicate, and collaborate with people doing interesting and valuable work-particularly those working with technology-that can benefit or support the mission of government. It highlights strategies to help government employees leverage the talents of smart, passionate people in their local technology community, as well as those further afield.
This book was written, in part, using responses from a survey of government employees (and former employees) from a number of different jurisdictions that have well-established relationships with outside groups of volunteer technologists.
This book is organized into four main sections.
The first section discusses how these new kinds of collaborations with local technology communities fit into a long tradition in government of tapping into expertise from outside of the bureaucracy.
The second section uses the results from the survey of current and former city government employees to highlight specific benefits of working with outside technology groups, and details several case studies which describe how cities are successfully collaborating with these groups.
The third section lists some of the challenges and limitations of working with outside technology groups, and also draws heavily on the responses from current and former city government employees.
The final section lists some specific strategies and tactics that can be used by government employees to identify, communicate, and collaborate with members of their local technology community.
Mark Headd is the former Chief Data Officer for the City of Philadelphia, one of the first municipal Chief Data Officers in the United States.
Mark has over a dozen years of combined experience working at the federal, state, and local level in the U.S., including one of the largest states in the nation and one of the largest cities. His experience spans both the executive and legislative branches of government: he has worked as a policy adviser, a budget and tax analyst, and as a government technology executive.
Before joining the City of Philadelphia, Mark served as the chief policy and budget adviser for the State of Delaware's Department of Technology and Information. He has also served as Director of the Delaware Government Information Center, as a technology adviser to former Delaware Governor Thomas R. Carper, and in the New York State Senate as a budget and finance analyst.
Self taught in technology and software development, he holds a Master's Degree in Public Administration from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. He is a former adjunct instructor at the University of Delaware where he taught a course in electronic government in the School of Public Policy and Administration, and is a former instructor at Wilmington University where he taught a course in government finance.
The Collaborative State: How Working Together Can Transform Public Services, ed. Simon Parker and Niamh Gallagher (London: Demos, 2007).
For example, requirements to be inclusive and transparent which often add additional steps and time to processes that select or implement technology solutions, or the typical procurement and budgeting processes which can takes months and even years.
As an example, it is uncommon for governments to have formal remote work policies that would allow employees to work outside of traditional government offices.
The Center for Government Excellence at Johns Hopkins University maintains an extensive collection of free resources on using data for better decision making and engaging with outside data users at https://www.gitbook.com/@centerforgov.