1. Encourage open data
Will you encourage City departments to place useful data on the open data portal on a timely basis? If so, how will you do this?
Yes, I will encourage departments to place useful data on the portal in a timely fashion. As a member of the Council’s Emerging Technology and Telecommunications Subcommittee, I'm already asking for periodic reports and will continue efforts to make city data available to the public; in particular, 911 calls, crime and arrest figures, and traffic counts should be readily available through the city's website and are not. As a frequent user of census.gov, bea.gov, bls.gov, and other federal data sites, I believe the city should maintain the highest standards for both accuracy and ease of use.
2. Social media
How do you and/or your staff view the value of social media in promoting citizen engagement and service delivery? What has been your experience with social media?
I believe social media is a useful way to promote civic involvement and to provide services and information. Elected officials are already using social networks and microblogs, and the city has been providing video content for years. But further use of blogs, wikis, and (in particular) ideation programs can help the city tap into the wisdom of crowds and stimulate interactions more intensive and productive than the usual public hearing. The city's effort to make current content easily accessible through social media is another step in the right direction.
The City will have to work through a significant amount of open meetings and public information law before it can begin using some social media effectively, but we have begun to do so and will eventually be able to use social media more effectively.
3. Website usability and content
What steps (if any) will you take to address the needs of community groups and concerned citizens seeking to improve website usability, identify missing content, and enhance the information richness of the City’s website?
Increased information availability is a significant benefit for city residents and should be a high priority for the city. I will (of course) commit to keeping an open door to all citizen groups, to work together with them to improve the City’s technology, and to facilitate working relationships between stakeholders and city staff to the same end. Nevertheless, the heavy lifting will have to be done by the IT staff, both at CTM and in the operating departments. The website is still a disaster and the city's consultants seem to be better at producing reports than usability, but the commitment to open source software and continuous improvement should yield a better result in the long run.
4. 311 Services
Do you support studying whether Austin should join cities such as Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. in pledging support for a publicly-accessible open-standard protocol for 311 services, such as the currently proposed Open311 API specification?
Absolutely. The Open311 API, in particular, will help people use existing applications and encourage development of more applications. Manor and DeLeon are currently the only two API endpoints, however, so it may be we need to work through some issues of Texas law. Many other cities have dealt with privacy and similar concerns, so I don't think we should have any particular problems.
5. Director of Digital Innovation
Do you support the designation of a Director of Digital Innovation to be accountable for innovation with the City’s digital portfolio (e.g. website, open data, civic applications, open government technology)? Please consult the following article for further information of this type of public servant position.
Yes. At a minimum, someone needs to be in charge of continuous improvement of the website and provision of open data. Austin has a large and diverse community of programmers and developers, and it only makes sense to have someone on the inside trying to channel that energy for civic good. One modest suggestion: “Digital Innovation” may be too narrow a focus. The big game here isn't improving availability of data or development of applications, it's improving standard operating procedures in our operating departments for better efficiency and effectiveness.
6. City strategy for digital innovation
San Francisco and Philadelphia have Innovation Offices led by a Chief Innovation Officer. Boston has the Urban Mechanicsprogram. New York City has a Chief Digital Officer and a Digital Roadmap. Which of combination (if any) of these organizational approaches do you believe will best encourage digital innovation for Austin?
I like the look and feel of the New Urban Mechanics program. It's centralized in the Mayor's Office (good for control and continuous effort), but appears to have built partnerships with a variety of city agencies and private sector partners. It's also got a proper sense of direction: Three broad initiatives allow it to focus initial attention on a limited number of issues and people, getting to know the data sets, application opportunities, and personalities well enough to create value. It also doesn't appear to be guided by a strategic plan, which is a plus; a plan in this field would be obsolescent as soon as it was (virtually) published.
7. Budgetary resources
Do you believe the current level of budgetary resources allocated towards City information technology is sufficient? What should be the City’s IT priorities?
I think we have committed a significant and appropriate amount of resources to IT, but I’m unsure about whether we’ve used those resources for the best outcomes. I think many of the issues you’ve raised in this questionnaire bring up areas where we could potentially reallocate some of these resources. Our priorities should be IT investments that improve city services and efficiency and increase transparency.