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?
Open data has proved to be immensely successful and provided other cities with innovative solutions that allow municipalities to provide a better level of services to its citizens. The City of Austin is well on its way to providing useful data in an open portal with the creation of data.austintexas.gov. I think what’s useful and what’s timely is definitely a subjective marker and difficult to say how exactly I would support the placement of such data anywhere. Rather, I believe that we should continue to encourage our departments to get any and all data up on our open data portal as soon as is practicable. We can measure what’s useful by continuing to engage the community and constantly asking for feedback.
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 am likely one of the most avid users of facebook and twitter on Council. I believe its a great way to get feedback and provide opportunities for people to be a part of municipal government. Most days, I make it a point to post or tweet what we’re doing on Council or where I am hoping to establish dialogue and maintain multiple avenues of communication.
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?
This is obviously a moving target. I think the first step was updating the back and front end of our website so that we can begin to implement more innovative tools like the open data portal. Further, and I know that our CTM staff is working diligently on this, ensuring that our new product is rolled out and all the bugs are worked out has to be the next step. While this take time, and its happening not as fast as some might like, I think we are well on our way to creating that environment where we can actively address needs and respond to citizen inquiries. Identifying the needs and creating a quality product to the community requires a continual evaluation and I think this is a job that will never really be “done.” Its an evolving process that I’m confident City staff has a handle on. Given our current state, I feel its more important to let staff know that we support their efforts and stand ready to act should there be a need.
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?
Open311 is a fantastic idea and its done some amazing things in terms of transparency and opening the flow of information in other cities. I think this is something we should definitely look at. My only question, that requires more study on my part, is whether or not our 311 system provides that functionality. If it does, then I think we should proceed to something like Open311 based on community feedback and discussions sooner than later. If our system does not provide that functionality, I would support examining the feasibility of enhancing our current system or finding a different solution that would allow us to create an Open311 environment.
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.
I definitely support the functionality and coordination of these types of services/applications. It is not clear to me whether or not these aren’t functions that we’re already working on accomplishing. One fundamental different between say Philadelphia and San Francisco from Austin is that those other cities are a fundamentally different form of government. Both Philadelphia and San Francisco have strong mayor forms of government that allow the Mayor or the elected body to create these types of positions. Austin City Council is precluded from creating these types of positions by City Charter. I believe its an important question to ask of the City Manager and it would be a useful exercise to ask whether or not our current staffing configuration would benefit from such a configuration. The last thing we want to do is create more bureaucracy if its not fundamentally necessary.
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 think my answer to the previous question applies here as well. Would it be helpful to raise the level of visibility? Absolutely. Would this work best for Austin? I cannot say that it would. I would rely on staff to undertake that analysis and provide some feedback as to whether or not these positions and programs would enhance and strengthen our current efforts.
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?
Our IT priorities are two-fold. We should be providing our staff with the necessary tools to provide a high level of services to its citizens, and the products and services that we should be transparent, easy to use and cost-effective. Could the current level of budgetary resources be enhanced? Yes. Our continual task, living in the budget realities of the last several fiscal cycles, is how we balance that need with the needs of other priorities from infrastructure and transportation to parks and libraries. One of the most difficult challenges is making the right capital intensive investments that provide dividends in the long run.
For me, that’s where I’d like to focus my efforts. Where can we enhance our IT resources now that invest in the future but provide for budgetary relief years out? That challenge is coupled with the rapidly changing environment where products and applications are outdated almost from the time they’re released. We see that in our large lease contracts for computers and software for City staff. Innovation can open many doors, but if our staff don’t have the tools to utilize and build upon that innovation, its useless. The best example of that is our rebuild of the city website. That took an enormous upfront investment which will allow us to incorporate APIs like Open311, Twitter and Youtube, but weren’t possible with the back end before. We have to keep looking for those solutions. My hope is that with the help of our Code for America fellows, and the hackathons that are happening now, that we can start building off those low-cost, crowd-sources solutions that can really help move us forward. I’ll be looking for that next big investment that can help us get further down the road and supporting it wholeheartedly.