A proposal to “mind the gap”

Note: This is a project proposal I drafted in January 2020, and have been sharing privately for feedback. Now I’m publishing in hopes for broader input.

There are currently over 20 million government employees in the United States. Although rigorous surveying is lacking, anecdotal evidence suggests most are drastically under-equipped to use, leverage, or oversee technology, even though technology is becoming an essential element of policy making, policy implementation, and general administrative operations.

The high profile failures of projects such as Healthcare.gov only signal the broader issue. Estimates suggest 70% of government technology projects fail, and even that number fails…

A look back at the last decade

Governments have taken various approaches to reorganization for the digital age. The particular names and focus areas of the leadership teams/positions in each jurisdiction varies; however, these models suggest a common theme:

  • elevate the position of the IT department — not merging it with others, but instead emphasizing its unique cross-cutting value;
  • build out the data and analytics capability within the IT organization;
  • create Mayor’s Office tech capacity & policy expertise to advance mayoral priorities through tech and innovation city-wide.

This approach has shown to lead to visible policy advancements, operational efficiencies, and long-term, significant cost-savings.

(Note: These descriptions are…

I have long been, and continue to be a staunch supporter of SaaS in government. The experiences too common, the budgets too tight, and the track record too poor to expect a custom solution to always work. (In fact less that 70% do.)

That said, it’s worth noting that there’s an unintentional consequence from the emergence of SaaS: it makes things seem simple. When they are really not. Not at all. (And I’m not going to name names.)

No where more so in the data, open data, and data analytics sector.

I honestly believe the lie being bandied about by…

Idea for enabling better choices as we reopen businesses in a COVID world

I’ve been asking this question about once a week on Twitter to no avail:

So I figured I must not be being clear enough… and will explain it here.

Here’s the idea: cities and counties already rigorously inspect local businesses on a whole host of things, ranging from fire prevention to plumbing. Crucially, counties perform inspections on local restaurants through their departments of public health (DPH). …

I recently was asked to give a talk to Code for Milwaukee on their first anniversary. This happened to also by my 10th anniversary in civic and government tech.

In honor of both, I put together my 5 top learnings from the last decade in the areas of technology, open data, community engagement, and service delivery.

A brief summary is below, and the full deck is available on LinkedIn.

Low Code

Photo of the destruction near the Red Fort during the Emergency of 1975 via Flickr

(Given the recent discussions of a declaration of a national emergency in the United States, I have decided to publish an old essay I wrote about the historic Indian Emergency of 1975.)

“Let us endeavor to make the best of that which is allotted to us and, by finding out both its good and its evil tendencies, be able to foster the former and repress the latter to the utmost.”

— Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

The Indian Emergency in 1975 was more than the product of an ambitious prime minister. Yes, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s zeal played a…

Photo credit: Chris Foreman

Back in 2012, while at Code for America and we were thinking about how to build out the government technology industry, we had this crazy idea: let’s get all the best GovTech startups together, and try to help them out. Let’s try to help them scale, and in doing so, let’s show the investors, and the press, and everyone else who questioned that there could be a disruptive force happening in this legacy, old industry, a new source of momentum. So we started a first-of-its-kind government startup program, the CfA Accelerator. On the first class’s first day, we asked each…

Over the last ten years, I have seen firsthand the leaps and strides governments have taken to catch up to the private sector’s pace of innovation. It started with digital engagement: websites and social media. Then we moved forward to providing greater digital access through open data and digital services. (I would be remiss not to applaud the tremendous work that has been done on the latter in the past few years, in particular.)

Even with these advancements, however, these technologies often put the burden on the user. They pull.

You have to sign up to follow an agency, dig…

A “101” Overview of Technology and Innovation at the Local Level

What does a 21st century city look like?

That’s a question I’m asked fairly often.

Indeed, I’m often tasked with giving an introduction on local government innovation — to new mayors, potential investors, etc — and after a couple dozen hacked together presentations, I decided to put some effort into it, and put together this document.

Since the definition of a “21st Century City” seems elusive, or controversial, I did what I do: tell some stories.

It’s a kind of “greatest hits” with simple examples and takeaways from three key areas of impact from the last few years: digital services…

Instead of building new platforms for expression, could we listen more closely to those upon which citizens are already standing? I believe that 311 call centers hold immense promise to develop a richer understanding of citizens’ needs, concerns, and ideas. Historically, innovators have focused on the issue-reporting functionality of 311, building apps to streamline reporting of potholes, graffiti, etc. Data suggests, however, that these make up just a small fraction of 311. Instead, most is taken up by questions about city operations, ranging from office hours to council meetings. Even this, however is *conjecture*: we have lacked the ability to…

abhi nemani

tech optimist and political phil nerd. hacker, writer & maker: http://EthosLabs.us. fmr CDO, @lamayorsoffice; @google; @codeforamerica. http://abhinemani.com

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