Code for America 2014 Summit
Last week, our City GIS Specialist, Chris Cantey, and I joined civic technology leaders, city government representatives and innovators from around the world for the annual Code for America (CfA) summit in San Francisco. The event sought to bring together individuals from around the world- representing various backgrounds and industries- to find transformative solutions to technology challenges in the government sector. The common thread for the attendees is a shared belief that a government of the people, by the people, can work for the 21st century. Attendees shared and learned based on a common link of working towards a new vision of local government; civic-focused foundations, investors, businesses, and citizens; and thought-leaders in government as a platform and innovation. The Summit gave civic leaders from all levels of municipal government the opportunity to come together and discuss their ‘wins’, vision, opportunities, and challenges.
The Summit further reinforced the value of “Open Government”- establishing a system of transparency, public participation and collaboration, based on technology, to strengthen and promote efficiency and effectiveness in government. Events such as the CfA Summit- by bringing together technology leaders and municipal innovators from all over the country together- better establish creative solutions to real-world problems cities like ours face on a daily basis. The Event included valuable sessions on:
1) Data Driven Decisions in Action – This session looked at strategies adopted in government and brainstormed additional ideas for fostering a data-driven culture within an organization. “Data-Driven Government” is a term that refers to utilizing data both inside government and among citizens, businesses and public services to find solutions to persistent civic problems. In today’s landscape where over 85% of American adults have internet access and over 55% have a smartphone, citizens expect to find answers to almost any question online and are, in turn, demanding more from government. Data has long been recognized as a government asset, but last week’s session demonstrated how it can more easily be shared and utilized both within and outside government. In the longer-term, the concept of “Data-Driven Government” incorporates Open Data and even smart phone apps. For the more immediate, however, I am proud to announce a much anticipated solution for residents and visitors seeking information on City Services.
Our outward facing GIS website is now live! (in it’s soft launch) – The new City of Wisconsin Rapids GIS website, called “City Viewer,” can be accessed here (http://gis.wirapids.org/PublicApp/). I previously spoke of the importance of GIS and data accessibility at my 2014 State of the City Address, and more recently in a Community Update. GIS, short for Geographic Information System- is the term given to technology used to collect, manage, and distribute information tied to locations by layering on a map-based environment. We’ve all heard the term “a picture is worth a thousand words.” GIS is a great example of this saying as it combines the strength of visual communication with access to information and analytics. The application for use within the City of Wisconsin Rapids is significant. From streets and underground utilities, to playgrounds and parks, all City departments provide services that residents use every day. GIS can significantly aid in better decision making- often resulting in cost savings and greater understanding by the public, while improving the delivery of services in the City, with better accuracy and transparency in operations.
Across departments, the City depends on data to provide services to the community. In talking with departments regarding what residents often inquired about, it became clear to me that there were opportunities for disseminating information, available 24-7, to residents to provide answers to frequently asked questions and even planning recreational activities. Using GIS, residents and visitors could easily pull up a map of City parks to view amenities at each, map out a bike ride or a walk within our City, and even view historical markers or memorials located at points throughout the City. The possibilities of information we can provide on the public facing GIS application are endless. Now that City Viewer is public, we are always looking for ways to make the site better so we want to know from you what functionality you’d like integrated. If you have information that you wish was available online, please contact me or any City department to share your idea.
2) Applying Lean to Government Services – This session highlighted how government can embrace lean, iterative methodologies to test assumptions, fail fast, and better allocate resources to create a culture of innovation in government. Headed by representatives from Denver’s Peak Academy- well known names in the area of lean analytics- the session presented a vision and strategy for continuing incorporation of lean in our organization. This session was eye opening, in the similarities that existed between many cities’ established and successful programs and our own Rapid Improvement initiative. Many of these initiatives have similarities in the way they seek to create a habit of innovation and performance that is compelling enough to encourage deviating from habits of “status quo” that many are used to in our organizations. Additionally, our City’s Rapid Improvement program has set milestones for our organization that stand out among the Cities participating. First, we have much to be proud of with the number of employees trained- to date, over 25% of all city employees- in the fundamentals of process improvement. Second, the Rapid Improvement initiative stood out through the progress that city project teams have had with individual improvement projects. In just over one year since launch, 8 project teams have been established to work on projects ranging from examining the special assessments process, the efficiency of monthly brush pickup, business inspection process and even the Library’s book check-in/shelving process.
In many ways this progress has and will continue to be inspiring, but I know there is much to learn from more established and experienced municipal programs. A final aspect of the session focused on training participants in advanced concepts of lean government, and strategies to improve daily municipal operations, from internal processes to outward facing services that residents either request from cities or experience and would like to expedite to decrease the amount of time spent on specific issues. This part of the session was a fantastic opportunity to learn from some of the country’s leading innovators in lean practices in government on how we can better refine our program and continue to improve our practices.
Events like Code for America’s Summit present a unique opportunity for convening innovators from dozens of local governments and mixing them with technologists, designers, community organizers and entrepreneurs to develop better ways of delivering our services to residents and visitors. It is through this collaborating that we, including yourself, can develop creative solutions to common problems. I look forward to sharing and implementing many of the ideas Chris and I have brought back from the summit in the months to come!
Tree Planting Event
Earlier this summer, the Mayor’s Council on Beautification held a tree planting event to commemorate the replant of flowering trees along the river on 1st Avenue South. In a related initiative, the Council on Beautification felt there was an another opportunity to restore trees and involve youth at the same time. Now into the fall, a second tree planting event is planned for this Saturday, October 4– this time on the City’s east side, along 1st Street North by Mead Rapids View Park and along the river to Legion Park.
The tree planting event, taking place Saturday, October 4 at 10:30AM, will eventually lead to a total of 28 trees planted in the area. The event will bring together the Mayor’s Council on Beautification and the beginnings of a Mayor’s Youth Council, planned for launch this fall. All are invited to help volunteer with the tree planting event. If you are interested and would like to receive further details related to the event, please contact me. I am pleased to see youth choosing to get involved in a way that makes our city greener and environmentally friendly.
Thank you for reading,
Mayor Zach Vruwink