Already the most successful tech entrepreneur in New York City’s history, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his administration are hard at work transforming government into a platform where the tech and social media communities can create solutions to problems facing the nation’s financial hub.
Last week, in the Bloomberg administration’s most recent monthly strategy workshop, staff from a number of city agencies discussed technology and social media strategy with a panel of city leaders including Deputy Mayor for Operations Stephen Goldsmith, Department of IT and Telecom Commissioner Carole Post, and Mayor’s Office of Media & Entertainment Commissioner Katherine Oliver. The workshops, normally internal, included an observer from VentureBeat, the only organization outside city government invited.
City officials were determined to promote New York as an innovation center.
“That’s what the city’s about, leading the curve and not following it,” said Post.
A number of tech blogs including VentureBeat, Silicon Alley Insider, and TechCrunch were cited as key influencers deserving of increased attention from city communications personnel.
One example of the city’s efforts to promote its technology industry is the second annual Big Apps Competition, announced last week. Programmers build applications on top of 350 datasets provided by more than 40 New York City agencies, with the winners receiving $20,000 for their efforts. Judges for the contest include venture capitalist Fred Wilson, Hunch CEO Chris Dixon, and angel investor Esther Dyson.
For this year’s competition, the City doubled the number of datasets available to developers. The strategy session indicated that the City was embracing the burgeoning tech scene in hopes of diversifying the City’s economy. Suggestions included helping big apps participants navigate the city’s procurement process and further increasing the number of datasets available to programmers.
The panel members were determined to combat “not invented here syndrome” that afflicts many municipal governments. Goldsmith cited educational charity DonorsChoose as an organization the city could promote instead of developing in-house programs, something he called “The co-production of services.”
“We ought to promote their site,” he added.
The big apps competition is indicative of the City’s desire to further collaborate with New York’s innovation community. There have also been a number of partnerships with private companies, notably Sense Networks’ CabSense mobile app, which uses Taxi and Limosine Commission data to help users find the best corner for hailing a cab in realtime.
City officials said increasing the number of datasets available to developers was a priority within the Bloomberg administration.
“We want to encourage creativity,” said Oliver, “We want to make the job easier for all of you (New York City employees).”
Central to the City’s platform strategy is redefining how city agencies communicate with each other and the general public. DoITT has begun a trial deployment of Yammer, an enterprise communication tool similar to Twitter. City personnel were encouraged to use this and other methods to share social media tools and best practices across agencies.
Conducting conversations with individual citizens was stressed several times during the meeting. Services like Twitter and Facebook are used by many city agencies. The problem is many agencies treat social media like traditional PR outlets, tweeting out press releases and posting them on their Facebook pages.
The Mayor’s Office seemed to understand the new media reality and was actively promoting a new approach at City agencies. This includes enduring the complaints of their constituents.
“I don’t think we can have it both ways. I don’t think we can create an open dialogue and try to protect ourselves from insult at the same time,” said newly appointed Deputy Mayor for Operations Stephen Goldsmith. “I’m for an open dialogue, I’m not too worried about where the angry comments get registered.”
The Bloomberg administration seems convinced that social media and other technological tools have the potential to transform City government into a more agile enterprise that better understands and serves its constituents.
“It’s too time consuming to call 8 million people,” Goldsmith said. “We need to use the data to inform the way we make decisions.”