City Hacking Goes Mainstream

Within the last six months, two forward thinking American cities have created new positions for Chief Innovation Officers, with a mission to connect city hall with a new generation of problem-solvers outside of it, reports Emily Badger.
March 19, 2012, 12pm PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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As distrust in the effectiveness of those working to improve cities from within the walls of city hall grows, a concurrent rise in interest among those outside city hall to work with, or around, government to achieve change in their communities is developing along with it, explains Badger. In recognition of this interest, and the opportunity to do more with less, cities are creating new Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) positions to engage and harness such potential resources.

Badger speaks with Jay Nath, the CIO for the city of San Francisco, and Adel Ebeid, CIO for Philadelphia, about their roles in working with, "the so-called civic hacker, a growing army of deeply committed, tech-savvy city-dwellers who don't necessarily want to work for government, but who wouldn't mind spending a Saturday afternoon benevolently coding its data."

Badger connects the beginning of the governmental open-data trend to the appointment of Vivek Kundra by Barack Obama as the country's first official chief information officer in 2009. As information has moved to the cloud, that has freed up information officers to focus more on innovation and less on infrastructure.

Among the biggest barriers to maximizing the potential of those working outside government comes from the attitudes and decades-old processes of those within. According to Badger, "People on the outside of government are much more comfortable with the idea of collaborative problem-solving. 'On the inside, it's a different story,' echoes Ebeid. 'On the inside, you're dealing with assembly-line processes that were developed in the ‘70s and ‘80s, a culture of ‘I've just got to get widgets out,' rather than, what's the value of what I'm doing?'"

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Published on Monday, March 19, 2012 in The Atlantic Cities
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