In the city and government of Louisville, Ky., technological innovation reigns supreme. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer was named the most innovative mayor in America by Politico in 2016, and the city’s Office of Civic Innovation is set up to run “like a startup within government,” Louisville Metro Government’s Chief of Civic Innovation Grace Simrall said during a livestreamed panel on May 31, which focused on enabling citizen engagement through technology.
The city has an impressive track record for new technology deployments, recently launching cutting-edge data analytics and video surveillance technology in its Metro Police Department’s Real Time Crime Center to more effectively fight crime, among other tech-focused public safety efforts. Moreover, the city has a pilot program in the works that deploys drones to the sites of gunshots with the aim to quickly get eyes on a scene, which can translate to more arrests and faster emergency care for victims.
But innovation is often easier said than done in government, particularly when it comes to informing and convincing the public that new tech projects are necessary, beneficial and, above all, in their best interest.
“It’s very easy for people to draw conclusions in a vacuum without receiving a lot of information,” said Simrall, pointing to the city’s drone program. For this reason, Louisville has moved to better communicate with citizens on potential tech programs to help lessen bumps in the road during deployment.
How to Get Citizens On Board for Civic Innovation
First and foremost, Simrall said the city relies on its Office of Civic Innovation as a “front door into government” for citizens and calls on partnerships with resident-facing organizations to create a feedback loop on tech projects.
“We use technology platforms to collect feedback and we also do a lot of outreach,” said Simall, who noted that the city recognizes that there are often barriers that may prevent citizens from attending traditional public forums.
Simrall also emphasized that the city makes a concerted effort to communicate with the public about projects.
“Making sure the community, especially from a cross-generational perspective, is informed about what we’re doing is so very important before we ever move forward with the program. Having that really robust community conversation about what we’re doing around safety, security and privacy of the system is key to rolling out very innovative solutions,” she said.
This is particularly important for those projects that might have implications on privacy, according to Simrall, “because you know that you are trading off quite a bit of privacy to get some convenience. And [it’s important to have] the public understand those tradeoffs and tell us if they are willing to make them.”
She also noted that the city is architecting systems and services that account for privacy implications and allow residents to make decisions about participation.
“[We are developing] systems where [residents] actually are able to opt-in rather than just opt-out. [That’s] very important to us,” she said.
The Right Team Can Take Government IT to New Heights
Citizens are an important part of the equation, but internal government IT teams also need to be willing and able to embrace new technical projects and challenges. An important aspect of the Louisville team’s ability to make innovation a success is a mix of working backgrounds that span from entrepreneurship to the public sector, said Chris Seidt, Louisville’s director of IT, during the panel.
“I see a lot of benefit in having those diverse backgrounds and experiences when we sit down at a table and try to solve a problem,” said Seidt.