White House report IDs key areas in tech to move Detroit forward

communities / Article

Photo credit: Flickr user memories_by_mike.

This week the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy released a report resulting from the Detroit visit of a “Tech Team” of top municipal government officials. The five people on the team had led innovative efforts in other cities—Boston, Chicago, Louisville, Ky., New Orleans, and Raleigh, N.C.—that ultimately created significant costs-savings for their respective governments and facilitated the development of tools that made government services easier to access for people in their communities.

I regularly marvel at Detroit’s ability to attract an amazing set of partners and contributors from across the country and around the globe. We benefit from our storied history and our unique set of challenges provoking a level of interest that few other cities evoke. In this case, the Tech Team and the Office of Science and Technology Policy set a goal to help identify ways technology could complement efforts by local government and the Detroit community to build a strong, vibrant 21st century Detroit.

Detroit also benefits from a robust philanthropic and business sector that seeks to support innovation. At the outset of the White House’s commitment to lead the Tech Team, the Kresge Foundation provided support for the team’s trip to Detroit, and Knight Foundation and Rock Ventures committed to providing $500,000 to help implement key elements of this report in partnership with Detroit Future City.

The report reveals what all of us who have been interacting with Detroit city government already knew: The Detroit city government is behind in the technology race. But, the visit and the work on the report also revealed that Detroit benefits from a remarkable level of interest in civic technology and civic engagement. The team described a “lively, diverse civic innovation ecosystem of social and civic entrepreneurs, foundations and business owners.” This is another asset we all too easily forget as we negotiate Detroit’s challenges; the report begins to help us see how we can make the most of this asset.

The report identifies seven suggested focus areas for the city:

·      naming a chief information officer;

·      evaluating IT infrastructure;

·      promoting civic engagement;

·      opening government-held data;

·      creating a 311 system;

·      improving enterprise geographic information systems; and

·      enabling online permitting.

When Mayor Mike Duggan took office in January, he immediately took action on the first focus area, appointing the city of Detroit’s first-ever cabinet-level chief information officer, Beth Niblock. In fact, Beth was a member of the Tech Team responsible for these recommendations and has told me that the engagement and innovation of Detroiters she witnessed during the November visit was a significant reason for her choice to  move to Detroit. Just a few short months into the job, there remains much work to be done to bring the city of Detroit’s technology into the 21st century, but it’s also clear that the Tech Team was just the beginning of the many people from across the tech sector who are willing to contribute to the change. 

The seven recommendations of the Tech Team reflect an effort to identify the ways in which the city can leverage technology to support economic revitalization and improved services for its residents. They can also create new government efficiencies. Most importantly, they, in combination with the early action by the mayor to put a skilled CIO in place and the willingness of partners to aid the city in taking action, reflect an opportunity for change in how the city of Detroit does business. 

The report states, “Cities across America have found that making government-held information more open and accessible to innovators and the public fuels entrepreneurship and economic growth while increasing government transparency and efficiency.” I’m confident that the work of the Tech Team, the recommendations of this report, and the early steps toward implementation taken by the city of Detroit and its partners will lead us to this future.

Katy Locker, Knight Foundation program director in Detroit

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