4 Tech Trends Changing How Cities Operate

at Governing: “Louis Brandeis famously characterized states as laboratories for democracy, but cities could be called labs for innovation or new practices….When Government Technology magazine (produced by Governing’s parent company, e.Republic, Inc.) published its annual Digital Cities Survey, the results provided an interesting look at how local governments are using technology to improve how they deliver services, increase production and streamline operations…the survey also showed four technology trends changing how local government operates and serves its citizens:

1. Open Data

…Big cities were the first to open up their data and gained national attention for their transparency. New York City, which passed an open data law in 2012, leads all cities with more than 1,300 data sets open to the public; Chicago started opening up data to the public in 2010 following an executive order and is second among cities with more than 600; and San Francisco, which was the first major city to open the doors to transparency in 2009, had the highest score from the U.S. Open Data Census for the quality of its open data.
But the survey shows that a growing number of mid-sized jurisdictions are now getting involved, too. Tacoma, Wash., has a portal with 40 data sets that show how the city is spending tax dollars on public works, economic development, transportation and public safety. Ann Arbor, Mich., has a financial transparency tool that reveals what the city is spending on a daily basis, in some cases….

2. ‘Stat’ Programs and Data Analytics

…First, the so-called “stat” programs are proliferating. Started by the New York Police Department in the 1980s, CompStat was a management technique that merged data with staff feedback to drive better performance by police officers and precinct captains. Its success led to many imitations over the years and, as the digital survey shows, stat programs continue to grow in importance. For example, Louisville has used its “LouieStat” program to cut the city’s bill for unscheduled employee overtime by $23 million as well as to spot weaknesses in performance.
Second, cities are increasing their use of data analytics to measure and improve performance. Denver, Jacksonville, Fla., and Phoenix have launched programs that sift through data sets to find patterns that can lead to better governance decisions. Los Angeles has combined transparency with analytics to create an online system that tracks performance for the city’s economy, service delivery, public safety and government operations that the public can view. Robert J. O’Neill Jr., executive director of the International City/County Management Association, said that both of these tech-driven performance trends “enable real-time decision-making.” He argued that public leaders who grasp the significance of these new tools can deliver government services that today’s constituents expect.

3. Online Citizen Engagement

…Avondale, Ariz., population 78,822, is engaging citizens with a mobile app and an online forum that solicits ideas that other residents can vote up or down.
In Westminster, Colo., population 110,945, a similar forum allows citizens to vote online about community ideas and gives rewards to users who engage with the online forum on a regular basis (free passes to a local driving range or fitness program). Cities are promoting more engagement activities to combat a decline in public trust in government. The days when a public meeting could provide citizen engagement aren’t enough in today’s technology-dominated  world. That’s why social media tools, online surveys and even e-commerce rewards programs are popping up in cities around the country to create high-value interaction with its citizens.

4. Geographic Information Systems

… Cities now use them to analyze financial decisions to increase performance, support public safety, improve public transit, run social service activities and, increasingly, engage citizens about their city’s governance.
Augusta, Ga., won an award for its well-designed and easy-to-use transit maps. Sugar Land, Texas, uses GIS to support economic development and, as part of its citizen engagement efforts, to highlight its capital improvement projects. GIS is now used citywide by 92 percent of the survey respondents. That’s significant because GIS has long been considered a specialized (and expensive) technology primarily for city planning and environmental projects….”