Published on Apr 23, 2019
In April 2019, I joined Mayor-Elect Lightfoot’s Transition Team on Good Governance. As part of the transition, each member was invited to draft a policy memo with recommendations for the incoming administration. This is my memo.
Date: April 23, 2019
To: Mayor-Elect Lightfoot Transition Team - Good Governance
Name: Derek Eder, DataMade, Chi Hack Night, Civic House
Prompt: Create a more accessible government for all Chicagoans including through greater language access and community input on core government functions.
A potential initiative (one sentence)
The City of Chicago should launch a Digital Service Delivery Team to lead technology implementation for delivering services to residents.
How the new administration can infuse the values of equity, transparency, accountability, diversity and inclusion, and transformation in this initiative The City of Chicago should launch a Digital Service Delivery Team to lead technology implementation for delivering services to residents. Chicago can learn from and replicate the successful 18F and United States Digital Service agencies at the federal level, as well as state and city-level digital agencies in Massachusetts, California, Austin, and San Francisco. These agencies focus on making the experience of government better for residents.
The current state of interacting with many of the City’s services is poor. Of the services that the City offers, many of them are difficult to find, confusing to navigate, lack accessibility, and don’t offer multi-language support. Additionally, many city services still rely solely on a pen and paper processes and are very difficult for residents to find and complete. As a result, those who get the most out of the City’s services are those who are privileged, well resourced, and have enough free time to wade through and understand the process.
By creating a Digital Service Delivery Team, the City can address these challenges by following industry best practices and build services in-house that put the needs of residents first by:
It is critical that the Digital Service Delivery Team be created in-house with City staff, as they would need to work with all City agencies without restriction, provide a consistent and reliable set of services, and be able to quickly and effectively shift their focus to the areas of greatest need. Additionally, by building up the City’s technical talent internally, it will enable the City to better partner with existing vendors, resulting in higher-quality work and faster execution.
Imagine residents having positive and consistent interactions with their City through well designed, thoughtful, and and accessible digital services instead of the frustrating experience they have now. It is possible!
What is happening today that we need to keep The Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT) has already done tremendous to pave the way and provide a great foundation for this initiative. They have many skilled team members that perform this kind of work already. The user research and design work that went into the latest 311 implementation (311.chicago.gov) is a great example of DoIT already practicing great digital service delivery. Additionally, the Chicago Design Director within DoIT has created chicagodesignsystem.org, which provides a strong foundation for how new digital services should consistently function and be designed. The success of these initiatives needs to be scaled up and taken to the next level.
What we need to implement in the next 100 days
The new administration needs to create a Director of Digital Services position within DoIT who will be responsible for building up the Digital Service Delivery Team. The Director must have sufficient experience and leadership to train up existing staff and attract and recruit technical talent. For early and continued success, this new team needs to be partnered with willing_ _and enthusiastic collaborators in other city departments. As the team delivers these successes, those departments will evangelize their work.
What we can plan for longer-term implementation
The Digital Service Delivery Team will need to implement a road map for transforming the City’s digital services in the long term. Existing digital services must be evaluated and ones that are missing must be identified. Then, the team must prioritize their work plan, starting with the highest-impact services first.
What challenges we might encounter in executing on this initiative
The biggest challenge this initiative faces is sustainability. 18F funds their team using a cost recovery model where they can charge other departments for their work. For the Digital Service Delivery Team to survive and thrive, a similar cost recovery or other funding mechanism should be considered.
A second challenge will be getting institutional buy-in from City departments. This team will be operating differently than a traditional IT team and will need high-level buy-in from the Mayor’s office and department leadership.
A third challenge will be to ensure that DoIT continues to have the support and resources it needs to maintain the City’s technology infrastructure, namely the 300+ technology applications it is responsible for, as well as managing the demand for new ones.