Change is in the air, or at least in the titles

A few weeks ago, the City of Philadelphia announced the appointment of their first Director of Civic Technology, a post filled by local civic hacker (and of late, 311 app project manager) Tim Wisniewski. Tim joins an impressive array of colleagues, whose titles, like his, are ones you don’t see everywhere. Adel Abeid is Philly’s Chief Innovation Officer, former CfA staffer Mark Headd is the city’s Chief Data Officer, and Jeff Friedman and Story Bellows run the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics. Mayor Michael Nutter is obviously on a roll there in the City of Brotherly Love, but he’s not alone. Titles like these are becoming more common in local government, and they signal a growing commitment to institutionalizing the capacity for change.

When Code for America was getting started back in 2010, we did a number of exercises to brainstorm what the world would look like if we succeeded in our mission. Part of what we noticed was that the institutional capacities needed to make government work for the 21st century weren’t necessarily reflected on the org charts and job descriptions in City Hall. Government as a platform, a focus on the citizen experience, and approaches such as lean startup–few local governments were explicitly trying to hire people with these skills and approaches. For sustainable change to occur, you’d want to see this thinking coming in not by accident or because you had a particularly forward-thinking person in a position to make that hire, but because it was part of the official organizational strategy. San Francisco’s Chief Innovation Officer and Boston’s Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics were examples of exactly that, and we hoped at Code for America to help spread these kinds of offices and titles.

Fast forward a few short years. We saw the nation’s first Chief Data Officer in Chicago’s Brett Goldstein, who then became the city’s Chief Information Officer, and in December Mayor Rahm Emmanuel signed a new exec order that further expands Chicago’s open data efforts and creates open data coordinators in each department. Ted Smith left the White House to be Louisville Metro Government’s Chief Innovation Officer. Austin has launched an Innovation Office. Philadelphia has also started a Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics. Now Kansas City, Mo., San Leandro, Calif., Riverside, Calif., and many other local governments I don’t know about are all hiring Chief Innovation Officers. It’s still the minority of local governments that have these titles on the org chart, and the resources these new roles command are still a tiny fraction of budgets, but it’s also a lot of progress for a few short years.

If you’re in local government and either have or are looking to add a position like one of these, I’d encourage you to connect with Lauren Dyson, our content manager for the budding CfA Peer Network. She’s cataloging the job descriptions and executive orders that have created these positions around the country, and is happy to share them (many of them linked here) and make introductions where helpful. Beg, borrow, and steal… reuse is a critical element of innovation!

Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.

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