Experimenting In City Hall

Creativity is the number one skill needed by companies today. Constant change and innovation is necessary for organizations to thrive and survive today. Yet most City Halls and Town halls do things as they have always done them for many years.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino created the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics to encourage something city governments don’t typically do: experiment. With two co-chairs and $10,000 seed grants from foundations, the Office of New Urban Mechanics assists innovators from inside and outside government with pilot projects, that if successful can grow into something bigger.

Some of the innovative projects that have received support from the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics are:

The Boston One Card – a multi-purpose ID card for high school students that can be used to access public transit, libraries and other services.

The Engagement Game Lab – Creating a game in partnership with a local college to improve citizen participation in community planning efforts.

City Hall to Go – Inspired by food trucks, a mobile City Hall truck that serves city residents where they live, work and play. Residents can pay parking tickets, property taxes, acquire recycling bin stickers, register to vote, request birth, marriage and death certificates and more. Boston residents can easily track the truck’s location and receive updates on its Twitter feed and homepage.

Citizens Connect – Allows citizens to report neighborhood issues such as potholes, damaged signs, and graffiti by taking a picture with a cell phone and making a report to the City.

Street Bump – As users drive, the mobile app collects data about the smoothness of the ride; that data provides the City with real-time information it uses to fix problems and plan long term investments.
Residents use Street Bump to record “bumps” which are identified using the device’s accelerometer and located using its GPS.

The Mayor’s of New York City and Philadelphia are also encouraging experimentation and innovation in their City Halls. New York City is placing large amounts of government information and data on-line to encourage transparency, accountability and efficiency in government. New York has held civic hackathons to encourage citizens to create computer apps that make use of the open data that is being provided. These hackathons have helped create more than 150 apps for citizens.

Philadelphia has an innovation team that has helped develop a game to solicit feedback and ideas from citizens regarding community planning and projects. Philadelphia has also opened up public access to its licensing and inspection information, so that citizens can find out the status of code violations and building permits.

We need more creativity and experimentation in government. Perhaps some of the ideas mentioned above could work in your village, town, city or county?


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