Thanking our NOLA champions

It’s time to say thanks to the dedicated public servants that helped our Fellows navigate City Hall and champion our mission. And to the Cities that opened their doors, their minds, and their databases to the 2012 Fellows.

When the rest of my team and I arrived at New Orleans City Hall for the first time in late January, I’ve got to admit – we were wary. We’d concocted nightmare scenarios in our heads about what working inside municipal government could mean, and we’d been warned about the general resistance to change and skepticism of new technology that we might feel from our City partners upon first meeting.

Fast forward to our first encounter with CIO Allen Square a few days after our arrival in New Orleans – he whisked the four of us on Team New Orleans into his office, and proceeded to tell us about his time as Director of Engineering at Verizon Wireless (!?!), his experience sitting on the board of the New Orleans Startup Fund (!?!?!), and summarized his vision for his new Innovation team and for the future of the Information Technology department. We could immediately tell that this guy really gets it, and from that moment on, Allen has been a huge champion of our work in New Orleans, demanding a Code for America track jacket immediately (and even pushing code to earn one like the rest of the fellows did back in January), and consistently opening doors for us both inside and outside of City Hall to push our work forward. His support throughout the year has been vital to our success, and it was such an honor to get to tell the story of our experience in New Orleans onstage with him at the CfA Summit last month.

But luckily for us, Allen was just one member of our extensive team of supporters and collaborators within New Orleans City Hall. Denice Ross, Director of Enterprise Information, played a huge part in our project’s success as well. Her background as an open data advocate with the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center before even coming to city government meant that she not only really “got” what we were trying to do, but helped us build meaningful relationships with local residents, so we could engage in honest, direct dialogue about the challenges they face and identify opportunities to help. Her reputation contributed a level of local credibility to our efforts that we would have never had without her.

David Lessinger, Director of Planning and Strategy for the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, was also a key team player. Like Denice, he came to city government only after working with two local heavy-hitters in the world of data-driven revitalization – Neighborhood Housing Services and WhoData. His deep topic-area knowledge was crucial in helping us navigate and fully comprehend this complex issue.

The level of commitment and collaboration demonstrated very early on by Allen, Denice, and David, as well as the entire team in the Department of Information Technology and Innovation, the Department of Code Enforcement, and the Office of Performance and Accountability encouraged us to take risks and push further than we ever expected that first day walking into City Hall. Thanks to our City team’s willingness to take small risks for the sake of innovation, BlightStatus is the first Code for America project to pull information directly out of a City’s live, internal data system, and provide that information in real-time to the public.

So, to our entire City team in New Orleans: THANK YOU. For being truly collaborative partners, for championing our work, and for trusting our process even when it felt a bit foreign. When every city has folks like Allen, Denice and David pushing for innovation and change, our government will be in a fantastic place.

Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.

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