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Five keys to delivering the city (or state) your citizens want

Submitted by kevin ebi on April 27, 2016

In a smart city (or state), governing well does not mean dictating what’s best for everyone. It’s a collaborative effort. What do your constituents want from you? What resources are available? What do partners need from you? What do other elected officials need to be successful?

The state of Illinois is now in a critical game of catch-up, trying to cram more than four decades of technological advances in just four years. In the process, it is on its way to becoming America’s first “smart state.”

Along with UI Labs, the Council played a significant role in an event this week in Chicago, Smart States: Real World Implementation Planning, an event designed to help the state build its smarter vision and roadmap for getting there. Effective governance drives it all. Let the key messages from the event help guide your efforts. Kevin Ebi

1. Make your blueprint your own
One of the attendees asked hot button issues cities should focus on to get people engaged and provide fuel for smart cities initiatives. It’s an interesting question, but the answer is probably not something that should drive your efforts.

Graham Colclough, partner at UrbanDNA, said that while Americans by and large are fixated on security and safety, that really isn’t the answer city leaders should be looking for.

“If that’s all you focused on, that wouldn’t make your city exciting and better,” Colclough said. “That is the conversation you must have.”

Don’t assume. Don’t just steal some other city’s blueprint. Have that discussion about what’s best for your city.

2. Give citizens your full attention
Don’t ever forget that cities exist to serve people. Anything you do — from how your transit system works to how let people pay parking tickets — needs to be done with people in mind.

“Make sure you are improving those actions that your customers and citizens are going to see every day,” said Alex Frank, manager at West Monroe Partners, a Council Associate Partner. “And make sure your approach to becoming a smart city brings your citizens along with you.”

3. Let everyone make sense of the data
Smart cities are data-driven, but you cannot let your IT department be the only one with the keys. Seshadri Subbanna, director of Innovation and Technology Evaluation at IBM, a Council Lead Partner, says that means data needs to be easy to use and preferably visual.

Do realize, however, that how data is presented can dramatically affect how it is perceived. The same data presented in different formats can cause viewers to reach wildly different conclusions. Work to make those visualizations objective.

4. Focus on results — not effort
In a data-driven world, it’s easy to focus on raw numbers. But raw numbers are only part of the story. For instance, people want to feel safe. Reporting the number of people arrested last week doesn’t tell you whether or not you succeeded in that goal.

John Baldwin, director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, has led a shift to help convicts adapt better to a life in society after they’ve finished their sentences. The program is driven by data. Each offender gets a specially tailored re-entry program that’s based on the facts and their situation.

The number of offenders who go through the program isn’t the part that matters. What matters is how many of them become productive members of society.

“We need to report outcomes,” Baldwin said, “not outputs.”

5. Build a team that works for all
Chicago has worked to make a difference for its citizens by forging partnerships. Allstate Insurance, a business that’s driven by data analytics, has lent its expertise to help the city build data models — some that it could also use, but many that are only for the benefit of the city. Universities can also be a valuable resource.

But Chicago CIO Brenna Berman says while these partnerships have allowed the city to build offerings that it could not have done by itself, you can’t lose sight of the fact even more important than partners are people.

“We want to use technology to support our residents and businesses in what3ever we are trying to achieve,” she said. “We want to use technology as an enabler and not for its own good.”

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