Quick Q&A with City of Milton Innovation and Strategy Manager
We had the exciting opportunity to pick Jason Wright’s brain this week!
Jason is the Innovation and Strategy Manager at the City of Milton in the Greater Atlanta area. We really enjoyed hearing his perspective on bringing technology to local governments.
Q: What does it mean to be the “Innovation & Strategy Manager” at the City of Milton?
A: In a philosophical sense, it means Milton is committed to staying ahead of the curve in things like brand and user experience, process improvement, and transparency. In a tactical sense, it means Milton is conscious of and has directed resources to virtualization of business processes and visualization of our data for users to understand quickly. This is all done to improve transparency, which we believe to be the key to resident satisfaction. Giving them the data they need to make informed decisions as voters gives them the power, and we think that is a worthy pursuit.
Q. Do many other cities have that position? What does having that position at City of Milton mean for the city?
A. In the metro area, not really; however, you do see it popping up more – with different names – in cities and counties across the United States. Essentially, the job is one of a project manager in that I’m expected to build relationships with our various departments, probe their work flow to look for ways to make it faster, easier for end users, or better at operating transparently, and then figure out how to put those changes in place. So far, the results include things like a simple, interactive budget instead of the nearly 200 page document we typically produce. Now, of course it’s still there for those who want the whole package, but we realized most residents simply want to know the big numbers and the projects or improvements their tax dollars bring. So we make it easy to get that information; we also make it look really inviting so people aren’t scared off by the density of numbers.
Q. Where do you see the most room for improvement in government technology?
A. I think the major improvement is not necessarily in technology tools, but in the implementation or utilization of them with in-person or analog methods to produce a hybrid model of interaction and engagement. By this I mean using things like demonstrating financial transparency tools, or GIS-based user interfaces, at popular existing programs like parks and recreation or festivals. This stuff can’t just live online, because only a certain segment of the population is passionate enough to seek out these tools. Instead, we have to plug in solutions where busy people already congregate. For instance, why couldn’t we help people pay their taxes with demonstrations or kiosks at football games or town festivals? We know they’re there – we just have to present the solution to them in that environment. So it wouldn’t be possible without the tool, but the tool wouldn’t function as efficiently without the old fashioned outreach.
Q. How can citizens and companies leverage their resources for the good of the community?
A. This is a complex question, and I think it’s one being contemplated in volunteer associations and corporate social responsibility programs across the globe. I’m a firm believer in the triple bottom line – the concept that one can do good in their community while doing well financially and sharing that success with their employees or fellow volunteers. So it would seem the answer is to find those natural intersections of activism and profit potential. In Milton we’ve explored the concept of private sponsorship of municipal infrastructure coupled with a strong community volunteer component. Typically, this would look like a park being named for a company that provides the public Wi-Fi or maintenance vehicles for use by volunteers. It’s an exciting concept, and one we hope to capitalize on eventually.
Q. What advances in technology are you most excited to see?
A. I’m excited to see the new ways the sheer amount of data produced by open, transparent governments or agencies can be combined to produce deeper understanding. By this I mean more than combining restaurant scores with Yelp; instead, I’m talking about school systems, local governments, private industry and volunteers producing comprehensive solutions to seemingly intractable problems like generational poverty. It’s not idealistic to think that someday soon we’ll see children with everyday access to the absolute best thinking in the world, and to them it won’t be strange. It will simply be part of their environment, a natural resource they use like water. For centuries access to knowledge has been power, and we’re fundamentally altering that paradigm in profound ways. I think you’re already seeing watershed moments – the invention of crowdfunding, the utilization of games for faster, better scientific research, free, open access to ivy-league quality instruction – that portend a future rich with possibility. I can’t wait to see what we come up with.
Collaborating with people like Jason is what propels GovSense forward in our mission to make communities smarter by providing software solutions that actually make sense.
If you would like to participate in a Q&A blog with us, give me a shout at @GovSenseKatie!
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