It's Time to Create a Civic Innovation Office at Austin City Hall

6:30pm update: This afternoon, Austin City Council approved a budget that includes funds to create an innovationn office.

If you're a Boston resident and a pothole springs up on your street, help could be just a phone click away. The Citizen's Connect phone app will file a report for you.

What could be easier than a phone click? How about no phone clicks?

The Street Bump app, recently unveiled in Boston, uses the accelerometer built into your smart phone -- a device that measures speed and directon changes -- to detect when you've encountered a pothole. When you run the app, It will record a street bump event and file a report for you.

These kinds of apps represent the leading edge of civic innovation. Civic innovation, at its very core, provides a path to "good government 2.0". Civic innovation make citizens more engaged and local government more responsive. Many innovation efforts depend on the success of public/private partnerships and other forms of public engagement, helping form a better local government.

I sit on a City of Austin commission that's been looking at best practices for fostering open government and innovation. What's clear is that the cities where innovation is successful -- such as Boston, San Francisco, and New York -- have passionate, dedicated personnnel who work across all city departments to drive the initiative. We should bring that passion and dedication to Austin.

The City of Austin is in the process of passing its budget for next year. Our city management has signaled they want to kick start an innovation initiative in Austin sometime next year. They are still working out the plan, so there isn't any funding in the budget.

At the City Council meeting yesterday (Monday, September 10), Councilmember Laura Morrison proposed a solution that "puts a stake in the ground" (her words) and moves us forward. She proposed adding funding to get the office going, get staff on board, and task them with returning mid-year with a proposal for full funding.

You can watch the presentation here: (skip to 22:15)

Morrison proposed taking $250K from a planned $1M IT consulting study, and reallocate this to create the innovation office. That means the proposal would be tax neutral.

Reallocating these funds is a good idea. The innovation proposal is hugely within scope of establishing IT best practices in the city. Digital civic innovation is an emerging movement, and there are few consultants out there with expertise to advise the city. We're going to be blazing that trail, and it's best we develop that expertise in-house, rather than outsource the innovation effort.

The City council will be acting very soon to finalize the budget. That budget should include funds to create a new civic innovation office. If you agree, please contact the City Council and let them know.