2014 Providence Mayoral Open Data Survey

Survey response from the Cianci Campaign

Topic 1: Investment in Technology to Promote Innovation

Question A: According to budget information available on the City of Providence’s Open Data Portal, the Information Technology budget for the city makes up barely half of one percent (0.57%) of the city’s expenditures (2013 actual and 2014 Budget). This past summer, the City Council and Mayor approved a FY 2015 budget of $458 million, which is an increase of almost 2% compared to 2014. At the same time, the Information Technology budget was cut by almost 5% to barely $2.5 million. The City of Boston has an FY2015 Operating Budget of $2.73 billion, with $26.6 million for Information Technology, making up almost a full percent (0.97%) of their budget (almost twice the percentage Providence spends). The City of Fort Lauderdale, FL, which is slightly smaller than Providence, has an FY2015 operating budget of $571,805,176, with $15,261,924 budgeted for their Information Technology Services Department, making up over two and a half percent (2.66%) of their budget (almost five times Providence). They project to have approximately 70 IT staff, almost six times Providence’s team of 12. Although there are some IT staff scattered around other departments in the city, the difference is significant. What do you think of the current levels of investment in information technology?

The future of the city depends on a robust IT department, both centrally and in city departments. I am committed to bringing Providence up to a level where we are on par with other cities in terms of investments in information technology.

Topic 1: Investment in Technology to Promote Innovation

Question B: What would you propose as a strategy related to technology investment for your administration?

As Mayor, I will invest in technology to keep better records across departments, to streamline our building and permitting process, and to do everything from tracking potholes to figuring out how long school bus rides are. My administration will be heavily focused on eliminating waste in city departments, and information technology is a smart way to pinpoint waste. This is a priority for my vision for Providence.

Topic 2: Utilizing Our Open Data Portal to Promote Entrepreneurship

Question A: Open sharing of information has helped improve the relationship between citizens and government and promotes economic development and social entrepreneurship. Last year the City of Providence took an important step towards sharing public information when the CIO requested approval to engage the services of Socrata, Inc. to host the City’s online Open Data Portal. Socrata software is used by large municipalities like Chicago and San Francisco to host large sets of “machine-readable” public data, meaning it can be easily read and organized by a computer, which can spur economic development. Weather.com is an example of entrepreneurship based on Open Government Data, using data from the National Weather Service. OpportunitySpace.org, is a local small business using Providence, Pawtucket, Cumberland and Central Falls property records to pair investors with available properties. But data sets used by OpportunitySpace aren’t on the Providence Open Data Portal. Only some data sets like information related to the budget, city employee salaries, community gardens and the citywide paving project are available. While interesting, these data sets are static and are only a tiny subset of information that the city is permitted to publish. If data sets are going to be useful to government and its citizens, they need to be dynamic. There is little or no valuable data on crime incidents, property violations or financial transactions, all of which are published by the City of Boston on their Socrata platform. Would you publish all detailed data that is considered public information on the Open Data Portal related to:

  • Crime Incidents?: Yes
  • Building and Property Violations?: Yes
  • Checkbook Level Financial Data?: No
  • Building Permits?: Yes
  • Property Information (all addresses and associated data)?: Yes
  • Business Licenses?: Yes

Topic 2: Utilizing Our Open Data Portal to Promote Entrepreneurship

Question B: Current laws protecting personal privacy would still apply to all information released under an open data policy. For datasets controlled by the city that are subject to disclosure under the Access to Public Records Act, do you support a default policy that such datasets be proactively made available online according to commonly accepted open data guidelines (see FAQ for details)?

Yes

Topic 2: Utilizing Our Open Data Portal to Promote Entrepreneurship

Question C: Feel free to expand on your answer immediately above:

I am not sure what rules there would be around publishing checkbook level financial data, but I am open to exploring the feasibility and usefulness of publishing this data. For topic 2, I would again need to explore the feasibility and privacy implications of publishing this data, but I would be open to exploring it, and would make a final decision based on the legality and due privacy protections of the data sets.

Topic 2: Utilizing Our Open Data Portal to Promote Entrepreneurship

Question D: Beyond this protected information, what specific data sets do you feel should be restricted for public access? Please explain your position, including the time frame within which you feel it would be reasonable to provide existing data sets and such data sets in the future, and the process you will use to determine if a dataset should be made public. Feel free to elaborate on things you would do as mayor to make city data “open.”

I believe in an open and transparent government. I am committed to convening a working group to ensure all data relative to the goal of a transparent government is readily and openly accessible. I look forward to assembling a team of experts to work through these issues fully.

Topic 3: Comprehensive Open Data Strategy

Question A: Looking forward, in order to prepare all city departments to embrace Open Data Policy, the software systems that are used in all areas of city operations need to be modernized. For a Mayor that is committed to a strong Open Data Policy, it is imperative that every new technology RFP require vendors to build systems that are built to publish machine-readable data directly to our Open Data Portal. Otherwise our data is inaccessible, even though it belongs to the city. As mayor, would you include Open Systems as a standard in technology system-related RFPs?

Yes

Topic 3: Comprehensive Open Data Strategy

Question B: Feel free to expand on your answer immediately above:

I would, provided that I had a change to have the appropriate legal and privacy concerns addressed by experts in the field.

Topic 4: Supporting a “Learning City Hall” for the 21st Century

Question A: Government rarely has a reputation for being innovative. Things seem like they are done the same way they were done decades ago. Even when public servants working in City Hall have new ideas or suggestions for improving processes, there is not a clear method of sharing their perspective, and so change is often hard to come by. From rigid management practices to rigid job descriptions, there are many barriers to innovation inside of City Hall. In the 21st Century, with resources constrained and with more demands upon them, a City Hall and its employees must be capable of making adjustments, both small and large, as new technologies are adopted and new skills are required to maintain efficiency and save taxpayer dollars. Most job descriptions in City Hall are rarely modified. As mayor, what would you do to make sure that your staff and the employees of City Hall are prepared and expected to adopt new technologies and learn new processes so opportunities to perform more effectively for the citizens of Providence can be taken advantage of?

I am fully committed to embracing new technologies that will make our city government more efficient and user friendly. I will invest in training and development so that the staff are able to use new technologies to their fullect capabilities.

Topic 4: Supporting a “Learning City Hall” for the 21st Century

Question B: What do you see as the barriers to improving efficiency in City Hall and how will you overcome them?

Many barriers are related to the fiscal crisis the city is in. However, I believe that the use of technology will allow us to identify waste and streamline processes that will lead to additional revenue, so I am committed to finding ways to fund IT investments.

Topic 5: High Performance Providence -- A City With Pride

Question A: The concept of Open Data is not only about government transparency. It provides an incentive and makes it possible to increase performance. As mentioned in IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge report for Providence written in 2011, our city has few performance indicators within or across departments. The City of Fort Lauderdale has full time Performance Analysts responsible for tracking 142 performance indicators. Some examples include: resident satisfaction with city services (via an annual survey), the number of new employees receiving Lean/Six Sigma certifications, the number of budget transfers researched and approved within two business days and the number of departmental cross-sectional performance meetings. Indicators are published at least annually. Moving the needle on these indicators make a city more attractive for potential residents and increases the pride of current residents. At one time there was a system called ProvStat that tracked some performance indicators, but it no longer exists. The new mayor of the City of Providence has an opportunity to improve our city and the performance of City Hall, but the city must start tracking data in collaboration with department heads and staff. What would be your strategy for tracking data with a goal of improving performance for the betterment of Providence?

I will bring in experts who can coordinate tracking of performance indicators across departments and and their respective staffs. Accountability is key, the residents of Providence are basically investors in our great city, and they deserve to be able to see how city departments are holding up when it comes to performance.

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