2014 Providence Mayoral Open Data Survey

Survey response from the Elorza 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?

My administration will prioritize continued investments in information technology.

I recognize that, thanks to the work of the Open Providence Commission for Accountability & Transparency, Providence has made some important strides in this regard over the last several years. Today, city residents can apply for a building permit online, watch City Council proceedings via an online livestream, and download more than one hundred different municipal datasets from the City’s Open Data portal. These steps, though incremental, are important reforms in making our City more transparent and accountable to city residents.

At the same time, Providence cannot rest on its laurels. My administration will double down on our efforts to make our City transparent, accessible, and data friendly. That will mean continued investment in the infrastructure necessary to support open government. It’s unacceptable, for example, that renewing an entertainment license or ordering a birth certificate requires a city resident to visit City Hall in person with a check or money order. These simple transactions must continue to be brought into the twenty first century.

Topic 1: Investment in Technology to Promote Innovation

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

I recognize that Providence faces competing demands for scarce resources. As Mayor, I’ll prioritize cost neutral advances in information technology. That means working smarter with the resources we have, pursuing partnerships with organizations our universities and local groups like the Providence Geeks, and finding creative financing opportunities that allow third parties (such as Square) to earn a commission for providing city customers with an improved, technology enhanced experience. We will make continued direct investments in our information technology department as demand warrants and as resources permit.

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?: Yes
  • 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:

My administration will concurrently publish any and all data that the City makes available through an APRA request on the City’s Open Data Portal.

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.”

In my opinion, there are only a small number of categories of datasets that I believe deserve special restrictions. These include datasets that contain personally sensitive, individually-identifiable data about city employees or city residents, or datasets that contain information that could be used to jeopardize the safety of the city or its residents.

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 concur that any new city vendor should be required to ensure that their systems produce machine readable data that can be automatically published to the City’s Open Data Portal. In partnership with Code Island and many others, I look forward to adopting the City’s first Open Data Policy within my first several months in office.

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?

My staff will learn directly from other cities that have experienced success in this regard. The City of Denver, for example, has launched something called “Peak Academy” where city staff take part in a five day training on topics including performance measurement. This “innovation camp” helps create a culture among line-level staff where risk taking and big thinking is welcomed and rewarded.

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?

I think the biggest barrier to improving efficiency in City Hall is the stubborn culture of “it’s always been done this way.” We need to ensure that City Hall is focused on serving its customers – city residents and taxpayers – with pride and efficiency. We need to develop an internal culture of continuous improvement, one that embraces change and innovation. I believe that getting the work culture right is a critical and necessary first step to successfully implementing a larger strategy of systemic reform.

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?

How long does it take, on average, for the City to resolve a cracked sidewalk complaint, or respond to a report of graffiti or vandalism, or active an animal control response? The answer is: we don’t know. Providence lacks basic key performance indicators for core city functions. And, with no baseline data to compare monthly performance against, managers cannot hold line-level staff responsible for measurable, quantifiable outcomes.

Within my first thirty days in office, I will work with department heads to develop a set of publicly facing key performance indicators for each city department. We will measure our performance, commit to improvements over time, and transparently communicate our successes and challenges along the way.

Back to list