2014 Providence Mayoral Open Data Survey

Survey response from the Harrop 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?

They are too little. The city could do much better financially but making some reasonable investments in appropriate technology to improved efficiency in multiple areas of city government.

They are too low, and more IT time will be required, especially to improved constituent services.

Topic 1: Investment in Technology to Promote Innovation

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

For Providence, for the near future, a 1% budget expenditure would be appropriate.

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:

No answer provided

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.”

Within six months, we should be able to get all building permits and business licenses posted, to support business (and jobs). Following that, we need to work on public safety data, mainly data police will need.

Current TSA's should be easily accessible (although note I would move to abolish most of them). Disciplinary actions against city employees, including teachers, police and others should be available (as the state makes available for physicans). City Council,committee meetings and public hearings should be filmed and available within 24 hours. Job descriptions and all city contracts should be available on-line.

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:

No answer provided

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?

Yes.

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?

Established job descriptions fixed by union contracts. The receivership I am proposing for the city will help to re-set these job descriptions.

Rigid contracts with staffing levels currently prevent the city from innovation, as job protection seems paramount in union negotiations.

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 would uses best strategies perfected by city’s of comparable size and establish such in Providence.

Performance analysts are also significant in medicine (my field) for hospital and clinic quality and efficiency, and I use them on a day to day basis in my current career. We need to survey for best practices in other cities of similar size, and begin to implement such analysis. I was never clear why ProvStat died; I suspect it was the money involved and was not valued by those it was meant to help on a day to day basis (or the City Council). This should not be allowed to happen again.

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