New Steps to Build an Innovative, 21st Century Detroit

The Obama Administration is committed to partnering with the City of Detroit—its citizens, local leaders, and community stakeholders—to support the City’s vision for economic revitalization. As part of this effort, last November, the White House brought together, in Detroit, a team of top municipal-government technology officials from around the country to meet with city officials and local private-sector, non-profit, and civic innovators. The goal of the trip, and the ongoing engagement between this Tech Team of municipal officials and the City, has been to identify ways technology can be leveraged in support of economic revitalization and improved services for city residents.

The five individuals on this “Tech Team” have led innovative efforts in other cities—Boston, Chicago, Louisville, New Orleans, and Raleigh—that ultimately created significant costs-savings for their respective local governments and facilitated the development of customer-facing tools that made government services easier to access.

Today, we are transmitting to the City of Detroit a report from the “Tech Team” which include initial impressions, observations, and suggested areas of focus for the city. These recommendations are based on the team’s experiences in their cities and the two days they spent with the incredible municipal leadership and staff in Detroit. The full report is here.

Ultimately, the City of Detroit and its leadership will know best how to interpret and apply the observations and recommendations, but we are confident that collaborative efforts such as this one can complement and amplify the important work already underway by the City and local stakeholders.

Upon receipt of the report Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan issued the following statement:

We're deeply grateful to the Obama administration for making Detroit's technology needs a priority by sending us this Tech Team.  The recommendations the Team has presented us will help light a path toward improved efficiency and customer service across every city department. They also will help us establish greater transparency in our local government.  We've already fulfilled one of the report's key recommendations by creating the position of Chief Information Officer to lead our efforts.  We are thrilled that one of the team's members, Beth Niblock, recently joined my administration to become our new CIO and she already is doing great work to move Detroit forward.

As noted by Mayor Duggan, one of the Tech Team’s key recommendations has already been fulfilled by the City: the establishment of a cabinet-level position within city government to lead technology and government service delivery efforts. Mayor Duggan recently recruited Beth Niblock, one of the original members of the team, to be the City of Detroit’s first-ever cabinet level Chief Information Officer. The creation of this new position—with Beth on the job— further solidifies the critical role of technology and innovation in the City’s policies and economic revitalization efforts. In her role, CIO Niblock will play a leading role in applying insights from the Tech Team to benefit the citizens of Detroit.

In addition, the Teach Team’s report includes the following recommended areas of focus:

  • Evaluating IT Infrastructure: Identify opportunities for streamlining government processes and realizing cost-savings in city spending, including areas such as standardizing software applications and consolidating data centers and servers;
  • Promoting Civic Innovation in Detroit: Leverage the knowledge and expertise of Detroit’s lively, diverse civic innovation ecosystem of social and civic entrepreneurs, foundations, and business owners to develop tools and technologies to benefit the City and local residents.
  • Opening Government Data: Make freely available government data more open and accessible to fuel entrepreneurship, innovation, and economic growth while ensuring privacy and security;
  • Creating a 311 System:  Create a 311 system to improve citizen-relationship management and decrease non-emergency related service requests to emergency lines such as 911;
  • Improving Enterprise Geographic Information System (GIS): Facilitate the build-out of citywide enterprise Geographic Information System.
  • Enabling Online Permitting: Develop and provide the capability for local residents to apply and pay for business, safety, building, and other permits online.

As previously announced and in conjunction with the Administration’s efforts to support Detroit revitalization, Kresge Foundation funded the Tech Team’s trip to Detroit. In addition, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Rock Ventures committed to provide $500,000 to help implement key elements of this report, which could include hiring innovation fellows, making necessary technology upgrades, and supporting local tech-training and mentoring.

Going forward, the White House, the Tech Team, and the City of Detroit will continue to collaborate on revitalization efforts and to help build a robust, 21st century Detroit.

Brian Forde is Senior Advisor to the U.S. Chief Technology Officer at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

Don Graves is Executive Director of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness at the White House

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