Last Friday, during the Q&A with Dr. Mashariki, the last question by http://twitter.com/LaiHaobo really resonated with me.
It’s at the 1:25:38 mark here - http://new.livestream.com/internetsociety/codeacrossnyc2015/videos/77735694
He asked about what NYC and NYS can do to not just be a follower, but a leader in CivicTech. He made a comparison to what happened in Silicon Valley in the 60s/70s, and asked if the government is doing anything else to lead the trend, and not just be a me-too i.e. “Silicon Alley”, because “its not just about silicon.”
While he was asking that question, I was vigorously nodding my head in agreement.
Much the same way NYC has enabled various urban innovations pioneered right here in the Big Apple (the first elevators in the US, the first city-wide subway system, etc.), I believe it needs to play a more active role to nurture and grow CivicTech, to enable O’Reilly’s “Government As a Platform” vision.
Already, NYC is leading the charge with its landmark municipal open data law, and NYCBigApps. But as a company that’s a direct product of those programs, I feel that there are still gaps in engagement and more can be done beyond the courtesy meeting.
Of course, these companies still need to win business through their merits, but the qualification process effectively precludes startups. These procedures were put in place as government needs to spend taxpayer dollars wisely, but it seems that procurement has effectively been “captured” by big contractors.
As somebody who’s in an incubator sitting with fellow “traditional” (i.e. not civictech) startups. Fellow co-founders talk about how they gain traction - and often, it involves a company willing to be a beta customer, knowing full-well the risks of the engagement, which they minimize by doing pilots. But by becoming willing guinea pigs, they are uniquely positioned to participate in shaping the product roadmap, and are poised to reap the benefits of such experimentation.
And sometimes, experiments will fail, but since its a pilot, the “damage” is minimized and lessons are learned (Go Fast, Fail Fast). And doesn’t innovation, by definition, require experimentation?
For NYC and NYS, is there a mechanism to do something similar? As we’ve seen with the existing procurement system, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee success - healthcare.gov, CityTime, 911, etc.
Still, I’m hopeful. As @technickle points out, everybody I’ve met in NYC and NYS, without exception, wants to do everything in their power to make New York a better place. Its just that existing procedures restrict innovation.
But as the passage of the open data law, City Record law, etc. demonstrates - big cultural and strategic changes can and will done, and I’m equally hopeful that this conversation factors into “how” that change will be achieved.
I vote CivicTech Alley!