This post originally appeared on O’Reilly Radar (“Can Maryland’s other “CIO” cultivate innovation in government? “). It’s republished with permission.
When Maryland hired Bryan Sivak last April as the state’s chief innovation officer, the role had yet to be defined in government. After all, like most other states in the union, Maryland had never had a chief innovation officer before.
Sivak told TechPresident on his second day at work that he wanted to define what it means to build a system for innovation in government:
If you can systemize what it means to be innovative, what it means to challenge the status quo without a budget, without a lot of resources, then you’ve created something that can be replicated anywhere.
Months later, Sivak (@BryanSivak ) has been learning — and sharing — as he goes. That doesn’t mean he walked into the role without ideas about how government could be more innovative. Anything but. Sivak’s years in the software industry and his tenure as the District of Columbia’s chief technology officer equipped him with plenty of ideas, along with some recognition as a Gov 2.0 Hero from Govfresh.
Sivak was a genuine change agent during his tenure in DC. As DCist reported, Sivak oversaw the development of several projects while he was in office, like the District’s online service request center and “the incredibly useful TrackDC .”
One of the best ideas that Sivak brought to his new gig was culled directly from the open government movement: using collective intelligence to solve problems.
“My job is to fight against the entrenched status quo,” said Sivak in an interview this winter. “I’m not a subject expert in 99% of issues. The people who do those jobs, live and breathe them, do know what’s happening. There are thousands and thousands of people asking ‘why can’t we do this this way? My job is to find them, help them, get them discovered, and connect them.”
That includes both internal and external efforts, like a pilot partnership with citizens to report downed trees last year.
An experiment with SeeClickFix during Hurricane Irene in August 2011 had a number of positive effects, explained Sivak. “It made emergency management people realize that they needed to look at this stuff,” he said. “Our intention was to get people thinking. The new question is now, ‘How do we figure out how to use it?’ They’re thinking about how to integrate it into their process.”
Gathering ideas for making government work better from the public presents some challenges. For instance, widespread public frustration with the public sector can also make citizensourcing efforts a headache to architect and govern. Sivak suggested trying to get upset citizens involved in addressing the problems they highlight in public comments.