civic tech

Austin Innovation Design, Technology, & Innovation Fellows Launch Party


On Thursday, I attended the launch party for the Austin Innovation Fellows program. I’d gotten the invitation because I signed up for the mailing list, and I had some free time, so why not? Also, I’d not yet seen the inside of the much-coveted Google Fiber space — we tried getting it for our civic design event, but no dice; the Great and Powerful Google only allows the space to be used for six hours on a single day, almost certainly because of some arcane astrological calculation their now-sentient AI algorithms have discovered and silently applied. (Okay. I made that up but the point remains: nuts to them.)

The space was as hip and and posh as one would expect, meaning that there were very few spaces to actually sit. Given that there was also a very hard concrete floor, I mentally deducted a point from the space’s UX. Still, it looked pretty, the people were nice and there were some A+ mini-subs and wine.

Before the event started, I met city employees and quickly discovered that there were a lot of separate departments doing web stuff. This wasn’t surprising, and in fact it was sort of comforting in that it reminded me of dealing with university administration. The speeches were brief and to the point; first Matt Esquivel spoke about the city’s IT history, then Kerry O’Connor, the city’s CIO explained the city’s current approach and future plans.

Then Ben Guhin, the city’s Senior Advisor for Design & Technology, introduced the fellows, who talked a little about their work. The first two Fellow teams are working with the Austin Convention Center and the permitting process, respectively. The latter team passed out a slip of paper, because they’re trying to gather user feedback on the permitting process, and I took a blurry photo to share on social media.

Overall, I was very impressed with the city’s strategy. It was following all the best practices (or at least the ones I like), such as using cross-functional teams and design sprints.

After the presentations I chatted a bit with the city’s CIO, who impressed me with her thoughtful approach to evangelizing best practices. I thought I knew how to geek out about process, actually, but she is taking it to some next level shizzle. And let me emphasize, I think it’s super cool that you can stop and chat with the city’s CIO at a public event. In fact, I think a lot of tech people might benefit from taking a turn as a public servant — “standing on the other side of the counter,” as Matt Esquivel put it.  Then I startled one of the fellows by asking them a lot of CMS-related questions, and together with a content person we celebrated the joys of deleting things.

In short, it was great fun, and I look forward to seeing what the city will do next. If you get the chance to stop by any of the Innovation events, it’s definitely worth meeting the fellows!