Spark Boston Holds “Chief Chat” with Boston’s Chief Information Office and Chief Digital Officer

By Beth Treffeisen

On Thursday evening, young professionals and students crowded into Bill’s Bar on Lansdowne Street next to Fenway Park during an otherwise quite away game night. As people got after work drinks and snacked on appetizers, conversations on digital technology and government filled the room.

During the second “Chief Chat,” hosted by SPARK Boston, that used to be ONein3, the focus was  on how the City of Boston implements digital tools to make city government more welcoming, beautiful and user-friendly.

The discussion was moderated by John Gordon, the chief digital officer for Current by GE, along with Boston’s Chief Information Officer Jascha Franklin-Hodge and Chief Digital Officer Lauren Lockwood. The talk included their work to integrate innovative technology in city government.

“In government you have a way to impact peoples lives,” said Lockwood speaking on why she works for the government. “I mean we literally pick up garbage.”

For Franklin-Hodge, he said an important issue for him is to ensure equity and justice throughout the communities here in Boston.

“It is a gift to make change in the world we have with us,” said Franklin-Hodge.

The free event worked to facilitate ongoing conversations between the city leadership and Boston’s millennial population.

Discussions ranged on how does the Department of Innovation and Technology make sure that their services such as in their app 311 ensures pot holes actually get fixed in a timely manner to making it easier to work between the various departments at the city level.

Questions on how they developed the newly designed website also ensued.

“We wanted to answer the question, ‘what is the point of a city website?’” said Lockwood. She continued it can be as simple to paying a parking ticket or it can be for people looking for information, such as on moving day.

“A user shouldn’t have to go to the parking clerk department to find a parking permit,” said Lockwood on how the last website that was designed in 2006 was organized by various departments.

Franklin-Hodge also brought up how in the digital world is always rapidly chaning but government is designed for stability. He continued, “But when we are so stable we can’t keep up with the expectations it can be a problem.”

For example, he said, the old website was designed one year before the iPhone where they couldn’t have imagined people using the website on their mobile phone as their primary way to get online.

Later discussions included using research from residents to best implement technology, how to get the tools to people in places other than in the Innovation District to thrive, and how to help the transportation department make commutes better.

“The degree that the government listens, is if you call 311 with a suggestion for the website it will probably land in Lauren’s inbox,” said Franklin-Hodge. “We are learning on how to listen and engage in these different areas.”

SPARK Boston that hosted the event is a city-led program that works to engage young people in planning Boston’s future, setting priorities and addressing city issues.

The first “Chief Chat” took place last July with Julie Burros, the city of Boston’s Chief of Arts and Culture in the Abigail Ogilvy Gallery on Harrison Avenue.

“They are all interesting and engaging and will be held over Boston,” said Abigail Ogilvy a neighborhood captain for SPARK Boston. She added that there area number of different events coming up including a Field Day in Roslindale and West Roxbury.

“It’s to spark people to become more interested to go there and maybe even move there,” said Ogilvy.

In Boston, one in three people are in the age group between 20 and 35 years old.

“For many in that age-range they are leaving the city because they thought they could do better elsewhere,” said Rebecca Phu a neighborhood captain for SPARK Boston. “That’s why we need to get them involved with future planning now.”

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