Brett Goldstein, Commissioner of the Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT), and Kevin Hauswirth, Social Media Director, took the stage during Social Media Week to talk tech, data and social media with a packed room of tech-savvy Chicagoans. The originally scheduled Digital Trio was one man down as Chief Technology Officer John Tolva was at the White House receiving a Champions of Change award for overseeing the Mayor’s policy implementation of an open and participatory government in Chicago.

Goldstein set the tone for the event with a candid assessment of the role of government technology. When it comes to innovation, Goldstein challenges the notion that anything can be “good enough for government” and that he sees no reason why government innovation needs to lag behind the private sector.

During the hour long discussion, Goldstein and Hauswirth pointed out what the Mayor’s office has done to live up to this and spoke about plans for the future.

Social Media Week - Digital Duo

Kevin Hauswirth & Brett Goldstein at Social Media Week

Data-Driven Decision Making

In his function as the Chief Data Officer, Goldstein is focused on analytics and quantitative analysis. “What I do is take the quantitative, the raw numbers of something, and try to figure out what the best approach toward tackling a policy or initiative that the Mayor wants to put into place,” said Goldstein.Goldstein went on to stress that it is a hybrid process that it is not simply policy that drives data, and that whenever his team brings an interesting dataset to light, the policy team takes notice.

“The city has enormous data of all different types and one of the things we’re trying to do is surface some of the things that we don’t know,” said Goldstein. “So once that is found I can go to the policy team and say ‘I saw this, what does this mean to you and how can this help us think in a different way from a policy perspective?’”

Chicago has also built one of the largest dataset in the country with over 350 public sets available online. (https://data.cityofchicago.org/) “Chicago boasts an extremely large dataset. In terms of trying to quantify it there are millions and millions of lines of data that anyone can go online, download, and analyze for their own use,” said Goldstein.

Empowered by this data, Chicago developers like our friends at Open City have built their own applications including apps that show the activity of lobbyists in Chicago, street sweeping alerts, crime rate maps, and Chicago Public School tiers.

A Social City

The Mayor also brought on Kevin Hauswirth to be Chicago’s first-ever Director of Social Media. Hauswirth works in conjunction with Goldstein and Tolva, to ensure that the Mayor’s policies have a strong digital component. During the discussion, Hauswirth stressed that a smart social media strategy goes well beyond cute dog pics and Zombie invasions. (Though, both of these are very important.)“We’re really focused on the conversations and how we can make sure that the Mayor’s Office is a part of those conversations with an emphasis on public information and education,” said Hauswirth.

If there are places where Chicagoans are talking about how to make the City work better, Mayor Emanuel wants to be invested in that dialogue. It’s important to listen, but the City must be responsive on and off line.

“He [Mayor Emanuel] likes to call that ‘closing the conversation loop,’” said Hauswirth. That was a big driving force on how the Mayor crowd sourced resident feedback around the Chicago budget and provided hundreds of responses. The Mayor himself even personally called some Chicagoans to talk more about their budget suggestions.

Occasionally government gets in on the action of creating apps using city information

“I went into the office of a commissioner that handles streets and sanitation and saw a large active map on his wall. I asked what it was and he told me that he has GPS on all of his snow plows; through that we created ‘Plow Tracker,’ which allows Chicagoans to see where the nearest plow is and if their street has been plowed,” said Hauswirth.

These technology and social media innovations are just a small peek into what Chicago may accomplish.

To get in on the conversation, you can like the Office of the Mayor on Facebook, following on Twitter, Foursquare, Storify, and Google+.

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