Leveraging Innovation and Data to Lead New York City into a More Successful, Equitable Future

As a city built by people coming from all over the world in search of opportunity, New York has long been a hub for innovation and a beacon of progress for the rest of the world. And our city remains a wellspring of innovation and data that is home to a growing tech sector.

However, as other cities across the globe have prioritized innovation in the public and private sectors, it has become increasingly clear that our city is not reaching its full innovative potential. From the struggle to teach our children remotely and vaccinate all New Yorkers fairly, COVID has exposed the gaps and underlying inequity in our data and innovation infrastructure.

As we rebuild and reimagine our city as one that works for everyone, we must reclaim the spirit of innovation that made New York City the capital of the world, and this requires a mayor who views innovation across all sectors of government and the private sector as a necessary part of meeting the needs and building the future for the city’s residents. With Shaun Donovan as mayor, New York City will make a more concerted effort to develop its culture of innovation and address fragmented implementation across agencies, putting the wellbeing of New Yorkers at the center of the ways we remake how people live and work in our city. 

Shaun has been a leader in applying innovative approaches to solving community issues throughout his career. From his automation of the City’s antiquated housing code inspection system using 311 to the dramatic reduction of veteran homelessness using HUDStat, he has made New Yorkers’ lives better through better data and information. And as a trained architect who uses design thinking to reimagine solutions to big challenges, Shaun has always viewed government not as “the art of the possible,” but “the art of the nearly-impossible.” In that spirit, he partnered with community residents and leaders to launch worldwide design competitions that led to Via Verde, the most healthy, sustainable affordable housing in the city, and Rebuild by Design, to build path-breaking parks and infrastructure that would protect communities in the wake of Hurricane Sandy while improving quality of life and creating new jobs along our waterfront.

Shaun’s campaign is based on the notion that through creative, inclusive ideas, New York City can come back stronger from this crisis as well. We will use technology to make all of New York City — and the world — more accessible to New Yorkers, be it at home, on the street, or in the classroom. We will use data- and evidence-based decision-making to more effectively and efficiently deliver outcome-focused, resident-centered government services to New Yorkers, measure our performance, and constantly improve. We will partner with innovative organizations across the private, non-profit, philanthropic, and academic sectors to pool our city’s resources and put them to work for New Yorkers.

As mayor, Shaun Donovan will establish City Hall as a portal to and an example for New York City’s innovation ecosystem, guided by a set of key principles:

  • Every New Yorker can be an innovator
  • City employees must be equipped with the right tools and resources to incubate new ideas, quickly identify areas for improvement, and pilot solutions
  • Innovative and data-driven approaches must be encouraged and rewarded
  • Data must be seen as an essential tool of governance
  • All New Yorkers must be able to participate, access, and collaborate to help New York recover and rebuild
  • Privacy, security, and transparency must always be conserved
  • Equity must be a key consideration in all innovation

We must be bold and ambitious in our plans to rebuild our city. The best ideas are out there, but we need to be willing to look for them, test them, and learn from them.

Our plan will focus on:

Investing in Updating Legacy Operating Models and Improving the City’s Data and Delivery Infrastructure

The first step to truly creating the environment for innovation in our city is ensuring that the technology, data infrastructure, and operating models used by our city are up-to-date and effective. Deferring these investments not only prevents us from meeting the needs of our residents today — it makes it even harder to close these gaps in the future.

That is why the Donovan administration will immediately take stock of the city’s current tools and processes and identify opportunities to use data more effectively, efficiently, and equitably.

We are committing to the following policies and programs:

Lead with a comprehensive data, innovation, technology, and digital strategy that is rooted in principles of equity

In the last decade, cities globally have been developing innovation, delivery, and data strategies. These strategies provide clear definitions, goals, and methodologies and aim to set both annual and long-term goals and strategy for innovation, as well as the approaches the city can use to innovate within the administration. Examples include the City of San Jose’s Innovation Roadmap and the City of London’s Smarter London Together roadmap. And yet, New York City has yet to publish comprehensive formal strategies for data or innovation. While we have the Open Data Plan and the Internet Master Plan, they do not connect to or build off of one another, so a unified strategy is needed

New York City will lead with a comprehensive data, innovation, technology, and digital strategy that is rooted in the principles of equity. This strategy will be enterprise-wide, holding agencies to a higher standard of excellence. It should also be co-designed by residents, community partners, and academia, bringing together an interdisciplinary team to develop and execute on this plan. The strategy should also include clear metrics, measurable goals, and an accountability mechanism so that we can make sure our city’s agencies are meeting their set goals.

Avoiding fragmentation and silos will also be a priority for our city. Especially as we recover from the financial distress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, data and innovation should be leveraged to improve business processes, remove duplication, identify cost-savings, and ensure that the city’s neighborhoods and residents hit hardest economically — and historically — get the services necessary for an equitable recovery. 

Restructure city roles to facilitate innovation

In most cities, data, delivery, and innovation teams sit under the Mayor’s Office, such as the Los Angeles Innovation and Data Teams and Boston’s New Urban Mechanics. There are several teams across New York City’s government both within the Mayor’s office and in agencies.

However, there still exists a serious need for building data capacity across all of our agencies, and for creating a team dedicated to overseeing enterprise data management and governance. Aligning data governance and management will open opportunities for resident empowerment, radical transparency, economic development, and more effective data-driven problem solving, program delivery and decision-making.

We must identify and elevate the right people into both data and non-data positions, especially commissioners and deputy mayors. Deputy mayors will be critical hires and must be people who understand the value of data and evidence, but more importantly, carry out the mayor’s commitment to innovation and data while being responsive to the needs of the community — shifting government performance, data, and innovation from back office functions to critical functions of New York.

The Donovan cabinet will oversee interagency and interdisciplinary collaboration, data-sharing, research and development, evaluations, and data and innovation public-private partnerships. Other responsibilities include: 

  • Enterprise data governance and management, including data warehouses, inventory, and integrated systems
  • Continuity of operations and disaster recovery
  • Protection of data privacy and confidentiality
  • Enterprise evaluations, including randomized control trials
  • Human-centered design and innovation strategies

To ensure that our talent draws from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences, we will also attract non-public sector experience into government through a Mayoral Innovation Fellowship program, adapted from the Presidential Innovation Fellowship model and the FUSE Corp model, which bring mid- to senior-level leaders from other sectors into the public sector.

Build a culture of risk-taking, innovation, and data-driven decision-making

The most important factor in building a successful innovative and data-driven culture is commitment and support from the top. Shaun Donovan and his executive-level leaders will elevate innovation and data by setting clear expectations that these teams will have enterprise authority to develop and implement strategies, providing adequate funding, and encouraging risk-taking and an environment to pilot new ideas

The mayor must also provide teams with the political power to cut through bureaucracy, and will have a critical role in establishing a culture that learns from experience, particularly from mistakes, as a way to reinforce a problem-solving culture. Incentive is a tool which the Mayor should leverage to reward and recognize agencies, senior leaders, middle managers, and staff broadly, including through citywide innovation awards and funding for innovative ideas. 

A culture of innovation needs to continue to be cultivated inside the city. To do this, we will encourage city staff to participate in a wide variety of trainings that help civil servants learn new methodologies and adopt an innovative, data-centric, and digital mindset, and we will look to hire people with these skills as well as advance current employees throughout city government who may have these skills but not have the opportunities to fully utilize them. We will also offer training opportunities to community partners and residents to better access and leverage city-owned information and data. Having the data accessible is only half of the battle; we will empower residents to understand what the data says so that we can be held accountable. 

Use City funding to incentivize innovation and promote the most successful programs

To build a culture of data and innovation, the City will need to dedicate funding and resources to develop and scale innovation, program delivery, and data capacities. These capabilities will be focused on the City’s top priorities, whether that be COVID-19 recovery, or reimagining New York City as a place where a secure, healthy life is available to everyone. We will continue to build innovation opportunities by leveraging the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York, which takes donations for Civic Innovation to support the priority needs of the Mayor’s Fund through staff, technology, evaluations, partnerships, and other resources.

And, we will create an internal innovation fund for employees to spur innovation and new solutions. Agencies and employees will be able to submit proposals for new solutions and projects, and we will award access to pilot- and seed-funding on a routine basis. This recommendation could also be externally funded through the Mayor’s Fund. 

It is vital that we leverage effective data analysis, results from evaluations, and resident feedback when making decisions about new and renewed funding. Through the Office of Management and Budget, we will dramatically change how data and evidence are leveraged for budgeting purposes, by making a commitment to identifying programs that are not meeting the desired goals and needs of the community, and directing funding toward those that are yielding positive results.

Rethink how the City of New York buys things

Although the city was at the forefront of transparency in the early 2000s, the City has deprioritized the data and technology infrastructure advancements it needed to ensure that residents can access the necessary services to increase quality of life for all New Yorkers. We need to invest in updating legacy operating models and improve outdated business processes to help New Yorkers more easily access information about City services and open the doors for communities to partner with the City to solve pressing challenges. 

Our current antiquated systems and layers of bureaucracy result in inefficient, lengthy, and unfair practices that fail to deliver the best value to residents of the city. In order to bring our City’s procurement practices into the 21st century, we need to assess and update the current system

The first step to updating the City’s procurement would be a review of contract and approval policy and process. The process takes too long with too many offices and agencies involved. The City needs to review both policies and processes to identify where cost and time can be saved

A diverse city needs a diverse pool of products and services. This would require an assessment of the amount of contracted dollars going to local minority- and women-owned business enterprises (MWBEs) to ensure fairness. Read more about our plans to support MWBEs in our Economic Development Platform.

All City contracts, especially human service contracts, should be tied to strategic outcomes and vendor performance, and grounded in true partnership with our human services providers. This ensures that every dollar the City spends is used to support citywide priorities and meet the needs of New Yorkers, and that we are being good partners and working to achieve shared outcomes. This also holds the City accountable for the contracts that we sign.

Agencies should continue to have a designated Agency Chief Contracting Officers (ACCOs), but the responsibilities of the Department of Consumer Affairs should be increased to ensure that the development and review of solicitations and bids along with the issuing of contracts is housed within a central enterprise procurement office. 

Bringing Quality and High-speed Broadband into Every Single Residence in New York City

The COVID-19 pandemic has propelled an already necessary national dialogue on the digital divide and the racial inequities in accessing the internet. Our students are attending class through online platforms and many residents are working from home. Access to high-speed internet can no longer be seen as a privilege, but a right that every New York resident should have. 

The de Blasio Administration has started the process of building a digital infrastructure for New York; however, the approach being taken does not tackle the underlying issues that have forced the digital divide into existence. To bring quality and high-speed broadband into every single residence in New York City, the City will need to rebrand broadband as an essential utility and effectively bring together the city’s stakeholders to make this a reality.

We are committing to the following policies and programs:

Assess and revise the City’s Internet Master Plan

The first step to identifying and remedying the gaps in internet connectivity is to conduct a broadband needs assessment across the city. This would be done in tandem with internet service providers to identify broadband and technological deserts.

To ensure equity, we would focus on poorly connected areas first by collecting and analyzing neighborhood-level data to identify the lowest broadband connectivity, affordability, and choice of internet service providers.

Tackle the regulatory landscape

In order to increase connectivity throughout the city, we need to work with the state government to pass a Universal Broadband For All bill which will enshrine grantmaking to increase competition as well as provide grants and incentives to internet service providers who invest in broadband deserts, and enshrines net neutrality principles into services offered.

Increase partnership to meet the needs of each community

We understand that the current process for a small number of providers to service large portions of the city has not effectively supported the needs of either residents or businesses. To address this, we will more effectively bring all stakeholders to the table, from the large telecommunications companies to community-level enterprises, to understand how we can better bridge gaps in service and empower New Yorkers through community-specific solutions.

Explicitly identify potential equity outcomes in the procurement process

To make sure we are offering the best, most equitable option to both providers and consumers, transparency has to be at the forefront of our plan. To do this, we plan to look for ways to integrate local MWBEs to the process of connecting New Yorkers.

We will also set equitable construction standards to ensure minimal disruption across all areas of the city and to prevent certain neighborhoods from being disproportionately affected. 

Address the short- and long-term digital divide challenges

As more New Yorkers are getting online, it is important to know that they know how to access the internet and all of the resources available to them. Through CBOs, neighborhood groups, libraries, and other resources, we would encourage and support that internet education trainings become available to all residents.

While connectivity is the first step, we also need to make sure that New Yorkers have the hardware they need to access the internet. We will continue our existing partnerships and forge new public-private partnerships to increase the number of devices distributed to communities most in need.

Ensuring that New Yorkers have Access to the Future of Digital Transformation and Emerging Technology

The City must ensure that all New Yorkers are able to participate in the future of digital transformation and emerging technology. Donovan’s New York will lead in the movement from “smart” to “automated and algorithmic” technologies by setting the standard in tandem with the Chief Equity Officer for how emerging technology can be leveraged to deliver better services, strengthen communities, and solve the city’s most pressing challenges, while prioritizing equity and New Yorkers’ rights every step of the way.

We are committing to the following policies and programs:

Partner with providers to ensure that technology does not get too far ahead of the city

While cities welcome new technology and services, they continue to fall into the data trap with vendors. New York needs smart data-sharing agreements to access machine-readable data from private sector corporations, as well as to make certain that all New Yorkers have equitable access to services and that essential data can be available for comprehensive decision-making. 

We must also invest in emerging technology entrepreneurs, especially women and BIPOC by leveraging private partnership and provide trainings, networks, and capital to invest in new emerging tech grown in NYC. Part of this effort involves establishing a NYC Entrepreneurship Fund, leveraging public, private, philanthropic investments to fund it, and focusing on communities that have not had historically equitable access to capital. Read more in our Economic Development Platform.

Safely leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning

Artificial intelligence and machine learning have the potential to be more powerful tools in the effective and equitable delivery of city services, but without a concerted effort to prioritize equity and accountability, these algorithms often amplify harm. We must develop strong procedures and a strategic plan — including resident engagement strategies — to launch and widen the use of emerging technology to remain up to date with technology’s progress and increase avenues to access city hall, while developing systems that work for every New Yorker. 

Additionally, we will reconvene a better, more transparent Automated Decision Systems (ADS) Task Force to revise the recommendations in the official ADS Task Force report from November 2019. One of the goals will be to identify opportunities to test artificial intelligence where it can enhance policy and outcomes and make transparent where artificial intelligence is used for policy decisions.

Reinvent the direct-to-resident model by creating new interfaces for government

A significant barrier to meeting the needs of our residents is making our government digitally accessible to New Yorkers. To address this, we will enable “Ask City of New York” on personal smart devices to increase access to city services while also holding companies to respecting all New Yorkers’ right to privacy. Residents can ask their device questions from when street-side parking goes into effect to marriage license requirements.

In order to improve the user experience on our platforms, we will build a bot that will make nativating easier, and we will look to make quick and significant improvements to our system by scaling programs like the MOCTO Innovation Fellows and the New York City and US Digital Response Tech Swat team.

Ensure that with the increase in technology, we are keeping New Yorkers safe

Some of the most pressing issues of living in New York will be solved through new ways of using and leveraging data, innovation, and private sector partnerships. However, the use of smart city technology can cause communities to be reasonably concerned about the dangers of cyber attacks, security, privacy, and transparency around the collection and use of personal data, and targeted disinformation attacks.

New York City has the responsibility to communicate and engage residents, educating them on how the city intends to introduce and use smart technology and any data it collects. The City also needs to clearly articulate the benefits of smart technology and how the data collected will benefit the lives of residents and community wellbeing and make critical decisions about what the trade-offs are when deploying these technologies.

Part of building a strong data foundation is formalizing processes to reduce the possibility of inadvertently releasing private or confidential data. We will also equip every NYC employee with enterprise-wide trainings and the tools necessary to assess and reduce security risk associated with data and information technology.

To do this, we will: 

  • Expand NYC Secure, protecting New Yorkers and scaling trainings to students, neighborhood associations, and CBOs
  • Expand and elevate NYC Cyber Command (NYC3), collaborating with non-governmental sectors and other government entities to make sure relevant and up-to-date information is shared and leveraged
  • Develop cyber resiliency plans to ensure information technology systems continue delivering services in the event of a cyber incident and we can be prepared for when an attack occurs
  • Conduct risk assessments and risk simulations to center the impact of New Yorkers when it comes to their privacy, the potential harms that can occur with a new technology, and the use case of these technologies
  • Diversify the procurement of technologies to ensure no back-end access to data or scope creep

Private Sector Partnership as a Tool for Economic Development

As we rebuild and expand our city’s economy to provide a chance to get ahead to all New Yorkers, private sector innovators will be critical partners in developing the tools and creating the opportunities that will improve the lives of all of our residents. It is important that we create an environment that both attracts innovative companies to our city and facilitates collaboration between the private and public sectors, with a commitment to equity.

We are committing to the following policies and programs:

Prioritize earlier and continuous partnership with and investment in private sector innovators

Much of the time, private sector partners are engaged as vendors or solution providers and not as true collaborators, when in fact we’re focused on many of the same problems. At the same time, private sector leaders may not always have a clear picture of how the public sector operates. We believe that a key step to developing innovative solutions to the city’s problems and attracting companies to New York is prioritizing collaboration with private sector leaders and improving communication on key public issues.

To this end, the Donovan administration will launch an upgraded version of the Executive Blueprint Series — closed-door sessions bringing the mayor, deputy mayors, commissioner and senior aids together with the sharpest leaders in academia and the private sector to discuss multiple managerial and leadership challenges of implementing large-scale initiatives. Going beyond what was accomplished in the past, these sessions will focus on not only discussing complex cross-cutting issues and large-scale programs, but also laying out a blueprint for the future, including setting goals, identifying needs, and brainstorming sources of funding.

We will create effective partnerships that allow the private sector to take some early risk to test co-created solutions and identify those that work in ways that the public sector can benefit from and scale. These partnerships will involve leveraging the wealth of experience and knowledge in New York City academic institutions in general, and CUNY specifically.

The City can also play a key role in supporting successful and innovative ventures that are geared toward solving critical problems in our city. Partnership and the Mayor’s Fund are tools through which the City can support and award contracts to companies that display the capacity to solve key challenges. We can create or partner with innovation hubs, competitions, and challenges to help build solutions, integrating resident input throughout the process to ensure that their needs are truly being met. In supporting these growing businesses, we will look to strengthen minority and women-owned business enterprises (MWBEs) and make it easier for these often overlooked organizations to access capital and partnership opportunities.

The Donovan administration is also committed to expanding innovative sectors of our city’s economy. We will make investments in infrastructure, training, and regulation that will help New York City become the life sciences capital of the world, and we will lead in terms of climate adaptation and jobs by promoting green technology and workforce training, making it easier for buildings to meet climate adaptation goals, and incentivizing investment in our wind power generation sector.

Read more about our plans to support equitable and long-term growth of our economy in our Economic Development Platform.

Create a strong skilled workforce pipeline

The Donovan administration will be committed to preparing all New Yorkers for secure, family-sustaining jobs. These efforts include ensuring that all New York City public school students are taught the skills necessary to succeed in a digital economy, and providing every single student the chance to gain hands-on work experience through at least one guaranteed paid career opportunity while in high school.

CUNY is a jewel among our nation’s public university systems, and it is important that we properly leverage it as an engine for economic opportunity. By launching a CUNY Learning Center for 21st Century Skills, the City will bring together students including adult learners, professors, and employers to create opportunities for applied learning through micro-internships, capstones, skills badging programs, and consulting projects, all in high growth fields. 

These efforts will be part of our broader commitment to create the largest comprehensive skills-based training program in the US, and will ensure that companies have access to the most prepared workforce in the world.

Read more about these and other policies in our Education Platform and Economic Development Platform.

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