I no longer laugh at the joke in a meeting with public officials when someone says they need to go get their teenager to help them with technology. The fact that we have dramatic new tools often licensed by a city yet only a few individuals truly taking advantage of them is a public-sector crisis. For newer and more powerful software, vendors wistfully aspire for the tools they have designed and sold to cities to be more fully utilized. From predictive analytics to performance measurement, new data and tech initiatives have the power to reinvent every part of city hall. These tools and initiatives are allowing cities to better understand how their work is improving residents’ lives, discover previously hidden problems and streamline their internal processes.
But technology is still only a tool, and cities will not be able to evolve unless their employees do too. One of the most important skills the next generation of public employees can have is an understanding of both policy and data, enabling them to understand the social context, deploy the necessary analysis and craft targeted solutions for the most pressing civic problems. Cities need to attract and cultivate a workforce of tech-minded employees who can fully leverage new technologies and data initiatives to promote change and create public value. This requires both discovering how to hire new tech talent and better cultivating and training existing workers.
Correcting the gap between capacity and use requires cities to rethink their recruitment and development processes to better attract suitable talent. This gap can be in part closed by cities changing their hiring methods: What standards they impose, how quickly they can offer jobs, where they recruit, and even the description of the job itself.