February 18, 2010 By Andy Opsahl
Photo: Dustin Haisler, CIO, Manor, Texas
Winners of the Center for Digital Government's Best of Texas awards were announced Thursday, Feb 18. State and local agencies won honors for IT performance and innovation, with three nods going to local governments and four acknowledging state agencies.
The program's Visionary Award went to Manor, Texas, for its Manor Labs tool, which took a different spin on interacting with citizens.
"We were surprised. Manor's quite a small community with 6,500 citizens. There are only 35 full-time employees. It was kind of a surprise that we were even in the running, said Dustin Haisler, CIO of Manor.
Manor Labs is a citizen collaboration platform that the city deployed for citizens to submit technology ideas for the city and rate the ideas of others. Manor then chooses some of the proposals for implementation. The twist is the city has an incentive for fueling activity on the platform. Every time someone submits an idea, comments another's idea, or votes on an idea, that person wins "Innobucks points." The various citizen activities within Manor Labs are worth different amounts of Innobucks, which can be turned in for tangible prizes. For example, one million Innobucks points wins "mayor for the day" status, while 400,000 points can be traded for a ride-along with the police chief.
"We wanted to demonstrate to other cities how to build a sustainable innovation platform. You have to make it fun. You have to make it a game," Haisler said.
Manor Labs operates somewhat like a stock exchange. Once an idea attracts enough comments, it reaches a level at which city officials evaluate whether or not they will implement that idea. During this time, users can invest their Innobucks in the ideas awaiting their fates. If a proposal is approved, all Innobucks invested in it double. Someone who invests in a rejected project loses all of the Innobucks he or she invested in that project. The approach has resulted in five different Web tools being implemented by Manor.
Snagging one of two "Excellence in Leadership" awards was Jake Nicholson, information resources manager for the Department of State Health Services. He pounced on stimulus money and used its availability as an occasion to streamline IT for his agency.
The other Excellence in Leadership award went to Richard Goldgar, deputy CIO and CTO of the Texas Education Agency. His accolade highlighted eight years of deploying numerous helpful technologies within his agency. Those included service-oriented architecture and Microsoft Excel Server as the calculation engine for systems that calculate and distribute funding for various programs. He also formed groups of officials within his agency dedicated to policing different aspects of the technology landscape.
The first of three "Project Excellence" awards put an initiative called CLASSMate from the Texas Department of Family & Protective Services in the spotlight. CLASSMate enables child-care facility inspectors to enter their data from the field, rather than traveling back to the office for that purpose. The second award for project excellence honored the Enterprise Geographic Information System in Houston, Texas. The city conducted a meticulous GIS data scrub, which fed the new system designed to deliver numerous public-facing data sets. The tool enables citizens to see traffic conditions with aerial imagery, view transportation services, political jurisdictions and capital improvement projects. It also visualizes flood zones, helps users find parks, track permits and view other agency data more easily. The third winning project was the Amarillo Emergency Communications Center. The city consolidated three separate dispatch centers for police, fire and emergency medical services into one facility. The technology platform used enabled call-takers to respond to any one of the three aforementioned types of calls and route them to the appropriate responders. The result was a cost-reduction and quicker response times.
All over the country, community leaders are looking to boost economic development through various initiatives. One key element in many of those initiatives is the use of information technology. When local governments build IT infrastructure, create e-government applications, assist high-tech startups or otherwise focus on technology, they create conditions that draw businesses to their communities and help retain skilled workers. This paper discusses and provides examples of these various ways local government can use technology to ultimately make a community more attractive to businesses, visitors and residents.