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Will the Chief Innovation Officer Transform Government?

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January 31, 2013 By

Move over, chief information officers. There is a new CIO in town. From Riverside, Calif., to Kansas City, Mo., and from Louisville, Ky., to Massachusetts, states and municipalities are hiring chief innovation officers. 

Yet while several municipalities and states are creating these positions, the job description, scope of work and relationship to tech projects vary widely. Some job descriptions sound like economic development agency executives, charged with promoting job growth and luring businesses to the community. Other municipalities, like San Francisco, place a strong emphasis on transparency and open data initiatives. Philadelphia’s chief innovation officer position encompasses the chief information officer role, internal business process transformation and startup tech business support.

Jayson White, who works at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard’s Kennedy School, has helped several cities create innovation positions. When the concept first started taking hold in 2008, the focus was on education reform and sustainability, he said. But once the recession hit, that focus changed to how to deal with budget cutting, economic development and job creation. “They didn’t want to just manage decline but start an upward spiral,” said White, project manager of the Urban Policy Advisory Group, which leads a dialog among chiefs of staff and senior policy advisers to mayors in the 35 largest cities across the country.

One trend cities and states are targeting is better ways to use technology. “You see cities creating these ‘free safety’ positions,” White said, using a football metaphor. “They can work on alternative ways to do procurement or broker deals across agencies or push for greater use of social media.”

A Growing List

Chief innovation officers are becoming more common in public agencies. Here is a partial list of innovation-related positions in state and local government.

  • Adel Ebeid, chief innovation officer, Philadelphia
  • Jack Elsey, chief of innovation and incubation, Chicago Public Schools
  • Brett Goldstein, CIO and commissioner of the Department of Innovation, Chicago
  • Nigel Jacob and Chris Osgood, co-chairs for the Office of New Urban Mechanics, Boston
  • Rahul Merchant, chief information and innovation officer, New York City
  • Jay Nath, chief innovation officer, city and county of San Francisco
  • Tony Parham, government innovation officer, Massachusetts
  • Michael Powell, chief innovation officer, Maryland
  • Ted Smith, chief of economic growth and innovation, Louisville, Ky., Metro Government

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Kelly Underell    |    Commented February 4, 2013

Thank you for your article. Colorado also has a state Chief Innovation Office, Ajay Menon, who sits on the Governor's cabinet. Dr. Menon is the Dean of the Businesses School at Colorado State University, but dedicates part of his week towards innovation strategy and the oversize of the Colorado Innovation Network. The goal of the Colorado Innovation Network is to raise the innovative profile of Colorado and commit to meaningful change through collaboration of our innovation ecosystem stakeholders - higher education, government, research labs, industry and entrepreneurs. It was great to learn about other similar but different roles across the nation.

Joe Deklinski    |    Commented February 5, 2013

Hi: My name is Joe Deklinski and I am the Chief Innovation Officer for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. I am responsible for managing the statewide innovation and cost savings initiative implemented by Governor Tom Corbett. I read this article with interest, but noted I am not on yur list. I would welcome the chance to chat about what we are doing here in PA and to hopefully get on the list! My direct number is 717.787.6303.

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