January 31, 2013 By David Raths
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.