Innovation & Technology

Department of Innovation and Technology

 


Data-Driven & Technology-Enabled Innovation

The Innovation & Technology Department (I&T) oversees the City’s IT infrastructure, data analysis & data-driven innovation work, several continuous improvement efforts, and multiple special projects providing new services or generating new revenues for the City. The Department applies new technologies, insights from City data, or new approaches to improve City operations and make City services and programs more transparent, cost effective, and equitable in terms of access or provision.

 

Continuous Improvement

Since its creation by the Mayor and City Council in 2015, one of the core functions of the I&T Department has been to improve and innovate existing City processes in a way that saves taxpayer dollars and makes the City more efficient, effective, and transparent. Looking back , 2019 was productive year from a continuous improvement perspective. The I&T team has tackled a range of continuous improvement initiatives with those goals in mind, and here are some examples:

  • Positioning the City to Benefit from the Carbon Offset Market: Given the growing climate emergency, it is critical to position the City to continue in its efforts to be an exemplary environmental steward as well as to support ongoing City initiatives like Mayor’s Net Zero Energy initiative. It is especially exciting when that work can also identify new revenue sources that could reduce the burden on City taxpayers. The I&T Carbon Offset Initiative does just that:  Working with an innovative partner called Urban Offsets, the City has established the necessary framework to be the beneficiary when local businesses elect to offset their emissions. In simple terms, when a business chooses to offset emissions, it can now work with the City so that the cost of the offsets is substantially discounted, and the value saved by that discount is directed to support City tree plantings.  Please contact Brian Lowe at brian@burlingtonvt.gov for details.
  • Restructuring the City’s Permitting System: Thanks to voter approval in March 2019, the City has combined the different elements of the permitting system into one new Department, in one location, with one person clearly in charge. This change required a substantial physical renovation of the existing City facility at 645 Pine Street, led by Capital Improvement Projects Manager Martha Keenan, to create a one-stop shop for residents, in addition to many changes to the City’s organizational chart and the relocation of staff and vehicles across the City to more efficient allocations. And, under the leadership of the new Department of Permitting & Inspections Director, Bill Ward, these structural changes are just the beginning of the work. The City has already implemented some new self-certification forms for contractors, streamlined problematic fee reconciliation practices, made substantial progress eliminating a backlog of old and unclear permits that can cause challenges for City residents, and is considering removing a number of existing permit types. The I&T Department led the organizational re-structuring in FY19 related to the permitting system and new Department creation, and will continue to support the ongoing process reforms with training funds.  I&T is also currently leading the replacement of the City’s dated permitting software with a system that should allow easier access for residents and significantly improved collaboration among City teams. In total when completed, the project should result in significant cost savings and staff efficiencies, but the biggest savings should be resident time – making it easier to know what is needed, what is not, and visit just one location (if you have to travel at all).
  • New City Services Without New Costs – PAL Camp: Some of the best projects come together quickly because of the quality of the teams working in different City Departments. PAL Camp, which stands for the Parks, Arts, and Library Camp, is a good example of this. Thanks to some community input and staff insight, the City focused this past year on providing new programming at the end of August, when most camps are finished but school is not yet in session. This can be a challenging time for parents, particularly those with younger children. Staff from the Fletcher Free Library, Parks, Rec & Waterfront Department, and Burlington City Arts worked with the I&T team to develop programming for this two-week stretch, utilizing existing resources and some additional scholarship funding provided to the City. The credit belongs with the PAL staff, who took on new roles amid their current duties to extend programming without the traditional new costs. Based on surveys completed at the end of the program to assess its impact, the camp was well-received by parents and families. This program should be back in 2020 with some modest adjustments based on those surveys, focused on 1st through 5th graders.

There are many other efforts completed or underway – looking at what City phones are regularly used or can be disconnected, clarifying record retention practices, improving remote access policies or IT asset management – but the above three give an example of the range of work the team does to try and improve City service access, provision, and efficiency.

 

Data Management & Analysis

One of the most significant contribution the I&T team makes to its fellow City Departments is the effort to manage and analyze City data. This was an area of great progress in FY19, and it is an area of continued focus looking forward.

Through the work of its various Departments, the City creates or collects a great deal of information that can be used – if it is properly and accurately recorded in a way that can be readily accessed – to improve decision-making, foster collaboration and learning within and among Departments, make understanding City operations more transparent, or to build the case for a particular new approach to a difficult challenge.

The I&T Department has approached this responsibility in a variety of ways.

  • BTVStat: First stood up in FY17, BTVStat is an evidence-based performance evaluation system that has proven to be a useful tool to assist and also keep accountable City Departments for the quality and efficiency of services provided to residents. Beginning in FY19 and continuing throughout calendar year 2019, BTVStat evolved to include a focus on cross-departmental performance opportunities (like the PAL Camp, described above) as well as tracking and refining the traditional operational and equity performance indicators established in prior years.
  • Open Data Policy and Platform: An open data platform makes it easier for residents to access City data, and it can also make sharing data between and among City departments simpler. These possibilities can make City government more transparent, can create new opportunities for researchers or businesses that depend on data, and can make it easier for City employees to get access to information that other Departments collect or store. The I&T Department has also developed an open data policy, which will be released with a public launch of a new Burlington Open Data Portal in early 2020.
  • Public BTVStat Dashboard: Many of the metrics tracked in BTVStat will be available for public viewing when the updated dashboard is launched in early 2020. This project would replace an existing, largely static City dashboard with more dynamic and interactive data graphics that pull from a variety of sources including the City’s own newly developed open data platform.

 

Special Projects

The I&T team has also broken some new ground for the City on a variety of new types of initiatives that fit the Department’s mission.

  • Early Learning Initiative: Building on the success of a series of capacity grants first approved in FY18 and again in FY19 to create up to 85 new high-quality child care spots, the I&T team has partnered with CEDO to create the City’s new First Steps child care scholarship program to help qualifying Burlington families get access to this critical support. The team stood up this new program and met the goal for the pilot year of enrolling 20 Burlington families at participating high quality centers. All told, 28 families were offered spots, and 20 accepted. Of those 28 families, 18 were single parent households, seven spoke primarily a language other than English at home, 12 needed child care in order to secure employment, and the average income was about $25,000. While the program is currently underway, it is projected to cost about $110,000 and leverage an additional $225,000 in state subsidy. That represents not just a benefit for the Burlington families, but also potential new funding support for high-quality child care providers in and around Burlington. We will be closely monitoring the program in this pilot year, rigorously evaluating the outcomes over time, and are currently on a trajectory to double the size of the program looking to next year.
  • Equity Report: After the inaugural report in FY19, the Mayor asked I&T to continue and expand this substantial data collection effort looking at “equity” in the City and evaluating City projects from that perspective. Drawing from the work of the organization PolicyLink, recent Vermont State Health Reports, and varied stakeholder input, equity is defined in this report as “the just and fair inclusion into a society in which all people can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.” The FY19 report is available at https://www.burlingtonvt.gov/it/reports/equity. Work is well underway on the report slated to come out on Town Meeting Day 2020 alongside the City’s annual financial report. This year’s version establishes clearer equity metrics that can be tracked over time to evaluate changes in our community, and then links those metrics to specific City initiatives, with the broader goal of helping align the City’s focus with the community’s need. This is a project that clearly extends beyond the I&T Department – we are grateful for the feedback we have received to date, and welcome your thoughts about how we can better structure this report, or track certain metrics, in a way that helps position the City to be as positive a contributor to our community as possible.
  • First-Ever City of Burlington “Innovation Challenge:” City employees care about the community and they have a lot of excellent ideas about how the City can improve service provision. The Mayor asked that I&T run a competition open to City employees that would fund and implement the winning ideas from teams of City employees. All applicants had to present to a panel of judges drawn from the community and the results were outstanding. The judges selected two formal winners (one employee idea that creates a database of shared resources among departments and another that would provide a new “StoryWalk” literacy service to the community), demanded that the City fund a third employee proposal (focused on reducing paper waste in the City), and were so impressed by the applications that they personally funded a fourth employee concept (providing a way to purchase basic office supplies at the Library). All these projects will be implemented during FY20 and into early FY21.

The I&T team has also broken some new ground for the City on a variety of new types of initiatives that fit the Department’s mission.

The Information Technology (IT) team is responsible for maintaining the City’s network, infrastructure, applications, and desktop computers. The team also provides programming support to all Departments to assist in the integration and development of applications required to perform our work. The team provides support to the following Departments: Burlington International Airport, Burlington City Arts, City Assessor, City Attorney, Clerk/Treasurer’s Office, Code Enforcement, Community & Economic Development Office, Fire Department, Human Resources, Fletcher Free Library, Mayor’s Office, Parks, Recreation & Waterfront, Planning & Zoning, and Public Works.