360 Review with David Shaeffer, PublicStuff

Posted on February 25, 2015

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Who doesn’t love a good ol’ fashioned performance review? ELGL loves them so much that we’re embarking on a “360 Review of Local Government.” We’re going to evaluate every single inch of the local government arena by talking to ourselves (a.k.a: other local government professionals), tech companies, journalists, professors, and anyone else who hasn’t blocked our email address.

David (LinkedIn and Twitter) joined PublicStuff after working in nonprofit management and community organizing. He is a believer in the value of technology as a way to solve everyday problems and build stronger communities. Born in Chicago, David loves Chicago sports, but not Chicago winters. He is a proud graduate of Bowdoin College where he received a BA in History and Anthropology.

PublicStuff helps cities transform their relationship with residents through technology.



What I’m Listening to: 

(Probably) A podcast. WTF with Marc Maron, Grantland, Slate or On Point.

What I’m Reading: 

Junot Diaz, and about to open a graphic biography, “Robert Moses – The Master Builder of New York City”

What I’m Watching: 

KU, in pursuit of 11 straight, at Kansas State.

Jayhawk Gif

What I’m Doing: 

Looking at my calendar for tomorrow, wondering if I can steal 15 minutes for Twitter

What I’m Proud of:

Avoided Seamless tonight and actually cooked.

What I’m Thinking:

Birdman over Boyhood?

What I’m Afraid of:

KU doesn’t get their 11th straight Big 12 title

What I’m Missing:

Family in Chicago

What I Want to Know From You:

When’s budget season?


Best part of working in the local government arena. Most frustrating?
Best part: Working with communities of all different sizes, budgets, demographics and finding that they all tend to share the common goal to improve the quality of life of their residents. Rarely do I encounter an official asking why it’s in their best interest to provide residents with greater access to city services.
Most frustrating: Hearing, “we got that covered” or “we would rather build this in-house”. An unwillingness to consider a public/private partnership, even when it’s the more cost-effective option or when many staff members are wearing multiple hats and have various responsibilities, doesn’t always make sense to me.
Describe the current state of local government. Grade?
Never been a fan of letter grades…but I’ll give local government a solid B.
Given the gridlock in the state and, certainly, federal government, local government has a unique opportunity to be the leader in good governance, and I think there’s evidence of that happening around the country. Cities are tackling some of the largest challenges in our society — climate change, poverty, inequality — in new and innovative ways, and it’s proof that government can play a role solving these issues.
Give us three areas in which local government is succeeding.

  • “Accountability” is no longer a nice concept that wins elections. It’s now part of the day-to-day operations from elected officials on down.
  • A growing willingness to adopt, or at least explore, new technology to improve their business. I think this due in large part to the increasing number of professionals who’ve dedicated their career to public service and see the private sector as a potential model for improvement.
  • Local government does an effective job providing services despite the inevitable budget constraints

Give us three areas in which local government needs improvement.

  • Balancing the desire to expand with the need to maintain infrastructure. Maintenance needs reflect significant usage, so why not put more money on infrastructure that’s already in demand?
  • For new technology, set incremental goals. Often, the major goal is reaching the go-live date. But success shouldn’t be measured at the moment of launch, but in monthly change in adoption or monthly change in requests completed, for example. Setting incremental goals can help ease implementation and ultimately improve long-term adoption.

For local government, was there any good that came from the Great Recession?
With the Great Recession negatively impacting revenue, local government was forced to continue operations with less. Anytime an organization is tasked with maintaining or doing more with less, it requires greater due-diligence and more judicious decision-making. This is clear now in how budget is spent, as it seems the question is always, “will it make us more efficient?”
Evaluate whether local government is prepared for the ongoing wave of retirements. What could it do to prepare.
brain_drainI don’t think local government is adequately prepared for the upcoming brain-drain. I say this, because I don’t know a friend or a peer who is currently working in local government or interested in getting an MPA. I don’t blame my generation for this, because I think there’s a desire to do work that’s for the common good.
The talent is out there, and I think local government needs to highlight the proximity it has to residents and the immediacy of the change that can be made in this level of government. Appeal to our desire for real, immediate change.
In your opinion, does local government have a lack of diversity in its workforce?
I think there’s a lack of diversity, but not necessarily more so than industries in the private sector or other levels of government. I also think when thinking about diversity, it’s also important to include a diversity of opinion and a diversity of professional background. Productive debate improves any organization.
“Innovation” is a trendy word and thrown around a lot in local government. What examples would you point to as government innovation?

Developer Portal_TumblrInnovation is something that should be tied to the goal of improving resident quality of life. I think it’s a mistake to equate innovation with technology, as some of the most innovative projects aren’t necessarily implementing a mobile app or creating an open-data portal, it might be aligning residents’ desire to volunteer with pressing needs in the community — something Mayor Bloomberg enacted in NYC and Mayor De Blasio has continued.
Evaluate local government’s willingness to embrace new technologies.
In our space, you often hear the same challenges with selling to local government. “Sales cycle is too slow…they don’t get it…I can’t sell it to every department!” We think if that’s your opinion, it’s likely a product problem, not a government one. There’s definitely a willingness on government’s part to embrace new technology, but that technology should be resource-lite and able to integrate with existing systems, if need be. Budgets and staff times aren’t unlimited, and civic technology needs to provide value with this in mind.
Wave a magic wand – what three wishes would you grant local government?

  • Guaranteed revenue sourcesbeer-rain
  • Impervious roadways
  • A perfect alignment of resident needs and government priorities
  • free beer on Fridays

What question(s) should we ask the next person that completes this questionnaire?
What makes an effective public servant?

Supplemental Reading

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