The City of Austin plans to launch an Office of Innovation later this year.
Last night, City Council’s Emerging Technology and Telecommunications Committee met to discuss expectations for the office. What would it do? What would it cover? The city is open for innovative suggestions.
“There is no standard definition of what the office of innovation does,” Public Works director Howard Lazarus said.
Austin is looking to cities like San Francisco, Philadelphia and Boston that have set up similar innovation initiatives. Potential focuses include expanding the city's open data portals, increasing efficiency and cost savings in executing public projects, connecting city officials with tech field experts and offering grants to developers and entrepreneurs.
Two full-time employees – a Chief Innovation Officer and an analyst – would comprise the Office of Innovation, housed under the City Manager. The city plans to host a forum with candidates for the office in August.
The City of Austin currently has a web data portal that hosts more than 180 public data sets. The Innovation Office aims to make more data available to the public.
“The conversation on open data is parallel to that on open government. Additional transparency results in additional accountability,” said communication officer Doug Matthews. “We consider the open data movement a tool in ensuring the data we have in fact is accurate and clean.”
The office hopes to partner with the private sector in making city data more accessible to the general public. For example, Austin health inspection scores will soon be appearing with restaurant descriptions on review app Yelp. Other goals include connecting the academic sector with the developers to better facilitate an existing technology-friendly environment.
“We already have the Austin Technology Incubator, which is in essence a government program housed by UT,” Jason Smith, an Austin-based web developer and entrepreneur said. “It works with both the public and private sectors to help entrepreneurs grow to their desired level. If the office of innovation were to help entrepreneurs find capital, find contracts, make connections – that would be great.”