Mayor Bill de Blasio announces the New York City Digital Playbook with Arianna Huffington during a Civic Hall "fireside chat" on Monday. (Michael Appleton/ Mayoral Photography Office)
Mayor Bill de Blasio this morning announced the release of a Digital Playbook, a guide for how city government should approach the online tools and services it provides to city residents.
De Blasio published an op-ed describing the document on Medium, and discussed the playbook as part of a conversation with Arianna Huffington in his first visit to Civic Hall in Manhattan on Monday morning.
"I get very troubled when I run into bureaucracy that is unyielding," he said recalling his early campaigning days.
"Or you have an idea that actually might help and nobody is listening," he told Huffington, who tied the theme of the announcement to the "What Works" section of her website.
De Blasio emphasized that the playbook — essentially an internal document the administration chose to release publicly — "is saying that we want [people] to question and push government to be better ... and we want government to think differently."
He mentioned difficulties in voter registration and voting, and praised how technology can help model programs like municipal IDs and paid sick leave to spread across cities.
"It's easy to get a little saddened by what you see in the headlines, but the speed of innovation is increasing, somebody can have a great idea in Istanbul, and we can implement it here next year."
The playbook outlines six core principles that frame twelve strategies, and offers examples for how to realize those ideas submitted from inside and outside city government, with the option for users to add their own ideas and provide positive feedback on ideas already submitted.
The principles are: being welcoming to New Yorkers of all backgrounds, developing services based on citizen feedback, ensuring services are reliable, accountable, and keep personal data secure, reaching residents through channels they already use, building collaboration, and making government simple.
"We proactively identify the most urgent and persistent needs of New Yorkers, then we design engaging, easy-to-navigate services that meet residents’ preferences and requirements," the playbook says on the last point. (The site includes a translation option.)
The more detailed strategies include making services accessible to New Yorkers of all capabilities and language preferences, offering a friction-less enrollment process for services, testing out tools with residents by embracing a "human-centered" design, offering seamless services across agency divisions, empowering staff with the necessary tools and resources to design innovative services, building on existing online platforms such as social media channels, integrating digital services within physical neighborhoods, establishing technical, data and design standards, prioritizing mobile services and SMS communications and engaging with technology and community partners.
As case studies, the playbook's website cites the administration's HOME-STAT program to prevent homelessness, connect individuals with services and transition to permanent housing, the Pre-K Find and Apply Tool as well as icon and image libraries, and explains how the process behind them fits with the principles and strategies.
"To better understand client experiences and key points in the business process, the Mayor’s Office of Operations Innovation and Design Team deployed a service design process to conduct stakeholder research," the site says about one example, HOME-STAT. "This included interviewing City agency staff and service providers, shadowing outreach teams in the field, and meeting with homeless and formerly homeless individuals. The Design Team created 'journey maps' based on their interviews and then worked with stakeholders to identify areas of enhancement through collaborative workshops and conversations."
In his Medium post, de Blasio pointed to his pre-K program, saying the old model required printing out PDF forms and faxing or mailing them in.
"There we were trying to connect people to a life-changing opportunity, and we immediately faced an enormous barrier to even get them in the door," he wrote. "For those New Yorkers whose only access to the Internet is a mobile device, PDFs and fax machines are non-starters. We needed a way to reach parents on the only thing in New York that is as ubiquitous as a MetroCard: a smartphone."
The city devised an app to allow parents to find pre-K centers and start the process on their mobile device.
According to the playbook site, the city took input from residents, as well as several civic and technology leaders, elected and city government officials and providers, along with examples from other governments and the private sector.
The playbook specifically credits City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and Councilmembers Ben Kallos, James Vacca, Brad Lander, Vanessa Gibson and Helen Rosenthal. It also credits the organizations Bangladesh-American Community Council, the Brite Leadership Coalition, the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, the Central Family Life Center, Adhikaar, Make the Road NY and MASA.
The website also says that the city will share performance metrics in the coming days and update them regularly on how the city is developing and delivering digital services.
Civic technology groups like BetaNYC and other advocates have long pushed for the city to establish a standalone agency focused on design and technology such as the federalU.S. Digital Services Department and the 18F digital services agency.
"With the launch of the NYC Digital Services Playbook, technology, data, and design become the corner stone of a 21st century New York City," Noel Hidalgo, BetaNYC's executive director said in a statement. "We are excited to see the Mayor launch a Digital Services Playbook that brings together the best ideas from inside and outside of government. ... In the coming year, we hope to demonstrate the need for a unified digital services department to unify these principles and strategies. NYC needs an agency who can shepherd these principles across agencies and truly deliver collaborative digital services."