Lori Bush: Tech Task Force

From the blog of Lori Bush, Cary Town Council At-Large member.

Cary, NC – I promise, there WILL be a time when I DON’T blog about technology. (Ok, maybe that isn’t a promise I can keep.)

Our very own Cary “Geek Squad” aka the “Technology Task Force” met Wednesday for the first time at Town Hall. I was impressed with the breadth and depth of their experience, their passion for making Cary a better place, and their willingness to take valuable time out of their lives to help in this important endeavor.

First things First

The Technology Task Force is a “special committee” sanctioned by the Town Council to determine how the Town’s use of technology services can better serve its citizens.  As volunteers for the town, these folks were treated to an overview of the Town’s ethics policy, North Carolina Open Meetings Law and Public Records Law by the Deputy Town Clerk and Town Attorney’s office.

So, why is this important and why do our Town volunteers need to know?

Well, as a volunteer for the town, you are conducting business on behalf of the citizens.  (Just like we do, as Town Council members.) So all of that business is open to the scrutiny of the public.  That certainly includes our meetings, emails, agendas, minutes, and more.  Also, volunteers are responsible for keeping track of any public records associated with their work for the town, including paper and electronic documents (including email messages), photos and videos.  Part of our discussion involved how the town is assisting the volunteers, by keeping those documents for them, as much as possible.

We also discussed the North Carolina Open Meetings law. The goal of this law is to promote transparency in government, and to ensure that citizens will see that the business of the town is being done “openly” with information, knowledge and access available to all.  That involves everything from posting the meeting times, agenda, minutes. (You can see the calendar of all Town meetings online.)  But, that also poses some interesting challenges for this group that is used to working in the private sector.  For instance, at work in the private sector, it’s pretty common to have discussions online, collaborating via email or via other tools such as wikis or forums in order to discuss a particular topic.  However, that’s a “no no” in the public sector.  The task force members must do their deliberations, brainstorming, decision making and most comments in an open forum – and at stated times (according to the Open Meetings law.)  They have a tight timeline to get their recommendations to council (targeted for December) so collaborating online would have been a great option.  But, that’s not in keeping with NC law, so all official work will be done at the Technology Task Force meetings.

We also talked about how to share documents and information in keeping with these laws. Let’s face it, this is NOT a group that wants paper documents. :)  The technology department came up with a solution, an online location for the team to store documents and post links.  Again, a first for one of these Town volunteer organizations.

With only 2 of the 9 task force members having experience in this type of public engagement, this review and discussion was valuable time spent.

Onto the work

After this fun overview of State law, we finally got down to business. Specifically, the goal of the Technology Task Force is that they “shall review, evaluate, and prioritize new and emerging technologies that will facilitate better engagement, citizen outreach, and service delivery by increasing involvement and lowering costs, with the overall goal of making it easier for citizens to communicate with the Town and consume available information.” Whew! A big job – and big jobs start with brainstorming.

So, that’s what they did.  Taking the “low tech” method of brainstorming with index cards – the group came up with all kinds of ideas to research.  Then categorizing those ideas, and creating groups of folks to go and research and come back to report to the group on those ideas.  There are so many items for them to consider, research into best practices, and ways to address our current situation and our future strategy.  I appreciate all of the ideas they generated and path they are taking to address them.

Here’s a quick listing of the groupings, with lots of detail behind each of them:

  1. Social Media
  2. Open Data / OpenAPI
  3. Website related
  4. Citizen engagement
  5. Mobile Apps
  6. Video programming
  7. Public Records
  8. Two way communication

Great start

I’m thrilled with the progress this team has made in one short meeting.  The hardest thing for me was to sit back and not participate in the brainstorming session, or throughout the meeting.  As the council liaison, I’m there to provide guidance, council direction, and to answer questions.  As a citizen, I have to admit – I had what my mom used to call “ants in my pants.”  It was so exciting to see these folks not only “get” this goal and mission, but to be truly committed to making Cary the “Technology Town of NC” once more.

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