TC: That government is moving into action, in partnership with you and City Tech, is something I find really inspiring. It’s an antidote to what I think a lot of us are feeling: dismay or disillusion, even apathy. We can’t afford to stay in those feelings if we are to make the comeback Chicago deserves. You’ve been at the forefront of applied technology for government solutions. Where are you seeing cities and other units of government accelerating their adoption of technologies?
BB: Technology actually becomes more critical to solving problems when resources are scarce, and governments across the world at all levels are struggling to do more with less. To go back to COVID specifically, we see governments using technology to enable core activities like COVID data analytics, tracking and tracing. Tech is also unlocking opportunities to improve the way we manage resources and public spaces in light of COVID. Two great examples from right here in Chicago include the Chicago PPE Market that the city and World Business Chicago launched with local startup Rheaply, to help small businesses and non-profits find the PPE they need to reopen safely. And, City Tech recently announced the Millennium Gateway Testbed Challenge to generate the best ideas to utilize large downtown spaces in new ways.
ED: This reminds me of our conversation about the role of the arts in our recovery and the idea that every person, every organization and every sector has a role to play in the big problems, many of which COVID amplified. I think of it as a question of, with the power and influence you have, what will you do? Amid all of this, and the appreciation for what we need from the government, whether it’s a vaccine, a national COVID strategy, or just safe and healthy cities, do you think the role of leaders in the public sector will evolve?
BB: Government evolves as cultures change, and today, the role and function of government is being as disrupted by technology as much as any other industry. Technology can transform government, but only if each level of the government embraces it.
We need leaders who can harness disruption and forge new innovations for government that align with how our culture is evolving. This requires people who are forward-looking, engaged, experienced, courageous and honest. The role of government in our lives is evolving, and that evolution requires talented men and women willing to lead selflessly.
TC: Change is happening, always—sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. As a final thought, any take on what the “new normal” will be? Particularly from where you sit in the technology space?
BB: The pandemic has provided an opportunity to rethink our processes, models and cultural norms without any of the expectations that might have limited innovation in the past. I think it is too soon to declare exactly what the “new normal” will be six or 12 months from now. For me, it is more important to take this opportunity to think about what is best for my organization’s clients, my team and the residents that we serve. Time and again I come back to a hybrid that keeps the best of the past and lets me adopt the best of future. My touchstone terms right now are “flexibility” and “hybrid.” I hope to see a similar approach in the civic tech community.