March 2015 Meetup Review
March 16 2015

March Meetups with Guest Speakers

February was tough on your local civic hackers. Our early month meetup was snow-bliterated, and the late month edition featured a temperature of 49F inside the TRI-Lab. So enough about February.

March brought our meetups to a new level with excellent guest speakers both nights. On Monday the 2nd, Marisa Petreccia and Kate Pisano from ServeRI told us about their systems for managing their volunteer snow-shoveling program, which saw an explosion of need this winter. And on the 16th, we talked with Nicole Pollock, who was recently sworn-in as the first Chief Innovation Officer in the city of Providence.

Snowed In

With a top-five seasonal snowfall coming almost all in a six week stretch this past winter, shoveling out the elderly or infirm became a critical service. According to our speakers, some people were snowed in for over a week. Kate and Marisa deployed a force of volunteer shovelers, and they got the job done.

Kate Pisano (l) and Marisa Petreccia from ServeRI

While they could always use more volunteers, they felt like they could have been more effective if they had better tools to manage what has rapidly become a very large program. Mostly using spreadsheets, hand-entered texts and 3rd-party read-only databases, they:

  • field, vet and log the volunteers (a crucial safety issue)
  • field, vet and log the service requests
  • assign the volunteers to service requests
  • communicate the assignments to the volunteers
  • follow up on performance

Simple. Not.

In the discussion, we explored a range of approaches and learned about the safety and privacy concerns that make this service uncomfortable with a public platforms like the admirable Snowcrew.

After we broke up into work groups, their table was the last one going. As they left, Marisa and Kate expressed a new sense of hope. Somebody understood their need and would volunteer to help out.

Innovator in Chief

This is a very big deal. Mayor Jorge Elorza’s created a Chief Innovation Officer for the city of Providence and appointed Nicole Pollock to that position. Her brief is to work across departments advocating for and assisting in a transition toward more integrated information systems and smoother work flows.

Nicole Pollock

Not yet 60 days on the job, Nicole spent three hours with Code Island, speaking about the challenges and opportunities in her work. Co-captain Ryan Kelly framed the discussion by playing this video from on Government as a Platform.

Nicole spoke to a range of issues, and she had good ideas for moving forward. But that’s the easy part, as she explained. This is a newly-created role with no staff and no authority within any of the client agencies she serves. So her first job is to learn about the agencies’ specific pain points and bottlenecks.

One encouraging point she made was that her office is focused on workflows and documentation as well as information systems and data collection. Smoothing out workflows will make it easier to identify and collect the key data needed for metrics and other output.

As the people who can’t wait to create some of that “other output,” Code Islanders stand ready to help in any way they can.

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