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Building a civic ecosystem

By Abhi Nemani, Innovator-in-Residence, GovDeliveryCivic-Gov-Ecosystem

The last four years have seen explosive growth in the civic technology field, and I have been privileged to see it firsthand in my role at Code for America (CfA) since 2010. Earlier this year, when I decided it was time to move on and explore a new segment of this emerging industry, one of the first people I reached out to for advice was Steve Ressler, founder and President of GovLoop. GovLoop had been an ally of CfA’s for some time, and we had worked closely together, honoring public servants, hosting trainings, and in general doing whatever we can to support government change agents.

Steve, as usual, offered sage advice, but also offered me an opportunity to plant my flag at GovLoop and its parent company, GovDelivery, as I explored the right next step. After a few trips to St. Paul, where GovDelivery is headquartered, and great conversations with their team, including Scott Burns, their impressive, wise (and good-humored) CEO, I quickly realized there wasn’t a better place to spend some time. GovDelivery still felt like a startup, though it has more than 14 years of experience, working with over a 1000 governments, connecting to over 70M users, and sending over 1 billion messages a quarter; where better to take a wider lens look at the civic landscape?

It’s been an honor to spend the last few months as GovDelivery’s Innovator-in-Residence. I was given three exciting charges from the team: work with them on developing strategies for growth and partnership; support GovLoop’s creation of a much-needed online training platform for governments; and distill my learnings from those experiences and my past ones for the broader community. (The last goal was a particular pleasure for me, as I have always felt guilt for not putting pen to paper more often these past few years.) What this post required was less white-board, closed-room brainstorming, and instead conversation and learning from folks on-the-ground: civic leaders on both coasts and at all levels of government; entrepreneurs pounding the pavement to build their civic startups; and community leaders building bridges between the tech that’s being created and the people that need it most.

What a trip.

You’ll hopefully see this research bear fruit over the coming months. My biggest takeaway was that there’s a hunger for greater collaboration in this space, government-to-government, company-to-company, etc. Fortunately, the GovDelivery and GovLoop teams have collaboration at their core, and that’s what it’ll take to move this from the civic space to the civic ecosystem.

This “in-Residence” position was designed as a short-term appointment: a chance for GovDelivery to test out this concept of bringing in outside resources for temporary assignments and a time-constrained push for me to decide what’s next. I couldn’t be happier to have had this opportunity. (If you’re  interested in a similar role, I’m told by Scott and Steve that you should get in touch.)

I’m pleased today to report that I have been appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti as the City of Los Angeles’ first Chief Data Officer. I have spent my career watching, supporting, and celebrating public servants — for good reason — and now I figured it’s my time to get in the game.

It’s been an honor working with GovDelivery. At a time when there’s so much distrust and apathy towards government, you would be hard pressed to find a company of nearly 200 people with such a deep respect for public servants and the work they do. Here’s to trying to live up to those expectations, as we all continue to climb this collective hill: helping government work even better in the 21st century.