New York City’s Digital Playbook

By New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio

Mayor de Blasio and Arianna Huffington at Civic Hall. Mike Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office.

As a candidate, I promised New Yorkers that every four year-old would have a seat in a free, high-quality, full-day Pre-K program. And on day one in City Hall, we went to work making Pre-K for All a reality across the city.

But when we confronted the challenge of signing up tens of thousands of families for the first time, I remember asking what seemed like a simple question: how can parents sign-up for Pre-K online?

The answer wasn’t so simple.

There was a webpage buried on an agency website, where a parent needed to find and download a form. Then they had to print it out, and write in their answers. Then, they needed to fax it, or put it in the mail, or drop it off, strap it to the ankle of a carrier pigeon or… you get the idea.

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. 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.

So we solved that problem then and there by building the “Pre-K Finder,” an app that allows anyone to find nearby prekindergarten centers and to begin the application process on their smartphone.

That experience got our team thinking bigger about the way we can use digital tools to fight inequality and open up government to the people.

Mike Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office.

I often quote a particularly wise saying of my wife’s — “the ‘good old days’ weren’t so good for a lot of people.” It’s true — in the analog age, too many voices weren’t heard. We must do better than that in the digital age. We must use digital tools to create more fairness, freedom, and opportunity than ever before.

Today, we’re presenting an overarching plan for City government to use digital technology to increase equity and help all New Yorkers participate in the political, civic, and cultural life of the city.

The New York City Digital Playbook outlines how we want residents to experience City services and how we will use digital tools to strengthen communities, online and off. The guidance within the Playbook will challenge all of our agencies and service providers to rethink the way they reach New Yorkers.

Our goal is to make our services more accessible, make our operations more transparent, and make it easy and fun to participate in government. In short — we aim to make New York the most user-friendly and innovative city in the world.

Mike Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

We believe that City government should be at New Yorkers’ fingertips and services should be just a swipe or a click away — just like so much of the technology in the rest of our lives. We also know that there are many people in New York City’s incomparable tech and design community who share this goal and want to lend expertise. So, another important goal of the Playbook is to make it easier for civically minded technologists to help us.

How to use the Playbook

This is an internal vision and strategy document that we will immediately begin to implement across government.

You may ask: if it’s an internal document, why share it publicly? A few reasons:

1. Transparency is a central tenet of our work;
2. This is a work in progress that we want to develop and update in the open.
3. We want to know how you think we can make it better.

The Playbook lives on nyc.gov/playbook.

Also, we’re giving a printed “strategy deck,” or set of cards, to staff across the city. Each card has a different principle or strategy printed on the front and key explanations and tips on the back. City leaders will use these cards to plan together and inspire each other when they’re designing new services, or thinking about how to make existing services better.

A playbook strategy deck.

How we developed the Playbook

We met with New York City residents — from all backgrounds and all five boroughs — in their homes and workplaces. We learned about their needs and aspirations for City services. All research participants took part as volunteers; in order to get their most candid advice, we asked them to speak with us anonymously.

We also spoke with dozens of civic and technology leaders, elected officials, and City government officials and service providers. And we looked beyond New York City to learn from other governments and the private sector. We combined the ideas and insights we collected from these residents, leaders, and experts to create the Playbook, and elevate the most important opportunities for our City’s digital future.

Mayor de Blasio holding a playbook strategy card for Strategy #2. Mike Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office.

Tracking our progress

We are serious about improving how the City develops and delivers digital services, and we hold ourselves accountable. We’ll track our progress and report publicly on how well we’re doing.

A new chapter

This is the beginning of a new chapter — one that ensures that government is using the powerful force of technology to generate the most good.

This chapter taps into the unrealized potential of our digital age to welcome all residents, listen and respond to their needs, simplify burdensome processes, collaborate with those we can learn from, and — above all — earn the trust of New Yorkers.

The Playbook is not a finished product — in fact, it never will be. Its chapters will keep being rewritten as technology itself continues to evolve and as we hear from more and more New Yorkers.

It starts with you — let us know what you think: nyc.gov/playbook.