NYC’s Digital Playbook In Action
By Jessica Singleton
Last week at Civic Hall, Mayor de Blasio spoke about using technology to make government work smarter and better for New Yorkers.
In two years working for the City of New York, I’ve experienced many instances of government doing this well. But too often, the work happens in silos. We lack a way to connect the people doing this work in agency A to those doing it in agency B. Also, we need a better way to help the civic tech and design community help government.
So, we developed a plan to address these challenges: version 1 of the NYC Digital Playbook, which lives online here.
NYC’s Playbook joins a growing set of government digital playbooks, and includes a set of 90+ specific ways that City workers can begin to change their work immediately. The tactics may surprise you because they seem so simple and obvious, given our standards for technology in our daily lives.
Government has some catching up to do. The Playbook is our promise to do so.
Today, we’re taking one of the first concrete steps to put the Playbook into action: alpha.nyc.gov.
Right now, designing websites for NYC’s government is a long, complicated, expensive process. New Yorkers see a website for the first time after we’ve spent a lot of time and money. Once a site is live, we don’t ask residents what they think of it or how we might improve it.
alpha.nyc.gov is an experiment. It’s our way of building a website in front of New Yorkers and asking for feedback as we go.
We’re not replacing nyc.gov, but we want to learn how to make it — and every website we build — better. Read this post by my colleague Rebecca to learn more about alpha.nyc.gov and Alpha Labs.
We want to make engaging with government as easy as grabbing the phone in your pocket.
That’s where NYC’s Playbook comes in. It’s our way of putting down a marker, building the political will to get-stuff-done, committing to do this work in the open, with (not just for) residents, and learning what works and what doesn’t in real-time.
Here’s a sampling of other ways we are putting the Playbook to work now and what it means for New Yorkers.
Plain language workshop for City staff: Writing for the web is hard — shockingly hard. We need to write at a reading level simple enough for machine translation tools to work at their best and for all New Yorkers to find their way through complex processes. Which is why one Playbook tactic is to “assemble agency staff to conduct plain language workshops for their colleagues.” This week, our colleagues from the Mayor’s Office of Correspondence hosted the first plain language training for City digital and web teams.
Digital Design Director: Government services don’t have to be ugly or hard to use. New Yorkers should be able to easily recognize a government website as a government website (Search “Pay a parking ticket” and see how many options you have. Hint: Only one is the government site). Right now, we lack comprehensive citywide style guidelines for the web. We’re looking for someone to join the Office of Digital Strategy to create our design standards, then enforce and continually improve them. If you know someone or are interested, apply here.
Civic Tech Office Hours: A strong partnership between government and the Civic Tech community can result in better products and services for New Yorkers. That’s why we’re setting up Civic Tech Office hours, at Civic Hall and other hubs for Civic Tech in NYC. The Office of Digital Strategy works out of Civic Hall on Thursday afternoons. We bring colleagues from other offices and agencies, like the Mayor’s Community Affairs, along with us. If you’d like to host the Office of Digital Strategy for office hours elsewhere, just let us know!
Standardized benefit and program data: Each year, thousands of New Yorkers go without critical help because they may not know they are eligible for social service programs and benefits. The information and eligibility criteria for each program are often dense and widely different, making it difficult for a resident to understand and to know if he or she should apply. We’re creating a new data source and standard that will allow plain language program information and eligibility rules to be easily updated, published, and absorbed by applications internal and external to the government, increasing access and awareness to services available to New Yorkers.
Finally: The Playbook is a work in progress. Check it out, and let us know what you think. We’ll respond.
Jessica Singleton is Chief Digital Officer for the City of New York.