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Figures of Progress: Jay Nath, Chief Innovation Officer for San Francisco

As the Mayor’s Chief Innovation Officer in San Francisco, Jay Nath works with the tech community and the public to make the government work better.


GOOD and IBM have teamed up to bring you Figures of Progress, our new platform that explores the different ways that information has revolutionized our world. Through videos, story profiles, and infographics, we're sharing stories about the power of data and how today's leaders in business, city government and nonprofits are finding innovative ways to use it. Here's our latest Figure of Progress interview.

As the Mayor’s Chief Innovation Officer in San Francisco, Jay Nath works with the tech community and the public to help reinvent government in the digital age. In his role as Director of Innovation for the Department of Technology, he led an effort to make San Francisco the first large city in the nation to use Twitter as a new channel for taking public requests. In 2012, the City launched ImproveSF, an online platform to provide opportunities for government and citizens to work together by connecting civic challenges to community problem-solvers through a series of curated challenges.


GOOD: As a city leader, what most influenced you on the road to your current position?

JAY NATH: First, I was inspired by the tremendous potential to make real impact in our community, something that local government is well positioned to do. Second, the power of the web to reshape the role of government and how we interact with citizens has huge potential. I see a new role where we empower citizens through generative platforms like open data, APIs, living innovation zones, and civic marketplaces. These platforms harness the creative potential of our citizens to positively affect our communities.

GOOD: What type of data and technology would you consider the most valuable to the government agency you work with and what are you able to do with these types of data?

JN: With our open data efforts, we've seen strong interest in real-time public transit data. Our community of developers have created more than a dozen apps that help people make better transit choices—all at no cost to tax payers. Real-time transit data is powered by GPS which has played a transformative role in the consumer space and many other industries. In fact, it was originally created for military use by the Department of Defense. It was under President Reagan that GPS data was made freely available for civilian use and a great example of the power of open data.

GOOD: How has data changed and informed the way you can interact with the community and improve your public service?

JN: I see data as a new language for engagement with our community, where new ideas come to life through open data and code, and where people connect with others around data. I see the potential that it holds for change. Communities hacking public service reflects a new type of civic engagement that is deeper than simply casting your vote or helping clean your park. It's truly inspiring to see so many change makers coming together over weekends to collaborate on doing good for their communities.

GOOD: What are the qualities and/or skill sets that you believe future successful leaders will need to have?

JN: Beyond all of the qualities that it takes to be a leader, future leaders will need to have fluency in technology, understand design thinking, and have a deep understanding of data.

GOOD: What is your greatest hope for how your work can influence positive change in our world?

JN: My hope is that civic innovation changes how people view their relationship to government so that active participation is the new normal. It's through greater engagement and enrolling citizens in the process of creating new solutions that we can drive greater trust in government. It's through efforts like our nascent ImproveSF program that we harness the power of the web and the potential of our community to reimagine our city.

Read more from leaders like Nath at Figures of Progress, including interviews with Jennifer Pahlka, founder of Code for America; Adam Brotman, chief digital officer of Starbucks; Rachel Sterne, CIO of the city of New York; Oliver Hurst-Hiller, CTO of Donorschoose.org; and Nathan Blecharczyk, Co-founder of Airbnb.

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