GOOD & IBM present
Welcome to Figures of Progress

Big Data is empowering and driving 21st Century leaders, whether in business, city government, or even sports. This year, we’re expanding Figures of Progress and inviting you to take part in learning and doing. Join us as we continue the dialogue and explore how big data is being harnessed to change our world.

GOOD & IBM present

Rachel Sterne

Chief Digital Officer, City of New York

Sterne is helping to realize New York City’s technology potential, guided by Mayor Bloomberg’s Digital Roadmap introduced in May 2011. Sterne joined city government in January 2011 and prior to that was Founder and CEO of GroundReport, a global news platform. She also previously served as an Adjunct Professor at Columbia Business School and in Business Development in the open source industry. She is on the social media advisory board of the NY/NJ Super Bowl, digital advisory board of Women@NBCU and is a Young Global Leader with the World Economic Forum.

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

Two things: The Internet and New York City. The emergence and evolution of the Internet has played an enormous role in my life, and the potential it provides to connect people, improve government and make the world more efficient is staggering. I also feel enormously lucky that I was born in New York City and have lived here throughout my life. It is one of the most diverse, creative and culturally rich places on earth and the greatest classroom imaginable.

(And of course my greatest influences have been my parents, grandparents and my teachers and coaches along the way.)

What type of data and technology is the most valuable to the government agency you work with to communicate with the public?

We are living in an age of unlimited potential thanks to the explosion of data and powerful data technologies.  Mayor Bloomberg has long been a proponent of the power of data. He often quotes the adage, “In God we trust, everyone else bring data.” I feel incredibly fortunate to work in an administration that values data in government and uses it to drive efficiency.

Today we have more than 900 data sets on the City of New York’s OpenData Platform, and through the NYC Big Apps competitions and a range of hackathons, we’ve seen the creation of hundreds of apps that do everything from determine whether you can park your car in a specific spot to learn the history of any tree planted by the city.

On a more serious note, the city was able to reach twenty times more New Yorkers during Hurricane Irene by providing access to geographic data for hurricane evacuation zones, which the New York Times, WNYC and Google turned into their own interactive maps. And the Mayor's Financial Crime Task Force has reduced firefighter injuries by 15% by analyzing data patterns linked to increased fire risk.

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

The use of data to improve service delivery has been a cornerstone of Mayor Bloomberg’s administration. On the service delivery side, the city’s customer service system, 311, processes about 20 million service requests a year, and the number is constantly increasing. The data behind those phone calls, text messages and online forms helps to drive service delivery and spot trends – in many ways 311 was “crowdsourcing” before the term existed. The data behind 311 is out there for anyone to consume and analyze, and it illustrates the incredible scale of service delivery in a city as complex as New York.

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

Humility and a willingness to learn.

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

At the end of the day, our work is about improving the lives of New Yorkers, plain and simple. Connectivity, education, open government, social media engagement and supporting New York’s thriving tech sector are our means of achieving that. But our goal is always to serve the people of New York City.

What’s one surprising fact that people should know about the government agency you work with?

The City of New York has more than 250 social media channels.

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Response Box

With more than 20 million calls from the public to 311 a year, there is an enormous amount of data available about New Yorkers. What services would you like to see this data used for?

Have a suggestion or idea? Share it with us.

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