New Virginia Beach city office with innovation focus to use data for tranparency, decisions

Ed. note – The following is adapted from a letter City Manager Dave Hansen wrote to Mayor Will Sessoms and members of the city council on Friday, Sept. 23, regarding the creation of a new office within the city government. It has been edited lightly for style and clarity. Early in the letter, Hansen refers to a proverb sometimes credited to Plato, via English translation of this line from The Republic: “Then, I said, let us begin and create in idea a State; and yet the true creator is necessity, who is the mother of our invention.”


COURTHOUSE – My first eight months as city manager have passed by in what seems like eight weeks. A decade of service to this locality coupled with the view through the lens of my new capacity has helped me confirm that sustainability of our quality of life will not happen by chance.

Global economic and environmental trends continue to impede the traditional functionality of local government’s service to its citizenry. Additionally, the expectations of our citizens continue to increase in this new age of instant access and availability of our services. 

These factors confirm the old proverb: “Necessity is the mother of invention” (Plato).

To secure a competitive edge towards achieving a sustainable community, it has become a necessity that we reinvent ourselves and create a culture where our future decisions are formulated by leveraging the use of data, strategic planning and innovation principles that result in both effectiveness and transparency.

Big Data principles of transparency and performance measures have been harnessed by innovative leaders in other progressive cities to navigate through the sea of information toward efficient and strategic decision making.

A sustainable community is also resilient. It has developed the wherewithal to withstand changes in the economy, environment and other external impacts. 

Like Big Data transparency and innovation, resiliency is embedded in the efforts of municipal leaders throughout the country. 

City council, in its legislative package, supports the need for a chief resiliency officer at the state level. I feel we need a similar focus here. 

We envision this effort will compliment the excellent efforts of our city emergency management office.

To this end, I have marshaled the use of existing staff resources to establish a pilot office of strategy, transparency, innovation and resiliency. For this initial effort, we will title the office with its primary functions.

Effective Oct. 1, Budget and Management Services Director Catheryn Whitesell has agreed to serve as the lead of this new initiative and will work directly with Deputy City Manager Ken Chandler to continue to refine the expectations of this office. Three existing positions in the city manager’s office will be reassigned from the organizational development office to support this new initiative.

Anticipated deliverables include but will not be limited to the following:

Facilitate the development of a multiyear strategic plan for the organization linking directly to your vision and goals.

Champion and lead the city’s open data and transparency efforts, as well as integrate our participation in the emerging “What Works Cities” network. 

[Ed. — What Works Cities, an initiative of Bloomberg Philanthropies, supports the use of data and evidence in setting and reaching goals in public life, engaging citizens and making major decisions. Bloomberg has committed $42 million toward helping cities “do more with data,” according to its website, Bloomberg Philanthropies is a charitable organization formed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Virginia Beach is listed among the cities at the initiative’s website, but no formal city announcement has been made about participation. Marc Davis, a city spokesperson, said in an interview that an announcement should happen in October.]

Develop an integrated performance management strategy, including data-driven discussions, problem solving and process oriented decision-making.

Develop and implement a process to explore and adapt innovative changes.

Lead an effort to build a resilient organizational and business culture.

David Bradley, the current deputy director for budget and management services, will assume the role as director of budget and management services. 

Whitesell’s full time position will be transferred to the new office.

I look forward to enhancing our organizational performance and leveraging the creation of this new office to advance sustainable quality of life and effective service delivery for the city of Virginia Beach.

© 2016 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

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