Solving public-sector problems with private-sector talent

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Name: Amardeep Prasad

Title: Interim Director, Office of Civic Innovation

City: San Francisco

Dee Prasad’s specialty is tapping into cross-sector know-how to help San Francisco city departments solve problems. Her first role involved growing the “Startup in Residence” initiative. It’s an innovative procurement program that matches city agencies with startup companies to co-create solutions; the model has since expanded to more than 30 cities, counties, and states.

Prasad later took on the Civic Bridge program, which recently won an Engaged Cities Award from Cities of Service. Civic Bridge puts skilled volunteers from local companies to work on some of the city’s toughest problems. The volunteers — often professionals with expertise in tech, design, data analysis, and more — dedicate 20 percent of their time (roughly eight hours a week) for four months, working in teams alongside city workers.

For example, a team that included employees from Google partnered with the Mayor’s Office of Housing & Community Development. They turned the confusing pile of paperwork residents needed to fill out to apply for affordable housing into an easy-to-use website. Working part-time for just four months, the volunteers couldn’t do all the work themselves, Prasad said. “But what they did is help the city understand that the best way to do this is actually to build a user-friendly technology tool, and here’s how to design the RFP to find the right vendor. They helped put all that in motion.”

While not every city has Google in its back yard, Prasad said, the idea of tapping more deeply into local talent is something city leaders anywhere can do. “Every city has its own ecosystem of people who have amazing talents and want to contribute to the place where they live,” she said. “That desire is there no matter what city you’re in.”

Pro tip: “Foster collaboration by focusing on building relationships, both within the city and with external partners and then ask thoughtful questions to help you better understand pain-points and surface new ideas and opportunities.”

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