This is Jessica Singleton’s last week as chief digital officer of the City of New York.
Singleton became the city’s digital director in January 2014, then took on an expanded role as chief digital officer last year — at the time, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration said she would “encourage public participation in City-led technology initiatives, focus on outreach to the tech community, and direct citywide digital policy.”
In a post on Medium, Singleton outlines a number of the administration’s tech-related achievements over the past couple of years, including tripling the size of the city’s Tech Talent Pipeline, transforming phone booths into wifi hotspots and creating the city’s Digital Playbook, which outlines ways that technology can be used to make New York and other cities more equitable.
To illustrate the challenge of “really trying to create cohesion and strategy around the city’s digital user experience,” Singleton recalled that when she started working for the de Blasio administration, one of her first tasks was supporting the roll-out of the City’s new universal preschool program. Turns out that in order to apply, parents had to fill out a PDF form and then either fax or hand deliver it. (“I’m not kidding.”) So Singleton was able to work with a team to create a web application that used location data to allow parents to find and apply for a preschool online.
“That experience crystallized the challenge and the opportunity,” she said. “There is scale in government programs, in resident engagement, with the possibility to impact people’s lives in a way that you don’t have anywhere else.”
So why leave now? Singleton said she’s going to Harvard Business School — in fact, she’d previously delayed her application in order to continue working for the de Blasio administration. (I guess getting an MBA just too tempting for some people.)
“I’ve always imagined bouncing back-and-forth [between the public and private sectors],” Singleton said. “So many of the lessons we learn in each of these domains reinforce and enhance what we do in the other.”
She added that even in her Harvard application, she discussed pursuing “a new kind of civic entrepreneurship,” with “the technology and innovation community” becoming more active in helping to solve “public sector challenges.”
As for what happens to the de Blasio administration’s approach to tech after she leaves, Singleton said she has a strong team still in place, and that she’s “been very active in recruiting and sort of defining and shaping the future of both the Office of Digital Strategy and the portfolio that we’ve pulled together. There’s just exciting, good stuff to come.”