Challenges quickly test creative solutions to operational snags
Long Beach’s annual smart city challenge focuses on improving customer satisfaction with service delivery.
The Long Beach, California, smart city challenge is gearing up for a fourth year with a focus on improving customer experience and satisfaction with city services delivery.
For the challenge, city staff identify areas for improvement within government operations and issue solicitations for “flexible, creative and innovative ways to more quickly and cost-effectively test potential solutions,” officials said in a Jan. 12 statement.
New this year is a “cohort approach,” which has enabled city staff across different departments to collaboratively scope out their challenge statements, objectives and desired results, said Michael Criste, a pilot programs coordinator for Long Beach.
“That’s something we’re finding a lot of people have a craving for—to be more collaborative within an organization, not just within the departments themselves,” he said. When city staff are able to connect through meetings or workshops to discuss smart city initiatives, it facilitates a more data-oriented and user-centered thought process, Criste said.
Another added feature to the 2023 challenge is the inclusion of surveys for participants to provide feedback on the process. Criste said this input is especially valuable for preparing workshops where city staff and vendors meet to discuss project implementation.
This real-time research helps the city “learn as we go and … ensure the program is delivering value to both city staff and vendors,” Ryan Kurtzman, the smart cities program manager, said.
This year, the Technology and Innovation Department issued a request for proposals for a tool to increase accessibility and user satisfaction on Long Beach’s government site.
Residents may struggle to navigate the site’s 7,000 pages, trying to differentiate the development department from the planning department, Criste said. A more user-friendly and accessible site, for example, could help entrepreneurs more quickly find business license information, facilitating smoother interaction with government, he said.
Another RFP calls for a centralized database the Public Works Department can use to more efficiently track phone calls and emails from residents about environmental, roadway, stormwater and mobility issues. Not everyone has access to the LongBeachGO app, which enables individuals to send in an inquiry to the department, Criste said. Plus, some individuals prefer to talk to a city representative, others to email.
But when inquiries reach the department through different channels, it often results in duplicative efforts. An integrated database would help streamline the reporting process and make city responses more efficient, especially when several reports refer to issues at the same location. “If we have 20 requests from this site, we’re not sending people back and forth throughout the week,” Criste said. “We can get this all done in one day.”
Since 2019, Long Beach’s Smart City Challenge has aimed for cross-sector collaboration to address citywide issues with innovative tech solutions. The RFPs that come out of the challenge are meant to engage smaller or early stage companies that can pursue more creative options than typical services offered by more established organizations, Criste said.
“We’re hoping that the experiences [city staff] have and the skills they gained in the program, they can take out into their everyday practice to become more data-oriented decision-makers or think about the user experience with any RFP that they do in the future, not just the pilot,” Criste said.