This is the first interview in a series of videos with New York’s CTO Miguel Gamino. The other videos may be found here:

New York City is taking a new approach to solving its city’s issues by creating a program that brings together technologists and people from the community to come up with solutions to improve the neighborhoods. TechRepublic met with New York’s CTO Miguel Gamino to discuss the NYCx program and what it hopes to accomplish. Below is a transcript of the interview.

Gamino: I think it’s really important to take advantage of these opportunities to share the story, to your point, that some of us on the inside of this work take it for granted that we know where we’re trying to go with this and how we intend to use technology to serve people. But to take advantage of every forum, to share that story and help bring other people along to the goals and objectives of it, is really important, and so I really genuinely thank you and the team for helping us do that.

NYCx, really exciting. World’s first, as far as we can tell, municipal program of its type. Really focused on engaging the technology industry and the community to help better inform the technology that’s developed in a way that makes sure it’s serving the needs of people on the ground in their real everyday lives. Not just what some really bright technologists might think people need from the distance of a laboratory somewhere. But really engaging feet on the ground, in the neighborhoods, in the priority discussions for the administration for things that are really important to the city as a whole, and making sure that we’re properly challenging the tech community to help us solve some of those problems.

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Patterson:How does NYCx work with equity building and bringing technology, and not just technology but access to technology to the entire city?

Gamino:So there’s a couple of things. So we’ve got a kind of a challenge program that focuses on solving problems from two angles. One that we call moonshot challenges, really focus on the city wide objectives that the mayor and the administration have for New York City. And the other, is kind of the grass roots element, a version of that. We call them co-labs and they start in the neighborhoods and they start with the questions that surface. The priorities of those neighborhoods, not focused on technology or the technical approach to a solution at all from the beginning. It’s just surfacing what are those issues.

In both cases, that manifests in the form of a challenge that’s issued to the industry that helped solve those things. And the reason this really comes back to equity is the really proud of the focus of my boss, Mayor De Blasio has on really making sure that we do everything that we can to make New York City the fairest big city in America. That’s the mantra going right now. He was very clear about that in the state of the city, that all of us working in this administration, should ask ourselves how is our work forwarding that goal?

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And so, having built NYCx in many ways, in advance of such a specific announcement of the focus, really proud that we were already there. Because we were already having conversations with the community about what is it that concerns you and is important to you. And then bringing technology as a tool to accomplish those things. And so, all that comes together in the form of we’re focused on things the community is asking for. We’re focused on administrative priorities or administration priorities, that accomplish this fairness goal and we’re bringing technology to the table as a tool to forward those concerns.

So at the end of it all, we’re mobilizing technology to accomplish equity and inclusion and ultimately, this fairness goal, by virtue of starting the conversation from there. And not starting the conversation from what is the widget you have or what is the technology you have and let me see how it might apply to this goal. We’re just changing the structure of the narrative, plain and simple.

Patterson:So are there examples or particular stories or anecdotes that you’ve heard from the community that articulate specific needs? And what are some of those specific community needs?

Gamino:Yeah, so the first neighborhood level engagement or activation has occurred in Brownsville, Brooklyn. A neighborhood that anyone … I’m relatively new to New York, but it didn’t take me long to understand the challenges that are being faced in Brownsville. And through those community conversations, sometimes are facilitated by us, other times facilitated by the community itself, a couple of things emerged. One was, they needed a better way to deal with waste management, in particular, in public spaces, but also specifically in public housing that is very prevalent in Brownsville.

And the other was this notion of night time safety on what would otherwise be busy corridors, business corridors at night. So having surfaced those issues, we presented both of those priorities as co-lab challenges to the industry or to the tech community at large, I should say. And we’ve had tremendous feedback. We’re still going through that process so, we’re still in the stage of identifying the finalists, and then moving to the next step. But this stuff is moving very quickly. I think it’s also important just to point out that the whole NYCx program just launched in mid-October last year, and so in just a few months, we’ve already launched four challenges of significance that have seen over, I think, 150 responses. One of those challenges on Governor’s Island, we’ve already announced the finalists and we’re moving down to the next step of demonstration.

In the case of Brownsville, we’re not yet at the finalist selection, but we’re really close, so the pace is happening very quickly. I would venture to guess that that speed is probably not what one would expect of a government organization to identify, articulate and work on responses to such significant challenges so quickly I think, is also a really important part of the equity piece. Because these things, these questions are relevant to people right now. So if we can respond kind of at the right pace, then we’re addressing the issue in a timely way also. If we take too long, then those needs change over time, or priorities change over time or we might not be, by the time we get to it, responding to the really urgent issue.

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