Luke Stowe tells TechRepublic about the many digital avenues he helps shape for residents and for the city of Evanston, Illinois.
It figures that someone born on the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence would have a certain affinity for government.
"I've always been fascinated by how the world works, and government is such a huge component of how the world works," said Luke Stowe, 4th of July baby and, more importantly, digital services coordinator for the city of Evanston, Illinois.
To zoom in even further, social media is becoming a part of how government works, and Stowe is involved in that integration.
Stowe got his start in government in 2000 during the Bush/Gore presidential election (no doubt, Twitter would have been 90% hanging chad jokes). He took a class to become an election judge, and after the class, asked about becoming a volunteer at the elections office in Champaign County in Illinois. He became an intern, and then a full-time staff member for four years, where he worked in various election and technology roles.
Originally from the Chicago area, Stowe took a job with Lake County as an elections executive, then web developer, and then after six years there, came on board with the city of Evanston just two years ago.
Since coming to Evanston, Stowe has been involved with multiple initiatives — many of which have an eye toward connecting the city government with a younger crowd.
For example, he recognizes the difference in communication styles and preferences between millennials, and Generation X and Baby Boomers — the former tend to prefer messaging and applications, the latter two prefer email. The way this awareness shakes out is in approaches the city has taken in connecting residents with information, like the the multi-channel 311 service.
Having identified specific pages on the city's website they know users typically have questions about, the city instituted a web chat that pops up after 45 seconds, with a live person offering help.
Residents can also text the city weekdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. with questions about anything from city events to service requests, and get an answer, again, from a real person.
"Some people have saved the phone number as a contact, just as you would for your spouse or your parent," Stowe said.
Evanston's parks and recreation department has even recently launched an app. Evanston Rec, which was built in-house, has information on nearby parks and facilities, based on the user's GPS location. Users can add events to their personal calendars and get notifications on things like upcoming events, current conditions at fields and beaches, and camp registration dates. Stowe said more apps might be in the future.
Aside from better connecting the city and its residents, Stowe also helps local businesses and nonprofits improve their presences online.
The city essentially hosts bootcamps every so often at the civic center, which cover things like social media best practices for organizations.
"In the past couple of years we've had an explosion of restaurants and microbreweries and bars, and we're getting a lot of attention for that now. I think one of our roles is being able to champion our local businesses," Stowe said.
The fluidity of Stowe's role and responsibilities — whether he's tweaking a platform strategy, working to bring more processes, like payments, online, or trying to figure out a use for Snapchat — are part of what make his job interesting.
"That is one of the things I do love about this job; I am involved in many different projects, so no day is alike," he said.
In his own words...
How do you unplug?
"What I often turn to is spending time outside, typically with my family, and then listening to music, is probably the main way I unplug. There are times when I intentionally let my phone battery die so that I can put the phone down and try and spend time with friends and family, without the digital distraction. I think for those of us in the digital world, that's especially challenging, but it's also important to do that, even if it's for an hour."
You mentioned music, who do you listen to?
"I have a strange, eclectic collection of different things. It could be anything from U2 to Led Zeppelin, to a brand new artist in rock or alternative... I love the Shins... I'll listen to almost anything, to be honest."
Are you all digital?
"I have not bought a CD in probably 15 years. I've been all digital for a while. I kind of miss that, though. That was always fun, growing up, going to the store and picking out a brand new CD that had just gotten released, so I kind of miss those days, but there is something amazing about digital portability now."
Is there a social media account you like to follow for fun?
"As an offhand comment, sometimes people complain about Facebook as people just sharing picture of cats or what they ate for lunch — and there is a lot of that, but so much of what I use Facebook for is for keeping up with the tech industry, so I follow all the major technology blogs, I follow all the major government technology stuff, and I learn so much whether it's by the Facebook feed, or Twitter. So much of my stuff is interest graph driven on Facebook and Twitter that I just ignore some of the other noise and I really still find it valuable for keeping up with technology."
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