San Francisco to get new ‘innovation team’ thanks to Bloomberg grant

The City hopes to increase transparency and track policy outcomes with the help of a new grant.

By Benjamin Schneider

Examiner Staff Writer

San Francisco is hoping to channel its rapid, data-driven response to the pandemic into other areas of government, with help from a new grant.

On Tuesday, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced that San Francisco would be one of six global cities to receive a three-year-grant aimed at using data and technology to improve city services. The $17 million program, divided among San Francisco, Bogotá, Amsterdam, Mexico City, Reykjavík, Iceland, and Washington, D.C., will fund “innovation teams” to test new policies and coordinate between departments that don’t typically work together.

“During COVID, San Francisco experienced tremendous success by following the data and science to help protect public health,” Mayor London Breed said in a statement. “Our data-driven approach helped us deliver better services and build trust at a very challenging time for our City. Thanks to the support of Bloomberg Philanthropies, we can build off the lessons learned from COVID and improve how San Francisco serves all of its residents, and create a more efficient, accessible, and equitable government as we emerge from this pandemic.”

The grant program is described on the Bloomberg Philanthropies web page as a way of helping cities to address big picture problems like poverty and sustainability, which often get overlooked in the day to day process of governing. Innovation teams serve as an “in-house consultancy for city government,” James Anderson of Bloomberg Philanthropies says in an informational video, “focused on experimentation, R&D, [and] using design to expand the way we’re thinking about what’s possible.”

The City is still determining exactly what the innovation team will focus on, Mayor Breed’s press director Andy Lynch wrote in an email, however, “the goal of this team will be to coordinate our existing Digital Services, DataSF, and OCI teams around the Mayor’s priorities, using data metrics, digital technology, and design to help departments be more responsive to constituents.”

The OCI, or Office of Civic Innovation, was founded by Mayor Ed Lee in 2012, and has primarily focused on partnerships with the private sector, including a revamp of the City’s affordable housing portal by Google.

The new innovation team’s work will likely be public-facing, Lynch says, using the City’s many Covid trackers and Homelessness Recovery Plan dashboard as examples. “This team will focus on incorporating that data to inform our policy and budget investments and to make it easy for San Franciscans to track progress and accountability on major policy initiatives.”

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