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My exciting work this summer!

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By Alexander Vazquez, on July 10, 2015

If you’ve been following my blog posts, you’re probably wondering what exactly I’m doing with the City of Durham – after all, I haven’t mentioned what I’m working on besides going to meetings and doing ride-alongs. Wonder no more! This post will shed some light on my projects this summer…

The main project I’m working on this summer is with Durham’s Technology Solutions (TS) department. For quite some time now, one of the City’s Deputy Managers has wanted to get a sense of how different departments use the City’s software platforms. As such, my project aims to answer the following questions:

  1. What software platforms do departments use?
  2. How do the departments use the software platforms?
  3. Who are the key-users of the software platforms?
  4. How are key-users trained on the use of the software platforms?
  5. What are some challenges to using the software platforms?

To answer these questions, I have conducted interviews with staff from each department who serve as TS Liaisons – their main role is to serve as a bridge between their department and the TS department. In addition to getting an overall sense of how software platforms are used in each department, during the interviews, I collected a list of people I could email a short survey to regarding their use and training on the software platforms. Once I have written up my notes on the interviews and analyzed the survey data, I will write a report that I will present to the TS department and the City’s Executive Team. Although the goal of my project is only to gather information, the information I collect can help improve the experience that end users have when using the City’s key software platforms.

I’m also working with staff from the General Services (GS) department to develop a request for proposals (RFP) for a space and asset management software. To do this, I have facilitated two focus groups with end-users from the GS department and a meeting with external stakeholders, including folks from the Finance and Human Resource departments, who (1) have experience implementing new software; and/or (2) own data that may be integrated into new space and asset management software. Because the GS department only received $108,000 for the new software, the GS staff and I have to figure out what space and asset management issue should be solved first. Assuming everything goes well, staff from the GS department hope their success will yield new funds to purchase additional modules that will enable multiple departments to use their space and asset management software, effectively making it a City-wide tool.

In a previous post, I mentioned that the City has developed a website called Neighborhood Compass that integrates local public records with other data sources, such as the US Census and American Community Survey, to allow “all local stakeholders to track quality of life and provision of services throughout Durham.” Although the City has had great success getting visitors to the website, they have been unable to reach a large segment of the population – Spanish-speaking residents. Knowing this, the City has wanted to translate the website’s content into Spanish for quite a while. Unfortunately, given the limited number of individuals who can translate the material and the amount of work these individuals already have, the City has not made much progress in developing a Spanish version of Neighborhood Compass. Cue my entrance! Over the summer I have been translating the website’s material into Spanish. By the time I leave the City in August, I will have translated all of Neighborhood Compass’ content so that Spanish-speaking residents are able to take full advantage of all of the data that the City has published.

Having expressed an interest in budgeting and finance, my supervisor has helped me set up a project with the Budget and Management Services (BMS) department where I am looking at how programs and services are structured in municipalities that use priority-based budgeting (PBB), an up-and-coming budgeting approach that asks municipalities to identify its most important strategic priorities and then ranks programs and services according to how well they align with the priorities. This information will help the BMS department develop better guidelines for departments to follow as the City determines whether to adopt PBB moving forward.

My last four weeks with the City will be incredibly busy as I work to complete all of the deliverables for these projects!

In my next blog post, I’ll discuss some career lessons I learned while administering the survey for my TS project.

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