Have you heard of Elon Musk?
Most of us today would say yes to this question, and we'd even be able to associate his name with being a pioneer in the tech industries of electric and autonomous vehicles as well as space travel.
While those within the tech sector have held Musk in high regard for decades, he hasn't always been widely known outside his own industry.
When Zip2, Musk's first startup, which he co-founded with his brother, Kimbal, sold to Compaq, he gained some early notoriety in the tech industry, but he wasn't a household name. His prominence skyrocketed, however, with his successful exit of PayPal to eBay. And he has gained pop culture icon status as he sparked the imagination of the world with his latest ventures, including Tesla and SpaceX.
Like Musk, industry icons and charismatic leaders raise the visibility of their chosen industry, but for every charismatic leader, there are numerous unsung heroes who also help push an industry forward one invention, one improvement, one change at a time.
Within my own industry, which is focused on using technology to improve cities, the real groundswell of momentum still comes from individuals within each community who are making decisions, working on projects, and rallying others to get involved in the massive undertaking of revolutionizing the way we interact with our cities -- and most of them are known only within their own communities.
With the approaching annual summit of Bloomberg Philanthropies' What Works Cities (WWC) to be held in New York City beginning March 28, here are three of the unsung heroes who serve the public in cities participating in WWC who can inspire all of us to get involved and help improve our own communities.
Lee Gianetti, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Director of Communications and Community Relations
As a government employee for the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, Lee Gianetti was committed to cultivating a diverse staff that was more reflective of his community. And while part of his motivation was to provide opportunities for groups who were currently underrepresented within municipal ranks, he was motivated even more by understanding that diverse organizations outperform their peers by exposing the entire group to a broader range of perspectives and opportunities for collaboration, both of which are known to promote creativity and innovation.
Previously, the local affirmative action office regularly reviewed this information, but reports were often buried within the city's websites, making it difficult for the public to find the information. Most importantly, the agency did not disaggregate data by race and gender to highlight any salary biases.
Gianetti and his team developed an externally facing dashboard that allows city leaders and residents to review aggregated employee demographics and median salary by gender and ethnicity beginning with the present and going back 17 years. They hope that the information gleaned from these visualizations and analyses will better elevate any inequalities and identify support needed for solutions to address them and ensure diversity in the pipeline for city staff and leaders.
Gianetti says, "We are stewards of vast amounts of data, but need help in becoming a true data-driven organization and savvy data analysts."
Tyler Running Deer, Seattle: Organizational Performance Director
As the homeless population grew within the city of Seattle, so did efforts to address the issues affecting this often fragile population. One of the catalysts for many of these efforts is Tyler Running Deer, organizational performance director for the city.
In his effort to achieve Seattle mayor Edward B. Murray's vision, Running Deer gathered city leaders with the goal of finding cross-departmental performance goals and metrics for Seattle's Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda.
But it didn't take long for Running Deer to realize that what the city actually needed were more comprehensive performance measures within every department in the municipal government.
In an effort to share lessons learned and inspire his peers to set higher standards within their own communities, Running Deer has begun hosting regional gatherings with other government leaders across the Pacific Northwest to discuss data challenges and common performance management goals.
Victoria Carreon, Las Vegas: Administrative Officer
Victoria Carreon made it her personal mission to completely revamp her city's performance management system because she believed the data the city was generating and the data being accessed from other sources could improve services, inform decision making, and engage her community.
But more than just focusing on technology, Carreon understood the vital importance of creating opportunities for culture shift within city departments. She started visiting departments one by one, helping each to set outcome-oriented goals -- all of which fell within the scope of the city's priorities of economic growth, neighborhood livability, community risk reduction, and high-performing government.
Beyond her personal interactions with agencies, Carreon also changed the status quo of the city's meetings by bringing together departments for monthly discussions on progress toward these priorities and making it easier for agencies to work together wherever possible.
While only a few of us will ever rise to the pop culture visibility of someone like Elon Musk, it is good to remember that when we choose to get involved, take on a leadership role, and help others implement positive changes wherever we can, all of us are capable of positively affecting today's gov-tech industry while improving the lives of those around us.