By Samantha Silverberg, HKS MPP 2012
As I finished up my first year at the Kennedy School, I had three goals for my summer experience—I wanted to come home to New York City and serve the city I knew and loved, I wanted to try my hand at a new set of policy issues or challenges, and I wanted to apply some of my HKS classroom training to the “real world.” My Ash Fellowship in Innovation with the Office of the Deputy Mayor of Operations in New York City checked all three of these boxes and provided some valuable insights about leadership and innovation.
The deputy mayor of operations helps Mayor Bloomberg manage many of the agencies critical to the day-to-day lives of New Yorkers, including the Police Department, Fire Department, Office of Emergency Management, Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Buildings, Taxi and Limousine Commission, Department of Finance, Department of Citywide Administrative Services, and Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications. In addition, the Deputy Mayor of Operations oversees the Mayor’s Office of Operations, which is made up of the city’s “internal consultants,” looking at efficiency issues and projects that cross departments, and the Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability, which is responsible for PlaNYC, Mayor Bloomberg’s ambitious environmental plan for the city.
I was assigned to the NYC Business Acceleration project. The goal of NYC Business Acceleration is to make it easier for new business owners to navigate the maze of inspection and permitting processes required to open small businesses in NYC by co-locating inspectors and plan reviewers from different agencies, streamlining and simplifying the rules and regulations, and moving more of these application processes online.
When I began my fellowship, this organization was in the process of transitioning from a small pilot initiative of a few temporary staff to a fully-funded office of 30+ employees from five city agencies and the Mayor’s Office. The Business Acceleration team knew the inspection and permitting processes inside and out and had already helped nearly 400 small businesses open, but they needed help scaling up their operations. I helped the director with a variety of small management tasks, like developing a budget, organizational chart, and position descriptions for new employees, but I spent the majority of my time on two major deliverables—a week-long orientation program for new employees and a performance management and strategic planning system. I drew heavily on my Kennedy School experience for both projects. In addition to the predictable presentations about the mission and organization of the office, ethics and integrity, and customer service, the training program included several mini-case discussions and team exercises, not unlike classroom activities at HKS. The strategic planning system is based on the balanced scorecard, which I first learned about in Professor Bilmes’ Budgeting and Financial Management class. I sincerely hope that both of these deliverables will be used, modified, and used again, as NYC Business Acceleration grows into a full-fledged office and serves hundreds more small businesses.
In addition to my work on NYC Business Acceleration, I helped the deputy mayor of operations kick off a yet-to-be-named project to create jobs and support local businesses through the city’s investments in energy efficiency building retrofits. This project, like many in the deputy mayor’s portfolio, brings together elements of city government (in this case, agencies investing in green upgrades and those responsible for economic development and jobs) that may not even think about working together unless prompted by someone in a position of leadership.
Through this project and others I observed indirectly, I learned that for the type of innovation that crosses agency boundaries to be successful, there need to be three types of leaders—someone with the vision that connects the dots across agencies or disciplines, someone who has the authority to convene the key players and get their buy-in, and someone who can drive the project forward and keep momentum going despite delays or setbacks. Sometimes these someones are embodied in one leader, and sometimes they are distinct people, such as a front-line employee, an engaged citizen, or maybe even a summer intern.
Samantha Silverberg, HKS MPP 2012, was an Ash Summer Fellow in Innovation during the summer of 2011.