#5: Digitizing the City of San Francisco with Carrie Bishop
Today our special guest Carrie Bishop shares her unique perspective into how public services and cities are being transformed digitally in her role as Chief Digital Services Officer for the City and County of San Francisco.
San Francsico, the metropolitan jewel of the Bay Area, birthplace of high tech and hippie cultures, and itself right on top of the fault line criss-crossing the globe dividing those with high income and those with no income. And if that wasn’t a poignant enough backdrop for this work, for this progressive agenda, Carrie and her team have been re-designing and upgrading those public services surrounded by wild fires, in a pandemic, as unrelenting structural racism exploded into the Black Lives Matter movement and counter-protests, and with the Presidential election looming…
Whatever the circumstances, day in and day out, our public services underpin so much of the fabric of our lives - schools, streetlights, sewers, permits, parking, policing. Cities do a lot. In San Francisco, the city provides more than 900 different lines of business.
But as you know yourself, around the world, and even in SF, these critical services are often delivered by paper, by PDF and spreadsheet, through processes and systems made for a different time. So how would you think about transforming those for modern, mobile, digitally morphed times? Where would you prioritize? And what should be the guiding principles?
the impact of public health crises, the impact of climate change, the impact of economic inequalities, impact of structural racism, like all of those things are kind of products in part of poor public service design
From our conversation I hope you’ll gain a deeper perspective on the gritty realities of ‘digital transformation’ in public services, since it affects us all. You’ll bounce between an exhilarating aerial view of what can be possible, back down to an unfussy account from the frontline of just how creaky legacy systems that power our world can be and how hard-won the victories are. And you’ll hear an amusing takedown on the shiny ‘smart cities’ agenda too…
Get involved and please rate, share, talk to me on Twitter with your feedback :)
Carrie Bishop on Twitter
‘Digital Services and the Apocalypse’ - by Carrie on Medium
Lee Rosevere for music
Will McInnes 00:00
Okay, I've hit record. Hello, Carrie.
carrie bishop 00:04
Will McInnes 00:06
So I can see you're in sunny California right now.
I am. Yeah, I'm actually in Napa, California, which is a famous wine growing region.
Will McInnes 00:15
You're in Napa? Yes. Yes. Those already jealous before this, this conversation started and now you just casually dropping in world famous wine country.
Yeah, it's It is beautiful here for sure.
Will McInnes 00:32
That's wonderful. How long have you been there in Napa?
Well, actually, literally since March when I already had this house up here, but living in the city. And the idea was, we're just going to rent it out. And then the whole world change setting in San Francisco went into a long period of shelter in place, as we called it locked down, I guess it's called a DK. And at that point, you know, in this been living in San Francisco didn't have the space really or like the means to be able to work from home, I just thought, you know, I have this place in episode, I came up here, and I've been living up here full time. And that person's March, basically, which I feel so fortunate to have this space, because I know so many people who choose to grapple with this completely different life we're living and don't have that kind of privilege. But yeah, it's it's definitely been interesting.
Will McInnes 01:23
That's cool. We'll definitely be getting into that. And I just wanted to say like, thank you so much for joining me today on the podcast, I'm really excited to talk to you about the work that you do. Tell us your story. You know, today you're the Chief Digital Services Officer of the city and county of San Francisco, which is such a cool job title. And I think people would love to know like, what was the path? How did you wind your way to be doing that kind of work as you are today?
Actually, my kind of first proper job out of university was working for a charity that supported single parents. So I would be on a phone line all day, people would call up and say, you know, I'm on my own. And I've got these kids. And am I entitled to any benefits? Is there anything in any support out there? For me, some people would call up and say I'm thinking of leaving my partner like, what are the implications of that. And so I would kind of talk them through the law and listen to them more often than not. So that was my first job. And that was a very kind of front lining kind of job, I was really getting an insight into people's lives from from all that the full spectrum of of income and background. And then I found this opportunity for this local government graduate programme. Basically, I kind of like, you know, the big consulting firms do these kind of graduate programmes, they hire people in, you know, on mass in a cohort and the first year and then send them off around the journey. And so local government was trying this thing out, and it was still fairly new at that point. It's much more established now. So I applied and started working in local government for the London Borough of Barnet. And I was there for four years, maybe five years did all kinds of stuff. But mostly my focus was on like organisational change within the borough and trying to work with colleagues across the borough to implement big IT systems and kind of modernise across the board. And it was really hard. And really, at that time, like the web, as we know, it just wasn't as much of a thing. And like, I remember, like, anytime you met somebody else who was on Twitter, you immediately followed each other, because you're like, oh, you're on Twitter, too. There was a, there was a new thing. And it was exciting. Like, obviously, you're on Twitter, so he must be like me, because I'm on Twitter. And no one else I know is like, so it was like, you know, Twitter was just kind of like, like minded people, you know, how naive we were. At the time, I was working with Dominic Campbell, who became my business partner, but we were good friends and colleagues at the time that we would stay late and talk about, you know, this new internet thing that was happening and that social media was happening. And we could, I mean, we both saw that it was this huge opportunity for change within the public sector. It wasn't just about, you know, social contact, but also the way people are engaging with their public institutions with democracy was shifting at that time, and people would tweet something about at the Council about, you know, the rubbish left in the back alley or something with a photo. And you know, this was like a customer service channel that councils just have no idea even existed. And so, Domino's spent some time, sort of exposing that wealth to the council and I do remember a boss of mine at the time saying it's just a phase Twitter is like CB radio. It's just geeks chatting to each other, you know, it'll die out. Definitely have used the opportunity to kind of remind him that he said that, so twice, but anyway, long story short, dumb left before I did, he left the council and said up a future Gov. And then I left and I joined Capita consulting for like five months was terrible.
And when I eventually left and joined domande, future gov and then from there, we just built this company, working with the public sector in the UK and further afield in Australia and parts of Europe, and just trying to bring not just social media, but like modern web technology to the public sector and thinking, you know, like, when, when I was implementing these big, big systems in councils overseas, they're telling social workers like, Oh, no, you have to change the way you do your job to fit this technology, like, no, this field in this database doesn't work with the way you practice social work. So you're gonna have to change the way you practice social work. And I was just like, this is some messed up stuff, you know, like, this doesn't feel like the right way to do technology. And then here, we have this web technology, and it's light. And it's, it does one thing well, and it's kind of API driven. And it's easy, you know, you don't need a three day training session to learn how to use it. It just, it's intuitive. It's designed around users. And in a dot, I think Domino both came from a place of like, what would it be like if public sector technology was as easy to use as the social tools that was the beginning of future Go for it, and then over a period of time, built that company, and then for various reasons, the time just felt right for me to try and fulfil this lifelong dream that I'd always had of moving to America. I remember when I was like, 11 years old. I'm gonna live in America someday. I always carried that with me. And I never knew like, I had no idea like how I was going to do that, or like, what was I going to do when I got there? Like, no idea. But I just had this like, Yeah, and I guess, to explore that. Anyway, for various reasons, the timing to start, right. And so I started to put some feelers out. And through someone who knew someone this job in San Francisco came up, and I was like, you know, they said, should I put your CV in the pile? And I was like, sure, you know, I'm never going to get that job though, right? Like this kind of strange local government geek from London is not going to end up competing with, you know, the Silicon Valley giants who might or presumably all clamouring for this job. Anyway, that's just proof that imposter syndrome is a thing, because here I am. Yeah. And so I've been doing this job for about three and a half years now
Will McInnes 07:29
play so cool. I love the story. Thank you. It's really enjoyable. And lots lots of echoes and hints and little joins, I can see in my own path. It's such a cool role. What How would you describe it to you know, a non technical friend or a lay person? Like, what what is the job about right
now the job is about making public services easy to access for all San Franciscans. And people don't, I think realise how much cities in particular do like what falls under a city's jurisdiction. But we recently counted actually, and there are like 967 different lines of business that a city does. And it's everything from like, collecting the rubbish to, someone will come to your home and check for asthma risks in your home, or like adopting an animal or applying for a permit to do literally anything. paying your taxes, paying parking permits, like doing all of the kind of streets sort of street care and attention, long term financial planning for an entire region, like just so it's just so much and honestly, like, most of that still can't be done online. Most of that stuff is like a call, if you're lucky, maybe or download a PDF and email it to somebody. And then, of course, there's somebody in the back office who's like, typing what you wrote in that PDF into some kind of creaky old system. And I think people think of San Francisco's as very as a tech forward place, and in many ways it is. But just like every other public sector organisation, certainly in the US, and, and but also across Europe, it technology is woefully bad. You know, it's like, there are many systems that are 20 plus years old, creaky, old Oracle databases that are somehow you know, that so much of the public sector has just run on Excel spreadsheets, like you would be terrified if everybody really knew. So my role is to try and try and modernise all of that, right? So not just take a PDF form, and put it on the internet and make it a web form. But to actually say, well, when someone hits submit on that webform, where's that data going? And like, what databases are going into, and then who's accessing that and what is the workflow that sits behind that to get the thing done and then It's like, incredibly complicated and really like it boils down to like organisational change, and winning arguments about why modernization is like, unnecessary, which Not, not everybody shares that opinion, especially people who've been doing their work in the same way for many years, I don't feel obliged to modernise at this point. So So, so I think at some level, every job becomes kind of stakeholder management essentially, like relationship management, let's put it that way. Up and down the organisation. And so that's, that's what I spend most of my time focused on. But I have a team have a team of about 40, people, designers, engineers, product managers, we, we try and run it as much like a tech company or startup as we can in Agile ways of working, much more kind of flexible approaches, modern technology stack kind of thing. And it sounds like a big team, but actually like Brelade, there's 30,000 employees in the City County of San Francisco, and there's like, 967 lines of business site. relative to that it's quite small.
Will McInnes 11:16
Yeah, I was thinking about scale. And, and thank you for taking it there. Because I did a little bit of research and you know, San Francisco has something like 880,000 citizens, you have the fourth largest output in the USA of GDP, something like 500 and $40 billion, which if a country if it was a country would be, apparently the 21st biggest economy in the world, after Switzerland and just ahead of Taiwan. And so and you mentioned 967 lines of business. This is this is at scale, you know, 880,000 citizens is, is a hell of a lot of users, it's a hell of a lot of stakeholders, it's it's it's a big customer base. So how do you think about the kind of the big rocks or the or the quick wins or whatever, you know, business lingo us like? How do you take such a vast opportunity and challenge and begin to tackle it?
Yeah, yeah, you're right to say those kind of the big rocks, and then like, the quick wins, or win or whatever, whenever we tend to use those kind of like, what are the huge systemic problems that need solving, and then what are the kind of instant value you can create? I find I spend my time constantly pinging in between those two levels, like, you know, just trying to so one of the big things we're working on right now is permitting and how you get a building permit, for example. And just think permitting is like a huge system of getting permission from the government to do something, it's like, it's huge, and many people involve many different departments involved involved. Of course, like larger organisation departments that speak to each other very much, you know, the usual kind of big organisation problems. But you know, we have to spend our time also thinking about well, we can sit here and noodle on that, like, bring some systems thinking and kind of noodle for years, probably in, but also like, there's a backlog. There's like stuff that needs fixing, immediately, people are sending things to each other by email, like we can solve that, like, those are the kinds of things so we spend our time sort of thinking like, what are the sort of incremental steps that we can take that start to iterate our way toward this kind of this more systemic thing. And I think somewhere in between that, we spend time thinking about principles and standards. And so that that's the sort of anchor by which we can kind of it's almost like the making lots of hand gestures, which podcast listeners that like, you know, there's a sort of, there's like a pivot point, I suppose. And those are the standards and principles by which we design systems and services. And so we try to hang things off that so to say, you know, people ought to be able to do this transaction online from beginning to end, it ought to be easy to find, it ought to be accessible to all San Franciscans, not, you know, it's in particular, accessible for people with disabilities. But beyond that, the economically accessible, easy to use, intuitive, etc. And so like that being said, What is the incremental win that we can make here? And then like, how might we design a bigger system approach to this, still using those principles? But it is a kind of, it can be dizzying sometimes to sort of bounce between those two levels at scale.
Will McInnes 14:41
Yeah, it sounds dizzying. But I really like how you described it. Could you give us some examples of zooming out the biggest opportunities over time they might seem from your three and a half years working hard at this, they might seem in some ways less achievable than they did before you started because I know myself one I get into something like that, you know, you start to understand the problem better and better. And it seems bigger and bigger. But But when you zoom out, like what, what big changes can happen in the delivery of public services over time?
That's a huge question, I think,
to zoom right out, I think there is an opportunity to think completely differently about how we provide public services, which is more than just, I said, just as if it's an easy task, but it's more than kind of improving the technology and making it so you can access these services. It's about rethinking the services themselves and how they're designed, right. And so that's where the huge opportunities lie. But I don't think many public sector organisations are in a place where they can think about that, especially you're not in 2020, when there are so many kind of immediate problems. But I think when we take several steps back, we see how some of the ways that we've designed our systems for living have contributed to the things that we're experiencing this year. And we'll do from it for many more both, you know, the the impact of public health crises, the impact of climate change, the impact of economic inequalities, impact of structural racism, like all of those things are kind of products in part of poor public service design, if you want to put it that way of poor public policy, and so like to zoom way out, like, just, you know, at some level that becomes overwhelming, like, I don't know, how I from my lonely vantage point, can can sort of even start to think about addressing that other than, you know, again, to like to focus on the immediate needs that are in front of us, and how can we kind of think about it designing things in ways that adjust and in ways that are equitable and fair for for all people and kind of result in sort of equitable outcomes, both, you know, for the planet for individuals for, you know, groups of people. So, so, I mean, I just think there's a huge opportunity to think about public services. And from that angle, I think, you know, there are certainly people in the UK who I know who, you know, featured, have included who are thinking about things in from that perspective, and it's so great to see that thinking happening. But there's also this kind of growing gap between the public institutions that have the headspace in their creativity to think in those ways, and then the public institutions that just, you know, they're still trying to deal with a 20 year old Oracle database. So how are you going to talk to them about the impact of that on climate change? Like, it's just if there's a disconnect there, so. But I do think that those those huge systemic things are where public service design needs to start to move toward?
Will McInnes 18:02
Wow, that was, there was a moment there, where I suddenly felt we were at a different elevation, and it was really, really exciting. And I get the sense of sleeves rolled up. Lots and lots of people working really hard on the front line, and you guys included, and then there is sumed, out at that higher elevation. This kind of goosebumps moment of like, what could we do? If, if we could do it? Like if we had the magic wand or the everlasting? I don't know, but pause button stop the world or endless resources. But but there was a moment when you were describing how public services, in part have contributed to the most profound problems of our time that I saw a really, yeah, really exciting connection there. That's, that's fascinating. How often are you able to connect to that higher purpose given that, you know, there's lots to do?
Yeah, it definitely comes up. And I think San Francisco is especially concerned about equity within different groups of society. And so there, there are often opportunities around addressing structural inequalities that come up through our work. So for example, cannabis is legal in California, and actually, many additional parts of the US are starting to legalise cannabis, although it's still not legal at a federal level. So. So what that means is if you're running a business, a cannabis business in California perfectly legitimately within the state, you have to be very careful about how you report your earnings for tax purposes because federal federal tax is applied. And so there's this kind of real tension there. So there's some really interesting dynamics going on in the US around cannabis in particular and it's kind of legality or status. So, as cannabis became legalised, here in California, San Francisco, you know, decided to, to think differently about how we permit big cannabis businesses, because what we started to see, and this is the thing, this is the curious thing about San Francisco, as well as that. It is the home of so much innovation, like so many of these like, amazingly awesome, cool startups are just like thinking totally differently about the world and bringing this amazing technology. But they will use San Francisco as their testbed, you know, because it's their backyard, essentially. So they're like, we've got this car, we think it drives itself, we'll just go out on the street right here and test it. And many times, that's done without due regard for the impact of that on the residents of San Francisco, the people who who live here and their livelihoods, their neighbourhoods are all here and you that kind of essentially, like this extended pool of guinea pigs, oftentimes for the for tech companies. And so we're always balancing that. And I think with cannabis, it was something where we really, the city really thought about that and realised like, you know, the Uber of cannabis is it's just a it's just a matter of time before the Uber of cannabis, cannabis kind of rolls into town. And basically, if history sort of these businesses that have actually been established in San Francisco for a long time, small businesses that have been kind of operating actually as like quite well functioning businesses that just happen to have been illegal, but now that cannabis has been legalised? How do we support those businesses to kind of be at the front of the queue? For permitting, for licencing to be able to operate as cannabis businesses? And how do we kind of create a programme for those businesses to help them function and kind of make that transition from an illegal, like a profitable but illegal business into a profitable and legal business? And how do we strike that balance of like not overburdening with regulation. But you know, being supportive. And so there are sort of, there are a lot of steps taken to to help those businesses get to the front of the key. So that's an example where, you know, working as we, as we make the cannabis permitting process digital, we're thinking about, you know, our equity applicants or applicants who who are at the front of the queue, and how we help them get permits first, before then opening the doors to those other players that kind of have more capital behind them. So we do get those opportunities as they come up. And with COVID, especially as well, right now, small businesses in the city are really suffering as they are globally. And so we've been helping our Office of Economic Development, give out grants and sort of small business loans to try and preserve some of the independent businesses in the city before you know, this is release takes even more of a toll on them.
Will McInnes 22:49
It's been quite a year. And I want to come on to that in a second. Because the work that you and your team have been doing has been, you've been pointing it very directly to try and help the people of San Francisco as they go through this absolutely insane year that we're having. Have you had experiences walking around the city or talking to people? Or are there moments of satisfaction that have come along the way where you've where you've actually seen the service improvement in the hands of a real human? And perhaps, you know, not even in a contrived way, but actually people genuinely just benefiting from things? Or is it? Or does this work mean that you tend to be still somewhat removed from from the people as they benefit?
I definitely seen some, especially in the last few months, and some evidence of our impact which fit which is incredibly rewarding, actually, because you don't always get that get to see it firsthand. But there's a few things like permits for restaurants to open outdoor dining, for example. And like, again, it taking over sidewalks pavements, and kind of parking zones as restaurant space. And we had to very hastily work with other departments in the city to kind of work out how was the minimum viable, permitting that we need to do here, you know, and how do we help these restaurants actually just get out there and start serving people outdoors so they can continue to operate. And so walking around the city and seeing these kind of little stations that have been created and little structures stuffed into parents, sidewalks and parking lanes and stuff, and like seeing people outside eating and thinking like, because of the work we did, and because we pushed for this, like very light touch permit approach. Those restaurants have been able to keep going those those patrons have been able to keep, you know, spending their money with those businesses. People can actually enjoy like a social moment in the city outdoors while the weather holds and so that's been really rewarding. And the other thing we did was we put up a registration and scheduling process for booking and COVID test and the city has like a bunch of Sort of COVID testing sites. And so just seeing people saying like, wow, that was way easier than I thought it would be to get attacked. I mean, a lot of the rewarding work as people going, that was much easier than I thought it would be, which is kind of like, I guess it's like a backhanded compliment, like I expected it, but actually, okay, I'll take that, you know, I'll take that,
Will McInnes 25:22
I think you should take that I, my, my biggest moments of delight are often those, it's where you, you have a sense of doom, that task that you need to complete and, and it turns into, it turns into a less painful, more delightful little moment, those, those for me are sometimes the sweetest as assist as a citizen, or as a customer. I'm like, it wasn't shit, you know? That's great. I'm cool with that. It's 2020. In the medium post that you wrote, and I'll share in the show notes, we've had COVID Black Lives Matter. wildfires. At one point, the worst air quality in the world you mentioned was was San Francisco, California, you and your list of achievements as a team and as a function as a city, supporting the business community with grants and permits, helping them you know, get reimbursed for paying staff for extra sick time, you talked about getting your business operating on the sidewalk, small grants permitting for construction, supporting the city staff, you build tools to help the city's 30,000 employees stay healthy, the tests that you just mentioned, you made it easier to donate to the city. Like that's a lot. And I guess my question is, how have you sustained yourselves? In that, as a team, you can't do everything? It's a big job. But how have you in your team? coped?
Yeah, it's been tough at this, it's definitely taken its toll on on the team and us in different ways at different times. I think, initially, when the cut the shelter in place order was given and everything sort of immediately went into lockdown. There was just so much for us to do, and the not least of which was creating just like very easy to understand web content, which is, you know, is much harder than it sounds. And, and to be able to, you know, our standards are about writing that in fifth grade reading level, which is, you know, so, so easy that a child can read it. And interestingly, some of the reason for that well, partly, it makes it much easier to then translate into other languages. And there are many other languages spoken in San Francisco, especially Chinese, Spanish and Filipino. So that so translating our content into other languages as sort of feature of how we think about our work. But, you know, just trying to have all these like, incredibly complicated health, health information and things coming down. And the guidance was all jumbled. And no one really knew what was true and what wasn't anyway, and just trying to make sense of all of that, and kind of get all of that out there and easy to understand ways. That was really the bulk of our work in the first few days and weeks. And it continues to be our work. But we're also building services now as well. And I mean, I think most of us on our team, were just running on adrenaline at that point, like, you know, our days were like, 16 hour days, we were kind of just it was, you know, the flow of information into the team was just non stop. And we had to really, you know, our communication had to just get super real time super focused. And like, just, I think, I think most of us on the team were just like, yeah, just totally running on pure adrenaline. You know, there comes a point, and I think, I think all of us, right, everybody was thinking, God, I don't know how I'm gonna manage this for three weeks or, and then we realise this is looking for like three months. And now now we're in, you know, whatever we are like month six, thinking, could we be thinking about three years? And this like is, is that really what we might be facing? So, you know, we've just had to pace ourselves throughout, I think and just try and you know, ultimately be very kind and understanding of each other and lots of like, taking the time to revisit our achievements and like, kind of look, look at what we look back as well as forward I guess, to mark how, what we've managed to do, and try to share that success as much as possible.
Will McInnes 29:34
You've just inspired me to kind of look back exercise with my team. Thank you take an unintended benefit of this discussion.
And I think that the other thing is that like the successes kind of start to wear off like I was looking back at the last but our last team check in last week, actually, I was thinking I had just written that blog post about all the things that we had done and then at the T tech note, we were doing their product updates, it can usual stuff like what's happening this week. And oh, you know, like, this team is just launching a new form for a new type of permit. And then this team is like, you know, just rolled out a new feature on something else. And this team has managed to, like, fix a technical issue there. And any one of those things would have been a major, like celebration moment, pre COVID, like, we would have just been like, amazed that like, wow, we've got, you know, we've done a whole permit, and it's now it's online, it's amazing. And this was just like, one of three things that I was reading off, and that that was just like a part of a product update. And I was just thinking, like, the scale and the kind of expectation of what we can achieve is also completely changed. And, but we're doing things that would have been a huge deal six months ago, now. Now we're just like, casually chatting that point.
Will McInnes 30:52
That's wonderful. And when you think about measuring success, or the business case, for this, the the achievements that are yielded through this hard work, what ways do you break that down? Not not necessarily in reporting up through the organisation, but just in quantifying the benefit delivered or created or unlocked? Like how do you guys, because I'm imagining, if I'm listening to this, I'm hearing that San Francisco is a big place. I know, it's cool and dreamy. It's interesting now that I'm thinking about the challenge of taking antiquated systems and processes and modernising them. I guess there's a final piece, which is about what is Yeah, what does that unlock what benefits accrue?
It's, it's really interesting, the context here in the US, San Francisco, is very different than it is in the UK, around digital government. And in the UK, there's this big strong movement of digital government, I would say, for most councils, you can do most things online, it may not be the most delightful experience, it might like be maddening. And there might be like, really insane password requirements or whatever, but, but you sort of kind of can write. And the US is it's not, that isn't the case. And so. So there's a difference there. And there's also a difference in I think a lot of what drove that strong movement of digital government in the UK was around financial savings. So like business cases, and you know, I remember, you know, with future govern with other endeavours, like, you couldn't really walk into a meeting without being able to say, like, financially like, this is what we will save you, if you do this thing. In here, the context is different. I mean, I think we're heading into a moment of financial crunch here, which I think will be quite revealing in San Francisco. But to this point, San Francisco has been a relatively wealthy city. And what's, so that was very surprising when I first got here, because nobody was asking me for a business case. But what's interesting is, what they what's valued much more here is, is that equity stuff this much more valued is like, how many more San Franciscans? Does this help? Like? How, how much more access are we giving by making this digital? You know, how are we helping San Francisco's by by not requiring them to show up in person during the nine to five working day, you know, if they're, if they're having to take time off work to come and access our services, then then that's like, we're creating it in equitable service, thereby making it digital, we're creating a more equitable way doesn't necessarily mean that we get rid of our in person services, or that we, you know, kind of make all these cuts, right? It's not necessarily about that it's more about more, right? How do we open up this so that even more people can access it? So I think those are the those are the ways that we quantify this is like, you know, we're looking at, you know, we look at our traffic and our numbers and all that kind of stuff. But we use that to tell a story around how many more people are able to access this, or specific groups, right, this group has previously excluded and is now because we've translated the service or because we've, we've opened it up in some way they're now able to access it. Smoke. Yeah, it's awesome. And it's a very different lens, because I have definitely had been brainwashed by this kind of like public sector efficiency kind of mantra, which, you know, I think has to get too political for a sec, but I think it has really, we've sacrificed a lot of the soul of our public services in the UK because we've just been so focused on this kind of technocratic approach to public services. And it's all been a that the primary and the only driver has been financial savings. It hasn't been equity. It hasn't been you know, different business models are different, you know, kindness to the planet or anything like that. It's just been, you know, how can we gouge money out of the public sector them You know, I think we were told, well, if we if we take money out of these inefficient services, we can use it to provide more better public services and like that it's just proven to be a lie as well. So I'm kind of like, why did we do that? Like, why why were we so obsessed with efficiency? And, and not? It could have been obsessed with equity. Right?
Will McInnes 35:21
So yeah, that's really interesting to me, I've not, I've not thought about public services in the context of equity in the way that I am from this conversation. It's really a fundamentally different Northstar to be to be heading for. And that's, that's incredibly interesting. I'll be noodling on that and for some time, I imagine. And so when we zoomed out, and you You gave me that, that elevated, kind of breathtaking moment of what could be possible. If you if we go back to like Dreamworld and zoom out, and there are lots of resources and lots of time, and the full promise of this transformation is enacted. What could the benefits be there? Because you've touched on being kinder to the planet, you've touched on being more equitable to people, we've talked about the business case, and the cost savings? Like, what is the promise of all of this? If it's done really, really well? Where can we get to?
I don't know if I ever felt confident making future predictions, but I definitely don't right now feel confident they keep anything about the future. But if I were to throw caution to the wind, you know, I think especially in our Well, in our cities, for sure, but even in a suburban areas, I think the impact of inequality. And poverty is just playing out in ways that are, like socially unhelpful, and I think so many of the things that we're seeing, socially and economically are driven by like this, this inequality, and you know, I think, even even honestly, the kind of, sort of working from home or like this kind of new world that we're living in, you know, there's, there's, there's a privilege and being able to kind of retreat to your suburban home. And you know, that those who are able to do that, kind of in this in this one position, and we see this inequity where there's other people who just don't, they don't have that option. And, and so I think it's changing the fabric of our cities, as we speak, we don't really know what that's gonna look like and our society, right, we don't know what it's gonna look like when working back and change. But by, I feel like if we were really intentional about this, and we designed the, the systems more equitably. If we addressed housing inequality, if we address poverty, if we, you know, address racism in our public services, then we might be in a place where cities didn't feel like such extreme places of extreme, they felt much more, you know, like the quality of quality of life would go up for everybody, not just the few people who can afford it. And I do see that the sense of inequality is what drives so much of the kind of hate and aggression in our kind of narratives and our social media presence. And I think that a lot of that's driven out of this sense of like awfulness. And I think some of that comes out inequality. So, I do feel like we might, if we realised this, we might see a more kind of even spread, I think, which might make cities more livable, might make suburbs feel like viable options for more people.
that, like, it's so vast to think about that right? Like, kind of overwhelming myself, just as I'm even talking about it.
Will McInnes 39:12
I totally hear you. But thank you for for trying, going. What's the next frontier like prep? In practical terms? Once this phase of work, whatever it is, this is, is this the first wave of the digitization of public services? Or is a we in the second wave or what? And if there's a new frontier, is it obvious what it is? Or is this all just a flow and an iterative adventure that you can't really stick a helpful label on? Like, how would you How would you break down or describe what might be
next? Yeah, I it's an interesting question. I think with this is like if this is this way, or is this kind of iterations And or is it just one big rupee blob? Like sometimes it feels like you're in the midst of a blob, but I think there are there are kind of some very real very down to earth, you know, just to kind of bring it bring it right back to like brass tacks, hey, like, there are still like Excel spreadsheets powering government right now. And so I do feel like until we are addressing some of that, like until we are clearing out some of that technical debt that has like laid on the public sector, we really aren't in a place where we can talk about redesigning things, you know, fundamental levels, because we don't, we just don't even have the tools to be able to do that right now. Just simple things like breaking down silos between departments so that two departments can collaborate on providing a better service. But we can't do that right now. Because those two departments have to separate spreadsheets. And so like, just to get really real. I think there's there is definitely a hump, right. There's like a hump of innovation that needs innovation at this point. It's just like, kind of just the obvious stuff that needs to happen for government to be able to function better, honestly, and adapt to the 21st century. So. So there there is, I think that beyond that, I think there are then questions about what directions do we take this into, you know, I think there is a way that it's like, very much Smart Cities driven, you know, this kind of idea of like, which we haven't spoken about at all, but which I think many people who, who think they're going to listen to the Chief Digital Services Officer of San Francisco, probably imagine that, that, you know, I would be talking about smart cities, because that's just such a dominant kind of narrative and the government innovation space. You know, really, like, it's very hard to understand what that means beyond like sensors on lampposts. Like I still can't, it's like still very hard to get under the and it's like, such a sort of, like, male dominated, kind of like, devoid of people kind of agenda that it's like, hard for me to sort of like, take it seriously.
to think no disrespect to anyone listening, might be really into smart cities and bitterly disappointed.
Yeah, I like that. So I think, you know, that is like one sort of a dystopian future, right? where like, we forget that people are the lifeblood of cities, and we only think of cities in terms of infrastructure. And basically, as cities become such, like, depressing sort of, like dystopian, futuristic kind of places that literally nobody wants to live there. And it's all just like, empty tower blocks filled with like investment from overseas. And that that just becomes kind of what's a hollowed out as hollowed out cities look like, right. And we do see pockets of that in global cities around the world. And it is like a worrying trend, I think. Or maybe there's another feature where we recognise that like, all inhabitants of the city, because I think what's really interesting here in San Francisco is we never talk about citizens, right? We talk about residents, or San Franciscans. And we do that because we know that many of the people who live in San Francisco aren't citizens. In fact, some of them are, you know, many of them immigrants, some of them are undocumented. But but we have responsibility to all of them, right. And they all make up our city. And so but, you know, thinking about our cities, in those terms, it's everybody who is in this city, not just the people who can afford to buy a house here or apartment here, but you know, the person who's living on the street, as much as the, you know, the the people who run the businesses, the large companies that are based here, as well as the small businesses that are serving that community. And so we can think about that kind of like glorious jumble of people as being like this kind of this sort of kinetic energy in a city and think, like, how can we make this a place where that can thrive? That kind of jumble of people can thrive and sort of rub along next to each other without too much friction? And what can we do to support that? And that might mean, you know, more equitable social services, it definitely means addressing housing policy, it definitely means dealing with public transport better. And I say this, not just for San Francisco, but for all global cities. Right, because I think this is a phenomenon that's not unique. So yeah, so that's another feature right? And it feels very different than the sort of smart cities agenda that we we hear so much about.
Will McInnes 44:46
I absolutely love it. I'm I'm, I'm buying this vision and it's it's more human and richer and Messier and livelier and not devoid, which is great. So as we begin to kind of wrap up on the discussion, I was thinking about your journey, and I was thinking about how cool it must be to be the Chief Digital Services Officer of San Francisco. And I think what do you do? Like not that you're ready, but what do you do next after that? It's like, you guys, the Bay Area? It's the tech hub. It's it's Silicon Valley, like, wet? Like, have you ever thought about, you know, the, the further out future? Or, you know, some people don't plan like that?
Yeah, I mean, it's been, it's like, it's been so different going from kind of running a company to be working on the inside of government. And, and so I've definitely had to adjust my mindset from like, you know, when you're working, when you're running a company, especially, you know, a company where, where there's kind of, it's an agency type of model, like, you are really kind of, like, you have this sort of sprint mindset where, you know, you, okay, I've got this six month engagement and the client, I've got six months to make an impact, hopefully, there's some follow on sales there, like, you know, it's all about sort of delivering those outcomes. But, you know, ultimately, knowing that you, you hope you have a long term partnership with that client, but you also know that that might, it may not pan out that way, right? working inside of government, it's much more about relationships, right, and like building relationships for for the long term, and kind of recognising all the complexities of everything that's happening and meeting people where they are, and sometimes that can make progress feels so slow, because, you know, I know that if I were doing this from an agency angle, I would have been kind of in and out multiple times by now with like, different deliverables and different projects. And sometimes it can feel quite a different, like more of a marathon mindset. But but it's definitely been interesting, so far, being on the inside of government, rather than the outside. Beyond this, I don't know. I am, you know, definitely interested in making an impact. And, you know, these themes that we've spoken about today, you know, bringing, bringing equity in general, from whatever angle and I don't think you need to be in government to make that happen. You don't even need to be in public services to make that happen. You could be in venture capital, honestly, like, the distribution of venture capital in this world is like insanely, inequitable. And, you know, again, like you can you can draw direct lines between the distribution of venture capital and the inequality and, you know, in the employment market and all kinds of other things. So, so that, you know, that there, I guess my point is, like, there's many angles that you can take to improve the world. So, if anyone has suggestions for what next and will is, but for now, I'll just try and fix those Excel spreadsheets.
Will McInnes 47:46
That is a brilliant, brilliant punch line. Wonderful. How can people follow you? Where's a good place to point people?
I mean, Twitter, I guess is probably the best.
Will McInnes 47:58
There we go. So Kerry, Bishop, thank you so much for spending the time today. I really, really appreciate it and I've learned loads me.
It's nice to see you. I hope everything's all right in your world.
Will McInnes 48:07
Yeah, it's good. I've you know, been on my own adventure. And in a bit like, you're still still, there's so much more impact I want to have. Yeah, talking to us been really, it's been really nutritious.
who happened to be at a nutrient?
Will McInnes 48:24
Right, I'm gonna stop recording.