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City challenges departments with innovation fund

Updated: February 9, 2012 10:58AM

Chicago city government has shown how a little competition can open up government data so people can develop web apps to track everything from pothole filling to 311 call responses.

Now the city is turning to its own departments to vie against one another in developing innovative ideas, and it’s setting up a $20 million loan fund as an incentive, the city announced Wednesday. The city is getting the money off of future marketing revenue due the city from its contract with JC Decaux, the company that provides and maintains bus shelters with running advertisements.

Applications are due by the end of the day Feb. 15 to the city Office of Management and Budget, which is overseeing the money.

An oversight committee will judge the ideas based on how well they demonstrate innovation, accountability or entrepreneurship. That could mean a way to retrofit streetlights to trim electricity bills or streamline the city’s inspection system to be less burdensome on businesses and save on administrative expenses. The money goes to the winning departments.

The judges will comprise an as-yet-to-be-named alderman and several cabinet-level leaders who have strong financial backgrounds, a city spokeswoman said.

“As a city, we must constantly push the envelope and strive for more innovative solutions so we can deliver the highest quality service with the lowest cost to taxpayers,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Meanwhile, John Tolva, Chicago’s chief technology officer, recently told Prospectives high school students how anyone who has savvy mathematical, analytical and computer-programming skills can unearth trends from government data to gain these same kinds of efficiencies.

So what’s Tolva’s dream app? One that would tell him in real time when the bus and train are coming to his stop and at the same time alert him to the nearest taxi and open parking spots.

On a 20-below-zero day, the app would let Tolva and everyone else choose the quickest route to warmth.

During the summer, the app could be used to find where rental bikes are available throughout the city.

Sandra Guy’s tech blog can be found at:

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