San Francisco City Administrator Naomi Kelly on streamlining civic processes
Naomi Kelly is San Francisco’s City Administrator, one of the highest-ranking non-elected officials of the City and County. She is responsible for a 2,700-strong workforce, and an annual budget of nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars.
Kelly oversees the General Services Agency, which consists of 25 departments, divisions, and programs including the Public Works Department, Department of Technology, Office of Contract Administration/Purchasing, Real Estate, County Clerk, Fleet Management, Convention Facilities, Animal Care and Control, Medical Examiner, and Treasure Island.
“We’re constantly looking at how we can improve and streamline our processes,” said Kelly of her work for the city. “Part of the reason we’re looking to create a digital services team — which began as a public service initiative — is we want to know, ‘How difficult is it to access and get services from the government? How can we make that easier?’”
Simple day-to-day requests received by Kelly’s office, such as requesting a birth or marriage certificate, could be made much more efficient by bringing the processes online.
Kelly noted the challenge in navigating large data systems, where information collection and organization can vary from being very sophisticated to almost nonexistent.
The challenge, she explained, is in “always making sure that you balance the various needs of different communities — the businesses, the nonprofits, the disadvantaged — in making sure that the decisions you make have a positive impact on folks.”
“Sometimes if you’re not connected to the community, there could be unintended consequences,” Kelly said, emphasizing the need to see situations from many perspectives. “We want to make sure there’s evidence to back up our decisions.”
That evidence often comes in the form of data-driven empirical research — but comes from community representatives as well, who collect personal testimonies in response to policies and programs to be brought back to civic decision-makers.
Since her appointment in 2012, Kelly has helped lead major private-public partnerships such as the celebration of the San Francisco City Hall Centennial and the Bay Area Women’s Summit.
She is now working on ongoing projects to re-envision housing in San Francisco, renovating 40 buildings; to evolve 311 to better report quality of life issues; and to integrate technology into under-served communities.
Her office hopes to “bridge the digital divide” by bringing on a digital inclusion fellow, helping to increase technical literacy in struggling communities and connecting low-income students with the tech industry.
“It’s a huge hindrance for education if students don’t have access to the Internet; in schools, a lot of homework is online now,” said Kelly. “These communities could get a lot more help if they had access to technologies.”
With several achievements already made and many more to come, Kelly is optimistic about the future of civic technology engaging communities and helping policy-makers and regulators better connect with the people that they serve.