Scott Mauvais, Director of Technology & Civic Innovation at Microsoft, on developing for urban environments
What is your current role?
As Microsoft’s Director of Technology and Civic Innovation, I work to enable the implementation of civic technology in urban areas as well as to engage people and empower governments to better serve their constituents.
You talked about working in the civic tech space. What is civic tech?
At its base, civic tech is the application of innovative technology in the civic space and often focuses on driving better engagement among all urban stakeholders including residents, their government leaders, the business and non-profit community, and civic institutions such as libraries and the arts. It can be as easy as publishing city data to encourage efficiency and accountability or extend all the way up to enterprise solutions that offer deep government IT problem-solving that transform the way they deliver citizen services.
How is Microsoft involved in Civic Tech?
Microsoft innovation teams in Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington D.C. work to help communities navigate the new landscape of technologies and ideas — partnering with hackers, academics, governments, nonprofits, and technologists “to address community needs through technology.” We want to know how we can develop solutions and services that better serve specific populations, how to find ways to make these companies sustainable and how we can make it easier for groups that directly help under-served communities to do what they do more effectively.
What is your favorite part of your role?
Working with partners and cities. We encounter some incredibly complex urban-scale problems and use technology to find solutions. We’ve been able to drive engagement and successfully navigate past barriers that would have seemed insurmountable a decade ago. It’s a tremendous opportunity that never gets old.
What is one of the biggest challenges?
Cities are in it for the long haul and they are working along longer timelines and for larger constituencies than many people realize. They are using infrastructure that is a few decades, sometimes generations, older than the communities in which they serve. Cities can’t pick their market — they have to serve everyone. Given the constraints of local government, they’re doing a great job. That said, there are lots of legacy procedures and policies that are hard to evolve over time; city workers would like to be more efficient, but the system often prevents that.
Give us an example of how cities can be more efficient and what’s an approach to helping solve?
Many governments still require physical signatures on hard copies of forms, resulting in unnecessarily large amounts of paperwork and losses in staff time. I work to build structures that will help make these processes become more efficient and user-friendly. Currently, I am working to build protocols around responses to specific situations — such as emergencies. I am also developing Civic User Testing groups or CUT groups, which help designers and developers better understand the needs of those they’re building for.