communication

Communication Breakdown

Inspired by a recent interaction, I’m more convinced than ever that we need better communications tools and/or methods for city governments.  City governments are behemoth organizations with multiple departments, each with its own sub-departments, sets of managers, and groups of people assigned separate tasks and responsibilities.  This structure fragments the organization, making not only internal communication inefficient, but communication with and from external parties confusing at best and impossible at worst.

I imagine the advent of email, listservs, forums and other web-based tools have helped break down barriers and encourage cross-department communication.  However, it also may have exacerbated the situation by grouping too many people into particular conversations, leaving no specific person the responsibility of responding.  These tools may also be viewed as the solution and therefore lead city officials into thinking there is no need for something better.

For internal communications, several tools do exist; I’ve used a couple of them in different jobs (Pivotal Tracker, JIRA).  I found them both to be useful in engaging multiple people from multiple departments and locations; what is important for making them effective is an early commitment to a single tool and repeated encouragement/reminding that interaction must take place within the single tool.  Otherwise, the use of multiple channels leaves people confused about their responsibilities and can discourage future use of the (would-be-useful) tool.

External communications seems more difficult to manage and also broader.  A whole field of “customer relationship management” exists, dealing primarily with the need of companies to manage conversations with customers, clients, and sales prospects.  This process deals primarily with incoming messages (or “leads” in the case of sales), but does not tackle the generation of those conversations (which is important to cities/elected officials and to planning departments in particular).

In a recent New York Times article, the idea that too much information (flowing freely though these modern communications tools) can actually hinder productivity was presented.  The author spoke with Robert M. Solow, a Nobel laureate economist who noted, “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”  The article’s main point is that we’ve reached a saturation point in the efficiency of internet-based solutions for managing data, knowledge, and conversations – we now need physical (rather than virtual) reorganization to continue progressing.  This back-to-reality conclusion may well be virtual technologies’ most salient contribution yet.

-Terra Curtis

 

Tone Check & Parker App

Technological innovation is all about making every day life easier and more efficient. To that end, two new technologies have recently caught our attention. The first is called ToneCheck, developed by the Canadian technology firm Lymbix, it claims to check the tone of the language contained in your email. Like spellcheck, which catches all those typos and embarrassing errors, ToneCheck analyzes your completed email and offers a read on the dominant tone, warning when it detects a phrase that might be too aggressive or nasty. Of course, levels of acceptable nastiness vary among emailers, so ToneCheck operates on a sliding scale, letting you set the specific parameters for tolerant language. For now, the service only works as an add-on to Microsoft Outlook, and is free for the first 30 days. You can try it here. The second hassle saving innovation is a smartphone application called the Parker App, offered most recently by the Washington Metro that gives users up to the minute information on the availability of parking spaces in real time. Commuters can download the app to their phone from the Metro website. Then, with the help of new sensor technology on location in the parking lots, the application relays which spaces are still available and for how long. The Parker App is offered by the firm Streetline and was developed in partnership with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. It has previously only been available in L.A., a metropolis that has its fair share of driving and parking headaches. It’s estimated that a large percentage of traffic—some say as high as 30%--is due to drivers looking for parking, and the Parker App, which also offers users information on pricing, time limits, and payment options, might certainly help. Though, as several tech bloggers have pointed out, it might be tricky for drivers to use the app while also complying with local texting and driving laws.

Tone Check & Parker App

Technological innovation is all about making every day life easier and more efficient. To that end, two new technologies have recently caught our attention. The first is called ToneCheck, developed by the Canadian technology firm Lymbix, it claims to check the tone of the language contained in your email. Like spellcheck, which catches all those typos and embarrassing errors, ToneCheck analyzes your completed email and offers a read on the dominant tone, warning when it detects a phrase that might be too aggressive or nasty. Of course, levels of acceptable nastiness vary among emailers, so ToneCheck operates on a sliding scale, letting you set the specific parameters for tolerant language. For now, the service only works as an add-on to Microsoft Outlook, and is free for the first 30 days. You can try it here. The second hassle saving innovation is a smartphone application called the Parker App, offered most recently by the Washington Metro that gives users up to the minute information on the availability of parking spaces in real time. Commuters can download the app to their phone from the Metro website. Then, with the help of new sensor technology on location in the parking lots, the application relays which spaces are still available and for how long. The Parker App is offered by the firm Streetline and was developed in partnership with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. It has previously only been available in L.A., a metropolis that has its fair share of driving and parking headaches. It’s estimated that a large percentage of traffic—some say as high as 30%--is due to drivers looking for parking, and the Parker App, which also offers users information on pricing, time limits, and payment options, might certainly help. Though, as several tech bloggers have pointed out, it might be tricky for drivers to use the app while also complying with local texting and driving laws.