92: The Role of Tech in Smart Cities with Mike Grisby of the City of Sioux FallsPublished September 28, 2021
Run time: 00:59:39
The term “smart city” may have you imagining The Jetsons’ flying cars and Skypad apartments, but Director of Innovation and Technology at the City of Sioux Falls, Mike Grigsby, joins the show to talk about why technology isn’t part of his definition of a smart city. He explains why cities need someone internally to champion innovation, why data is a major pillar of a connected community, and how smart city technologies impact everyone, either directly or indirectly.
In this episode, you will learn:
- How smart cities understand, promote, and foster resident engagement
- The natural spectrum of balancing privacy with public service
- The education and awareness component of involving the community
- What smart cities will look like within the next decade and where technology will be integrated
- The importance of tech literacy in bridging the Digital Divide
This episode is brought to you by The Jed Mahonis Group, where we make sense of mobile app development with our non-technical approach to building custom mobile software solutions. Learn more at https://jmg.mn.
Recorded August 27, 2021 | Edited by Jordan Daoust | Produced by Jenny Karkowski
Mike Grigsby on LinkedIn | https://www.linkedin.com/in/mikegrigsby/
City of Sioux Falls Innovation and Technology Department | https://www.siouxfalls.org/innov-tech
JMG Careers Page | https://jmg.mn/careers
Tim Bornholdt on LinkedIn | https://www.linkedin.com/in/timbornholdt/
Chat with The Jed Mahonis Group about your app dev questions | https://jmg.mn
Rate and review the show on Apple Podcasts | https://constantvariables.co/review
Tim Bornholdt 0:00
Welcome to Constant Variables, a podcast where we take a non technical look at building and growing digital products. I'm Tim Bornholdt. Let's get nerdy.
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Today we are chatting with Mike Grigsby, Director of Innovation and Technology at the City of Sioux Falls. Mike joins the show to talk about how cities like Sioux Falls are using technology to provide public services, how they balance that with the need for privacy, and the future of smart cities. So without further ado, here is my interview with Mike Grigsby.
Mike, welcome to the show.
Mike Grigsby 1:20
Tim, I appreciate it. Thanks for having me.
Tim Bornholdt 1:23
I'm really excited to have you on. It's like I was saying before we started, you know, I think a lot of times people who work in the public space get beat up on and not get a whole lot of praise heaped upon them. So I hope to not beat up on you too much during the podcast.
Mike Grigsby 1:38
I appreciate that.
Tim Bornholdt 1:39
Well, I'd love to hear a little bit about your story and how you got to become the Director of Innovation and Technology for the City of Sioux Falls.
Mike Grigsby 1:46
I'll start by saying that Sioux Falls is my wife's hometown. So I'm not unfamiliar with the city. But that was actually not the the driving force that brought me here to the city. Prior to joining the City of Sioux Falls, I worked for a global technology company, literally building smart cities all around the world. And smart cities is an interesting term that has gotten a lot of mileage over the last several years. But the ability to travel around and watch the technologies and the impacts that it was having on municipalities, on residents, on industry even, was really, really a great benefit. And I got to do that for two years after working in public sector for the City of Kansas City in several different roles.
So what's interesting is, as I was watching the smart city adoption across the globe, I saw an adoption rate that was much higher overseas than what we were dealing with in the United States. And it wasn't that the United States was necessarily behind. But it was more from the standpoint of all the infrastructure and processes and protocols and procedures, all the contracts and agreements that the United States has had in place for a very, very long time were actually preventing us from moving forward as fast as we would like to do. So understanding that to help a city move forward, one, a model was needed, two, the opportunity to work inside of a city that was forward looking and really wanted to to drive this type of effort forward, I started doing some research and looking at the communities that I could step into.
Long story short, I developed a shortlist of communities. Some of the things, the criteria that I was looking at was an administration that was young enough, meaning that they were early enough in a term that they still had a lot of time to make necessary changes, an administration that was strong and had a solid receptivity among the constituent base. A strong financial position, that was critical. Also a community that had an appetite for getting stuff done and that could metabolize change. We don't see that in a lot of communities. And so it was good to to kind of add that as my one of my criteria.
Long story short, again, is that Sioux Falls was on that shortlist and the size of the community was one of the, I guess one of the bigger factors is that, you know, in a metropolitan area if you will of roughly 260,000 it was a community that we could get our arms around. We could pilot and get proofs of concept very, very quickly on some of these subjects or some of these projects. And then we could get our arms around it and move from pilot to production and then production to scale in a relatively easily manner. So that was one of the reasons why I chose the city of Sioux Falls and fortunately for me, the position of Director of Innovation Technology opened at the same time that I was doing my research, and that opened the doors for me coming here to Sioux Falls
Tim Bornholdt 5:05
It's always Kismet when that happens.
Mike Grigsby 5:07
I love it.
Tim Bornholdt 5:09
One question I have is like, why does the city need a position like the Director of Innovation and Technology? And maybe better put, what do you do during any given day?
Mike Grigsby 5:19
So besides meetings, I think you ask a really good question. Why is a position like this needed? And I'll go back, the Smart City kind of era really started in the United States, it really took off around 2010 - 2011. And a few cities push this over into their IT department. And I think it made sense at the time, because so much of the messaging around smart cities was wrapped in technology. But I think we got a little bit ahead of ourselves in that respect, in that the technology should not be leading these conversations. They should absolutely be kind of an augmentation tool, and really a support mechanism of the driving goal of what Smart Cities are trying to accomplish. So the reason that a position like this, besides just being an IT director, or in some cases, just being an Chief Innovation Officer, I think one of the reasons that this is needed is you really have to create a strategy for how you are going to look not only at the goals you're trying to accomplish, but how does this actually move in and through all of the different departments within the city. And that is that is really, really challenging.
The way government has been built over the last, I'd say 50, maybe even 70 years, we've created these silos among our departments. Yes, we work collectively together. But we didn't have to necessarily cooperate with each other. As technology really becomes this unifying factor within organizations, every organization, not just the Googles and the Amazons, but every organization is becoming a technology organization that happens to do some other deliverable. In our case, it's government, right? So how do you move? And how do you move through all of these different departments? How do you bring them together? And what are those unifying components? And just quite frankly, when you look at your IT managers or your IT directors even, that's not necessarily within the purview of what that position is requiring. So you have to have somebody that knows the strategy of how to implement technology projects. But at the same time, you've got to learn how the adoption is going to impact not only internally within the city organization, but how that's going to affect Joe and Joe Q citizen. And really understanding that external impact is probably one of the things that is absolutely needed when you start talking about these smart city projects.
Tim Bornholdt 8:01
It seems like your job then, if I'm hearing you, right, like you obviously have to know how the tech works. But it seems like you spend a lot of your time, like kind of forging relationships and making connections between citizens and the government or even you know, better is like the individual siloed off departments within the government, like trying to find a way to like bridge those different needs and requirements together. So that if a citizen comes to the city and says, I want to have X information, that it's not like they have to go to three different people to get that information. It's how do you make it so that they have, you know, one stop to get to the information they need, but I would imagine that requires a lot of relationship building to get people to talk together and share that information.
Mike Grigsby 8:47
Yeah, absolutely. I think the best way to think of my position is a solutionist. And whether that's a real term out there or not, you have to think about it in the terms of providing the solution. And the solution isn't a singular component, right? Technology is a component of the solution, relationships is a component of the solution. Understanding logistics is a component, understandind project management is a component. And that makes the position really, really challenging. For me, fortunately, and I'm talking about specifically Mike Grigsby, the background that I have coming into this, I have just had the great fortune of running across all of those different disciplines throughout my professional history. And it kind of made me an ideal candidate for the role. Sometimes you get somebody that is, you know, in these roles, they may understand the policy side or they may understand the technology side or they may understand the project management side or the innovation side. It's rare and you can definitely tell the cities that have that where you have an individual, not only that understands that, but an individual that understands how to champion these things throughout the city.
And that was, you know, early on, I talked about, you know, going back to 2010, 2011. Early on that was one of the biggest challenges that we saw was that industry was bringing in kind of a consulting mindset into municipalities around the Smart City projects. There just wasn't anybody internal that understood the need for that championing of it and was able to really do it. And that's not taking anything away from the cities. You know, it's been kind of a joke over the years is, you know, if you're not a smart city, does that mean you're a dumb city? And I think that lended itself to, that moniker lent itself to that kind of ribbing and joking, but the reality is that cities have been doing a fantastic job of getting stuff done. Where the real challenge came from, was, how do you do these great jobs better? And how do you do these on purpose? How do you actually, to the example that you gave just a moment ago, you know, for instance, if I, as a citizen, have already given the city my information to fill out a building permit, or a construction permit, you have a lot of my information already. And then if I want to turn around and sign my child up for a swim class at the public Community Center, I don't want to have to give you all of my information again. You already have it, you're the same city. But the departments historically haven't talked to each other before. How does that happen? How do we begin to make that kind of, those kinds of changes, so that we create a better citizen experience, a better resident experience for the people that are interacting with city services?
Tim Bornholdt 11:38
Yeah, I would think it's really, it's got to be super challenging to get to that point, because you probably have, you know, the city is as old as the city, right? Like, there's not a whole lot of institutions that outlast like cities, and you've got a lot of entrenched ways of doing things and the status quo. And I would imagine, if your job is a solutions architect, the technology and the solutions that can arise from these problems is so new compared to the entrenched way of doing things that you kind of have to do a lot of convincing and hand holding and explaining to be able to kind of shift people's perception so that it's, Hey, we don't have to do things the way we've always done them. And there is some value to some tradition and doing things the way we've done. But I think that the way that we're moving, it's like people are expecting, again, you fill out the form for the pool, you would expect that that data can be pulled from another source that the city already has. And it probably just takes a lot of time to build that kind of muscle to let the city's be able to tell those different departments talk to each other.
Mike Grigsby 12:42
Agree. And that's true, and we're seeing it and you know, the other thing too, is that I go back to 2007, when the iPhone was introduced, and we really saw this explosion of smartphones. And there was a noticeable shift, if you will, when consumer technology started driving corporate and professional technology. It used to be the other way around. What we saw in the businesses and how businesses were making these investments would drive consumer technologies. And subsequently, as that consumer technology and experience started driving and pushing more and more demands on organizations like us, like a municipality, like a local government, we didn't have the infrastructure to respond to that, and certainly not in a timely fashion or, or in meaningful ways. Our budgets don't allow us to, you know, and I say this collectively across all municipalities, our budgets don't allow us to make those kinds of leaps and jumps the way that private sector can. So the metabolism rate has been a lot slower when it comes to city government.
But it doesn't mean that it's any less important. We still have to drive that because our our residents are demanding that type of experience. If I can get this from Amazon, or or, you know, some other, you know, online service, I want to interact with my government in the same way. I don't want to have to shoulder all of the burden for the quote unquote work for that. I want to have this tremendous experience when I come in. We've heard the word frictionless a lot, you know. Citizens and residents want to have a frictionless experience in dealing with the government. You know, how many times have we heard, you know, talk about the Department of Motor Vehicles and the experience that people have in it just become a running joke, right? Sad, those the people working in those offices are doing the work that they can and delivering a great service. It's just the experience that we're wanting to have on the backside of that. And so we need to be thinking about that and factoring that into our strategies and what we're looking at long term.
Tim Bornholdt 14:52
Well, one thing you said that was really interesting was how the public sector doesn't really get to move as fast as the private sector because of the the budget constraints and things like that. And I would add on to that, that it seems like you also have to worry about things like accountability. Where when you get these private businesses, like you said, Amazon, you know, the way that they're able to execute, the way that they do is because they hide their, you know, their practices behind a veneer. You hear the stories of their warehouse workers and their corporate culture and things like that. You don't really get that kind of blanket put in front of the government, like the way the government works is transparent. And so you can't really, like move as fast. Some of the practices that some of the businesses do, like, take Uber or Doordash, again, like the way that they, you know, get labor for so cheap and get subsidized by venture capital money, it's like you can't do those things with public sector stuff. You have to be transparent and show what you're doing and kind of move at a slower pace and see what's working on the other side, that's, you know, in the best interest of the public as opposed to like the private sectors, it's in the best interest of the shareholders. It's really an interesting, like, I've never really thought of like that in that regard. But some of the things you said just made me kind of think of that.
Mike Grigsby 16:12
And it's, you know, I mean, those are the dynamics that we we have to work in. And I don't think that anyone is trying to make a municipality, you know, work the same way as an Amazon or Google. I mean, those are two different entities that are trying to accomplish two very different goals. I think where we need to put our focus is on how do we craft the best experience that we can within the constraints of the mission that we're trying to accomplish? And I think we really need to pay attention to it that way. And you know, thinking about the experience has not really been high on priority lists. It was, how do we do this with effectiveness or efficiency? And that experience might have been on the backside, or, you know, one of the lower down priority items. And what we're really seeing now, and certainly in the age of social media, in the age of ubiquitous digital access, that experience component is rising very high in the priority list.
Tim Bornholdt 17:13
I couldn't agree more. Since we are a non technical show, I think some of our audience might not be familiar with some of the terms we've been using, like smart cities or connected communities. Could you actually, you kind of alluded like, I love the smart cities versus dumb cities. I've heard that too. I think that's really funny. But could you explain from your perspective, what a smart city actually is?
Mike Grigsby 17:35
Sure, I'll give you my definition versus what others might consider an industry definition. And for me, a smart city is one that understands, promotes and fosters resident engagement. And when I say resident engagement, it's the people who live here, work here, play here, or visit here or interact with a city in any way. And engagement means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. But again, I go back to how do we craft a great experience for any way that you are interacting with the government as an organization, right? So technology is a component of that. But one of the bigger pieces to this that we have to think about is the data. And data is a major component, major pillar, if you will, of a smart and connected community. So as we start to think about the networks that are going, not just technology networks, but physical networks, relational networks, business and organizational networks, all of that connectivity goes into fostering and building a smart city. At the same time, it's the data. It's information that we're gaining from these networks, as we interact with different services, and so forth, and then taking that data and deriving meaningful insights out of it, so that we get information.
And I'll finish by saying it this way, the two purposes of getting information is, one, faster pattern recognition, two, smarter resource allocation. You have to think about it from an awareness standpoint. Now that we understand what is going on, what is our appropriate and corresponding response to that? Right. So we have awareness plus action. It's how do we find out what's going on in that? How do we have an appropriate response to that? And those two things right there are what makes a smart city.
Tim Bornholdt 19:35
And I love that you didn't really even talk about technology so much in that. Because you know, when I think of smart cities, you think of like cameras everywhere, and like roads that are dedicated to autonomous vehicles and you know, different things like that, where those are certainly solutions to problems that you've brought up, but it seems like to me, smart cities, according to your definition, would be a lot more about the information that's coming into the city and how it can be analyzed and spit back out in a way that makes people's experience with the city more positive.
Mike Grigsby 20:10
Well, and I think it's really important to leave technology, certainly specific technologies, out of the definition of what a smart city is. Because we have to understand that technology is on a continuum itself, right? At one point in our history, the idea of a city putting mailboxes on street corners was a technological revolution. The idea that I didn't have to go all the way down to a central post office to interact with the Postal Service, that is a tremendous technological advancement. And that is a smart city that is helping me engage, that's creating a better experience. And that is something that we have to think about just as much as we're thinking about an LED connected traffic signal that is intelligent enough to understand, discern a pedestrian versus a bicycle bus versus a bus versus an automobile. Like those two things are on different ends of the spectrum for technology. But both of those contribute to a city, providing a great experience and creating and fostering and promoting engagement.
Tim Bornholdt 21:24
This might be a trite question, given what we've talked about so far, but who benefits from Smart City technologies? It seems like the answer is everybody. But are there like, are there like entities or things that kind of stick out to you as people who might benefit from these technologies that would be kind of unexpected?
Mike Grigsby 21:45
That's a good question on the unexpected areas, but I think it is, I think your answer is spot on. Everyone benefits from this. But people benefit in different ways. For example, and I'll go back to my example of the, you know, postal box on the mail corner. If you weren't mailing letters, that was not a benefit to you. It was not a tangible benefit to you, but the community overall benefited from that. So likewise, as we look at the technologies now and how we implement these solutions, everybody benefits in different ways and in different times, and it's a challenge. It really is a challenge, because cities encompass so much, have such a large footprint. I mean, the city of Sioux Falls is 83 square miles. Where I came from in Kansas City that's 320 square miles. Each area feels a different impact of that at different times and in different ways. So we have to think about, yes, it's overall, but how do we create these collective and universal experiences through this.
So for example, when we talk about the benefits of this, we can think about, I'll take the City of Sioux Falls. So we are just in the last several months, these past several months, city council has approved over $400 million worth of private development downtown. That looks great. We know that the jobs are going to be coming there, that provides some new amenities downtown, changes the face of downtown, brings some density to downtown. But maybe our suburban residents don't feel that the same way that our downtown residents or people that interact regularly downtown to. The reality is that that is economic development that comes into a core of a city that then gets pushed out into our parks system or our school systems or our roads systems. Right. So we don't understand sometimes the direct impacts but we absolutely as a community benefit on the universal benefits for that.
Another area that that gets benefited is workforce development. Right. As we start to see these changes, new employers are coming into town. Well, new employers are coming into town with different kinds of jobs than have been here historically. Well, that gives an opportunity for us to create and develop a different workforce. That new workforce has opportunities into new types of experiences, new types of salaries, new types of earnings, and exposure. That exposure will then foster more. We become attractive to more employers and so it's this cyclical effect that happens within the city. And so I think it's a long answer, but yes, everybody benefits. Everybody benefits differently and in different ways and in different times. But collectively there is an overall benefit. And I love the saying is that a rising tide lifts all boats, right? And so while you might have a different impact of direct or indirect, it's totally boosting the entire community.
Tim Bornholdt 24:57
It kind of makes me wonder from that point, you know, that you probably, you have such a diverse community and there's a lot of different constituents with a lot of different needs. Is there a framework or any kind of like guiding principles that you or the city or whoever, you know, kind of follows for determining where the best attention is for, you know, getting the green light for projects or trying to maximize for the most benefit for everybody? Is there like any kind of framework or tools you use to determine what that might be?
Mike Grigsby 25:30
So there are a couple organizations out there that have and are continuing to develop some playbooks. Digit.city is one that put a playbook out a few years ago. Cities Today is another one that's working towards developing some best practice components to this. I think we're still early enough in this that the idea of creating a formula is something that we should avoid. But there are several models that are emerging that we should be paying attention to. And I'll be very frank and say that my hope in landing in Sioux Falls is that this is one of the communities that can develop a model that other communities can pay attention to. Right? Again, I don't want to put forth like that we're creating a formula for it. Right? That would be very errant thinking. But the fact that we could create a model of how we are doing things.
So a perfect example of that is, while it's easy to look at external projects, and things that are going on that way, the unsexy dirty work that has to happen internally with regard to processes, procedures, communication and collaboration within and across city departments, that is absolute foundational work that has to be done before you can think about how you do these other very high profile type projects. And one of the things that we saw early on was a lot of communities that were driving these external facing projects that didn't have the internal foundational support in place, and kind of their success was also their undoing. And so we want to make sure other communities avoid that as much as they can.
I made the joke the other day that, you know, we were talking in a in a group, and we're talking about we want to avoid the epic failures of projects. And I said, Well, I said, Every project in its own right is a failure. We just want to try to limit the amount of epicness that goes along with those. And the idea is that we're still learning. That's why I use the word fail is, we're still learning. Every community is. Nobody has gotten this together right as a perfect community, or is a perfect deployment. And that is probably one of the biggest, the most novel components of this is getting a community that has had scrutiny on taxes and expenditures of cities, and so forth, helping that community metabolize these small proofs of concepts or small pilots and say, you know, this might not go the way we want it to, but we're going to take learning insights out of this. We're going to pivot and we're going to make it better, so that we can grow and evolve into what we need to be. And that's been challenging over the years. But we're starting to see more communities, as that demand grows, we're starting to see more communities become a little bit more comfortable with those pilots, those proofs of concepts and kind of this learning and failing to grow.
Tim Bornholdt 28:31
This question might be my biggest hardball question. But I hope it's not too much of a hardball. So I think that one big thing with communities and with cities is kind of trying to find that right balance between privacy for the citizens as well as the need to provide public services. And I mean, coming from Minneapolis, we're particularly sensitive to things like policing and and the use of technology of policing. But I'm curious to hear from your perspective of like, how do you strike that appropriate balance between providing a necessary city function with the need for protecting the private rights of citizens?
Mike Grigsby 29:17
I don't know that we have enough time to really unpack this. But I think what's really important is to understand that the public is going to help us understand where the sweet spot is on that, right? This is a continuum. This is a spectrum, right? And on one end of that spectrum, everything is locked down and there's no transparency, everything is private. On the other end of that spectrum, everything is open and everything is transparent. Neither one of those poles is going to work for communities or you know, for organizations or for the residents. So we have to find out where that sweet spot is and the I think the biggest aha moment now is that that sweet spot is different depending on the context. There is no one size fits all solution that says, privacy looks like this, or privacy looks like that.
For example, when we talk about giving information to libraries, public libraries, we sign up for libraries and we give information out. People haven't really talked about the information that libraries are collecting. We need to, as a city, we need to own that. We need to make sure that we're managing and protecting the privacy of that, but people are very forthwith because they want the convenience and they want the experience and the benefits that the library would give them. If I give you more information about what I'm interested in, you're going to curate better content to me just like a Google ad or something else will. And our library systems are getting more and more intelligent to help me have a better experience by curating better content. Well, I don't necessarily want the police department to have that same type of curated content for me, right. I don't necessarily want my parks and recs to have that or whatever the case may be. So we have to understand that it's a sliding scale, if you will, on the amount of privacy and openness and transparency between organization and citizens. And that's okay. It should be that way, right? In our regular relations, our face to face relationships, I tell one friend this much, but I tell a different friend this much, right. And so this is a natural thing. We just are trying to build systems that can accommodate that same type of fluidity within the privacy sector, if you will.
The other thing that we have to think about too is, when it comes to policing, public safety technology is a, it's a growing field. And it's still learning how to find that balance. And there is a need for situational awareness for public safety officials, first responders coming into an unknown situation. We want to keep them safe, we want to give them as much intelligence is possible. At the same time, a simple solution like a license plate reader camera, as it's doing its job, it also is tracking non focal point vehicles, right. So we have to make sure that we're trying to understand the concerns of the citizens, the concerns of the residents, while also providing operational effectiveness for the people that are protecting and providing safety and security for our community. So it is a nuanced dance. Again, nobody has gotten this figured out just right. One of the things that is absolutely critical, and I will give huge props to the community of the first responder community within Sioux Falls, you have to foster relationships outside of the technology and even before the technology is there. There has to be a level of trust that is there from the community back to the first responders. And they have to understand that those first responders and the public safety side is going to handle the information with discretion and handle it with appropriateness and handle it with integrity. So if you can't, if your community doesn't trust that your public safety and your first responder elements are already doing that, you are going to be challenged as you try to map and overlay technology on top of them.
Tim Bornholdt 33:36
I often find that when people come to me with app ideas, not all the time, but most of the time, I can solve a lot of those problems with a piece of paper and a pen. Like I think a lot of times people jump to technology as this like, you implemented the technology and you're done. And I really appreciate your answer on that with regards to the police getting out in the community and building the trust first before deploying the technology second.
Mike Grigsby 34:06
Tim Bornholdt 34:07
I think that's brilliant and I think saying that it's a spectrum is also very important as well. Because I think with all of, you know, this is probably the most hot topic thing we've gotten into on this podcast is policing and things like that. Politically charged situations get you ramped up and kind of make you forget about nuance and you just kind of reach to one of those polls or the other. Where I think that the hard work is done in that nuance and trying to suss out what can we do because there are two very valid concerns and it isn't a black and white issue or answer. You have to take in regard, you know, the police officers and you have to think about their safety and they're going into these dangerous situations that personally I don't want to go into. I'm sure you don't want to go into But there's people that sign up for it and want to get into it. So you want to keep them safe and secure. And on the other hand, you have constituents that, you know, deserve to be treated with respect, and you want them to have, you know, certain privacy and certain rights and and that's absolutely valid as well. So I think you're right like there's a lack of discerning nuance in this conversation and the fact that that you're thinking of it like that, and approaching it with that kind of care speaks a lot to the kind of community that you've got going down in Sioux Falls.
Mike Grigsby 35:36
Well, you know, as I mentioned earlier, I've had a wide breadth of professional experiences. And one of those experiences is I served as a police officer for the City of Kansas City for 11 years. My last four years with the police department, I was the Chief Information Officer. So I took a deep dive into public safety technology, and really understood some of the things that were going on with that and where the opportunities were, and where some of those challenges, those pitfalls were going to show up. One of the critical incidents that I had to work through during my time in that role was the Michael Brown shooting just outside of St. Louis, in Ferguson, Missouri. And obviously, we were on the opposite side of the state. We saw a lot of citizen concern during that time. And we were open to bringing in body worn cameras, which was the biggest cry, the biggest demand from the public at the time. And what we ended up doing was creating a public focus group where we brought in concerned citizens, we brought in the ACLU, we brought in a lot of stakeholders that were on that side, pushing that demand, and just really had a listening sessions to ask, what is it that you're really asking for. And what we found out was transparency and trust. And we asked them, you know, where are the places that you don't have transparency, or you feel like you don't, and where are the places you feel like you don't have trust. And we dealt with those things first, instead of just implementing technology with these body worn cameras. And we had the opportunitym because we did the listening first, we had the opportunity to come back and say, you understand what the cost is going to be for this. Not just the cost of training and the technology and the storage and everything else, but the cost of community transparency, right. The camera is recording not only the officers, but the cameras are now recording the public, right. You're going to be part of these public records now where you've never been part of those. You have to think about that side of it, too. And so we had an opportunity, the police department has since moved to body worn cameras, but we did that through the lens of this makes sense now, not just a fist pounding, you've got to do this. And what we would have gotten was manufactured transparency, instead of real transparency. And the opportunity to take a step back, if the community already has those trust relationships in place, you get to do that. You get to take that step back and go, Alright, let's take a measured approach to this. And let's do this on purpose with intentionality, as opposed to just kind of being reactionary to this.
So I have seen that in a lot more communities. And I think as the first responder, obviously we think about police a lot in that. But we also have to think about our corrections officers, think about our firefighters, think about our EMS, think about our public health officials. They're all in that public safety contingent as well. And we have to understand what's happening across that entirety of people, of workgroups, and not just what's happening with the police or what's just happening with fire or so forth. So it really is a both and and not an either or nuanced dance as you mentioned just a moment ago,
Tim Bornholdt 39:00
And I really like that you're getting the city, like the citizens involved with this. I think it's probably easy to think about doing things in a silo, especially if you're in the private sector. You don't really, again, the only thing you really have to think about is your shareholders, but within a public kind of institution, you have to worry about what the community thinks of it. And it's really great that part of the solution when you're coming up with these is actually going into the community and having these conversations. Are there any other kind of ways that you involve the community when you're talking about developing Smart City technologies? And it doesn't have to be in the public safety space, but it can be, you know, even something like water utilities or whatever it might be. There's a ton of services the city offers. So it kind of steering away from the other topic, you know, are there other ways that you involve the community?
Mike Grigsby 39:50
Yeah, absolutely. So it's all part of an education and awareness effort, right? You said it just a little while ago is that, you know, most people don't know what a smart city means, what a connected community means. So some of that is we have to get out there and help people understand this. You know, we throw out terms like innovation or sustainability or risk management or digital transformation. And those are, when you hear it, you know that it's an important term, but you don't really understand what it means. And you really don't understand what that's going to cost me. Hey, awesome, my city is being very innovative. But I don't understand what that means for me, what that impact is, what they're going to ask from me and so forth. Right? We don't think about the idea of something as simple as smart meters, right? A city decides that they want to go switch to an app based parking meter solution. Fantastic. They're thinking internally about the efficiencies that they can get from a collection standpoint, ease of use from not having to have somebody go collect coins all the time, being able to talk about where the available spots are. Fantastic. But at the same time, does that now mean that every citizen that's going to potentially park in that spot has to have a smartphone, has to download this app, has to opt in for this app, right? We don't necessarily think about all those things ahead of time. And kudos to the communities that do that. And there are a lot that are doing it. I'm just using that as a potential example to say, when we're talking about these technologies, these are disruptive introductions that we have to try to understand. Again, we're not going to win the hearts and minds of 100% of the people. But we have to understand, where can we gain the biggest benefit for the people who are going to interact with this. And again, it goes back to experience. If today we changed out all the parking meters and didn't tell anybody about this, we didn't have a communications campaign that this was coming, people get upset by that, right. And so we have to think about the education and awareness component.
We also have to think about, is this really the solution? Right? We could look at it from an operational standpoint, and say, this is absolutely what makes sense. But if the community says, Well, we don't even want parking meters. What we really want is parking ramps. We need a parking garage. Okay, we could end up with a solution that doesn't really address a need or problem. And so we have to start there, too. We have to understand what the real needs, what the real challenges are.
A perfect example of this would be last year during COVID, as everybody pushed out remotely, we still were trying to do city business, and part of that was our inspections, and part of that was building permits. And we thought initially that we needed to staff our building permits office with different hours. And really what it ended up being was, we provided better interaction and better services online. And that prevented people from even having to come down here at all. So again, we would have come up with a solution that didn't necessarily address the problem. So we do have to take in the input from the public, input from the the stakeholders, and really, number one, we have to identify the real problem, the real need. And two, we have to spend a good amount of time educating and providing that awareness to people.
The last thing I'll say about this is that when people have an understanding of it, that understanding creates a respect for it. Respect helps people move into an action toward it, and action moves towards investment, right. So people will, if you don't know about a thing, you'll tend to push it to the side. But the more that you know about it, the more you have a respect and a value for it, the more you're going to act toward it, or you're going to invest toward it. So we definitely need to promote our education awareness efforts.
Tim Bornholdt 44:03
One thing around that, too, I would imagine when you're trying to take in all sides of understanding what the problem is, you probably have to worry about accessibility and there's people with needs that might not be shared by the entire community, but nonetheless are really important from a public service standpoint to meet the needs of people with other disabilities or any kind of accessibility issues. So what steps do you take in that process to kind of make sure that all these technologies that we're enabling are actually accessible to everyone?
Mike Grigsby 44:35
One of the biggest challenges that we have here that we are seeing on a growth trend is a language barrier. Sioux Falls has a very, very diverse population, a very large immigrant population here. And English is not the first language for a lot of our community. So helping people to understand and making sure that services are available in these. I mean, obviously we can't get to every, I think we've identified like 106, over 100 languages that are natively spoken within the city of Sioux Falls. We can't address every one of them. But how do we do a better job of helping people communicate. And so we do this through surveys. We do this through working through our community partners, organizations that are already tied into those population segments. We work with them hand in hand to try to understand where the real needs are, where the real barriers are, you know. It's a tremendous thing to have a workforce, an available workforce, especially when you know, unemployment is so low, it's a little bit frustrating to have an available workforce that we can't engage because of the language barrier. Is there a way that technology can help with that? Is there, you know, we see it in the movies, is there a universal translator device that somebody is working on, that we could bring into Sioux Falls? I don't know. But we should be looking for that. And as we engage them, and really begin to kind of line out what those challenges are, I think it's another opportunity to take a step back and instead of being reactionary, and go, we're gonna address this one off problem. Take a step back, and look, are there more problems that we could address with a bigger solution and really get economies of scale on it? So you're absolutely right, engaging the community early and often is one of the things that we are trying to become, get into better practice of doing.
Tim Bornholdt 46:34
And here, I thought I had to know a ton of languages to write software, but I certainly don't know 100 plus. That's got to be just such a, like, when you think of accessibility, you know, typically people think of like handicapped parking spaces and having the sidewalk cutouts, but language like that one that I didn't even consider. And as I've been kind of being more, my daughter's entering into the public school system, for example, and we get the forms to fill out, you know, to enroll her and get everything that you need. And those are presented in several different languages. And I read it, on the one hand, I kind of just dismiss it, because I'm like, Well, I speak English. I can read this form. But yeah, if you're trying to, if you're an immigrant, and you don't speak English, like and you want to engage with the community and try to become part of the workforce, yeah, that language one has to be a really tough one to overcome.
Mike Grigsby 47:27
And it is, it is, and we see, but for that reason, I mean, this is a natural thing, but because of that you tend to hang with people that are like you and so we start to see these populations where the language is the true, you know, aggregator of that. And that becomes, I don't know, we all go back to New York, the Little Italy and, you know, Chinatown, and Little Tokyo, and so forth. And we see these things happen in our community. And it's not that we were trying to force integration, but integration would be really, really good and really beneficial, because of the diversity that comes there. And not just diversity of ethnicities, or backgrounds, or anything else like that. But diversity of culture, diversity of understanding, you know.
A perfect example of how this creates a challenge is, we recently had a strategic discussion with our library team. And it was the first time that I understood that these different cultures that come in different immigration cultures are really challenged to understand and grasp and wrap your minds around the fact that these services at the library are free. There is some suspicion going on within them because of the cultures that they've come from, or the places where they've come from. And that's something that's, you know, it's an obstacle. It's a barrier, a hurdle that we have to overcome. But it's just good understanding that that is, like, everybody just doesn't come in and understand what the library is. There are cultures that have no concept of what a library is. And so something simple like that is part of the challenge that we we look at to try to go back to my original definition of a smart city. It's about engagement, how do we help more people engage? Right? How do we help more people find a way to get integrated into the community, so that they can contribute, they can contribute and receive, benefit the community and receive benefits from from the community?
Tim Bornholdt 49:32
And give back to the community as well. Like, there's probably a lot of ways that you could get these communities to help, you know, with their culture, there's like, there's good and bad in everything right, and it's good to draw from a diverse set of experiences so that we all benefit at the end of the day.
Mike Grigsby 49:46
I couldn't agree more.
Tim Bornholdt 49:49
One last question to round out this topic. So it's kind of the perennial question, but like picture, you know, Sioux Falls or just smart cities in general. Where do you see it the Smart City concept going in the next 5 or 10 years?
Mike Grigsby 50:04
One, I think the technology will find a right place within that conversation. And what I mean by that is I think we will begin, and cities are already doing this, beginning to understand the technology can't lead the conversation. But is an integral part of those conversations. The other thing too, is that I think we'll start to see technology really augment our human experiences instead of trying to replace our human experiences. I also think that we'll start to see some efficiencies, gained operational efficiencies within the organizations, as we move into digital workflows. We'll start to see some real benefits there. And then I would also say that, I think we're going to see better engagement within our communities because of the Smart City efforts. I think we'll start to see, as people don't have to deal with the, what I call the complexity or what we might otherwise call bureaucracy, we'll start to see that start, begin to come down and wane a little bit. I don't know that we can get rid of it entirely. But that complexity will start to diminish, as we get better workflows, as we get better tools in place. And then lastly, I would say that I would love to see that smart city efforts are going to promote and foster better relationships within communities. I think that trust and transparency will be there. I think safety and security will be improved. I think economic vitality within communities is going to be improved. Workforce preparedness is going to be improved. So I think that we'll start to see, again, a rising tide lifts all boats. We'll see the Smart City efforts, not because of them directly, but certainly because of their universal impact across the communities, I think we'll start to see a lift in all those other areas.
Tim Bornholdt 52:02
That sounds fantastic. The only thing I might add to that is I would think that to get to those points of of technology finding its right place within the conversation, I think as people start to get more tech literate, and we start to have a population that understands technology, instead of being afraid of it, understanding its use and potential and how we can actually incorporate it. I think that's what will ultimately lead to that like finding its right place of, we have actual problems and just throwing parking meters on the street that are smart isn't going to just solve a problem, wipe your hands off and away you go. You know, like you said, you want to find the right way to integrate technology. And I think that starts with tech literacy.
Mike Grigsby 52:43
You know, one of the things that, your comment about tech literacy, one of the things that we are really driving and it's starting to gain some momentum is our work around the digital divide, building digital equity. And part of that, it's a three legged stool for us. And one, it's access to broadband connectivity. Two, it's access to the appropriate devices that are going to allow you to consume content the right way. And then three, it's the digital literacy component, right?
What's really interesting is when we hear about digital divide, or we hear about this digital equity, our mind almost automatically shifts to the socio economic divide, right. We want to align it with the same thing. But a perfect example, and this happened earlier this year, is we had an individual who had worked for the city for 20 plus years, who had been in an operations based role with the city, got promoted, and with that promotion, they now were required to log into a number of different technology systems that they never needed to have access to before in the previous role. We had to take that individual through a training process and an orientation process to get up to speed in this new digital world that they are suddenly responsible for. That digital divide was in our own house, if you will, and that was a contributing member of society and of this organization for 20 plus years. And we have to understand that it shows up in so many different respects. You know, there's an age component to this, there is a socio economic component to it, there is an interest component to this. And being able to address it on all those facets, one, is daunting. Two, it's going to take some time to really provide some educational awareness around that.
But to your point, as we get more technical or digitally literate people in the community, we're going to be able to take advantage of some of the growing trends and some of the growing features and benefits that technology is offering. There is an aversion to technology, and I would even say even for the people that are tech savvy, there is starting to be a technology fatigue. I don't want another app. I don't want to log into another system. I don't want another device. So there's a little bit of that fatigue that's coming on too. So we have to keep that in mind. But this is a challenge that I am happy to tackle because I know what the benefits can be on the backside of it. And it's just one that hopefully as a champion, my passion can come through and encourage other people to drive more into this.
Tim Bornholdt 55:36
I think it definitely comes through because I can see how excited you get talking about this stuff. So I think you're in the right place at the right time. And, Mike, I really appreciate you coming on the podcast today. Is there any final parting words or any way people can get in touch with you if they want to learn more?
Mike Grigsby 55:51
Yeah, I'm available. They can connect with me on LinkedIn. It's just Mike Grigsby, City of Sioux Falls there. Yeah, happy to connect with any anyone that wants to talk about these things. These are great topics. I would just encourage people, it kind of goes back to the old, you know, the kind of the knowledge that so many people in New York City have never visited the Statue of Liberty. It's they know it's there, they just have never taken advantage of that opportunity. And I would say for any of the listeners out there is take a deep dive into what's going on in your community. It's so easy to get fixated on our job and then our house and our kids and soccer and so forth. There's so much more going on in our communities. Show up to a city council meeting, show up to a library board meeting or a parks board meeting or call your police department and go on a ride along. Find a way to find out what is going on in your community. You'll be surprised at the opportunities for, one, involvement. You'll be surprised at the aha moments, you're like, Oh, I had no idea. I took a tour of our landfill a few months back. I was absolutely blown away by the technology that was going on in our landfill, being able to recoup some of our own methane gases and then burning that to provide some of our energy offsets. It's incredible, and some of the things that are going on and that's from our landfill, right. Our water reclamation systems and so forth. So take time, learn what's going on in your community and find ways to get involved.
Tim Bornholdt 57:28
Piggybacking on that, my internship in college, I worked for, there's the Met Council, which they kind of are in charge of the seven counties in the Twin Cities that make up the metropolitan area, and they handle all the wastewater treatment. And that's the division that I worked with. And I had to make a video that explained how water went from your toilet into like, you know, back to the tap. And in that whole process, oh my God, it is so fascinating. Like I think, you know, Parks and Rec has a little, like the TV show Parks and Rec has some truth to like the bureaucracy and the slowness and the craziness of city council meetings. But I can tell you like when you get involved in your city and you actually see how these, how you can kind of push on things and be part of things and help improve things, it's so much fun. And yeah, I think people have an aversion to this, to working with with the city and kind of getting involved but yeah, I would echo your sentiments of get involved with your city because it is endlessly fascinating.
Mike Grigsby 58:28
I like that. That's a good way to end is endlessly fascinating.
Tim Bornholdt 58:32
Mike, thank you so much for taking the time to be here today.
Mike Grigsby 58:35
No Tim, thank you for having me on. This was a pleasure.
Tim Bornholdt 58:39
Thanks to Mike Grigsby for joining me on the podcast today. You can learn more about the City of Sioux Falls at SiouxFalls.org.
Show notes for this episode can be found at constantvariables.co. You can get in touch with us by emailing Hello@constantvariables.co. I'm @TimBornholdt on Twitter and the show is @CV_podcast. Today's episode was produced by Jenny Karkowski and edited by the magnanimous Jordan Daoust.
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