City Planning’s Technological Advancement Working Group

When I launched this blog site, I invited you to Own Your City. It was a request for your presence and participation, in taking ownership over the city that you call home. I identified the existing mechanisms to do this – public meetings, open houses, advisory groups – and the need to figure out new and additional ways to engage.

Earlier this year as part of the development of the City Planning Division’s new Strategic Plan, I initiated a series of  “Quick Hits” and polled my staff to see if anyone was willing to take them on.

Maybe I should have called it Own Your Division. Regardless, that’s exactly what happened.

Staff came forward and took ownership over a series of initiatives that were designed to improve how we serve Torontonians.  These Quick Hits were actions we could undertake immediately – with existing resources – to respond to a real need within our Division, or in the City.

I wrote earlier about Planners in Public Spaces, which was also a Quick Hit, but today I would like to let you in one of our other important, although more internal, Quick Hits: our Technological Advancement Working Group.

We are constantly exploring ways to use technology to be more efficient, and to find ways to innovate.  Technology holds the potential to better unlock our access to the evidence and data we need to inform policy recommendations.  But it’s a bit tricky – investing in new technology can be a sinkhole, and we have to be very prudent with the monies we have for programs and equipment.

Over the past year we have rolled out some initiatives that significantly improve the customer service of the Planning Division, demonstrating that with a small investment, we can increase access to data and information for all (see the Application Information Center) and we can also reduce staff time and circulation time required in the application process (we launched the e-submission and review of applications, in Heritage Preservation Services, this year).

But this is an area where we need to be seeking continuous improvement, given that the technologies that can potentially support our work are constantly changing.

The mandate of the Technological Advancement Working Group was to investigate and provide recommendations related to leveraging technology to improve our planning processes and to function more efficiently.

This work to-date has resulted in 16 recommendations, divided into 4 pillars of improvement: Productivity, Programming, Communication and Consultation.

I would like to highlight a few of the key recommendations to give you a sense of some of the small but important improvements we can make to better use technology within the Division.

Central Statistics Repository – This initiative will create an online, user-friendly platform where the public can freely access development statistics. These statistics help framework the emerging trends that are occurring in the city and assist the public in understanding how the city grows. Rather than individually responding to the frequent requests we receive for data, the Central Statistics Repository will increase our efficiency and help us move towards more open and transparent data.

Public Consultation – New technologies now allow more innovative approaches to public consultation that go well beyond the traditional town hall meeting. Earlier this year as part of the Feeling Congested consultation, the Planning Division used an interactive online survey tool and social media campaign that engaged thousands of Torontonians in a conversation about the future of transportation. By improving our ability to collect and analyze data, we are able to make stronger, informed recommendations supported by evidence and research.

An example of an interactive online survey tool used during the Feeling Congested consultation.

An example of an interactive online survey tool used during the Feeling Congested consultation.

 

ePortal – In moving towards our goal of a paperless working environment, we are seeking to make the development application review process electronic. An ePortal would increase the efficiency of the planning process by allowing our development partners to sign in and submit comments on development applications.

I believe there are sometimes small changes that we can make that result in large outcomes; in City Planning, we are committed to finding ways to use technology to better respond to our mandate to be leaders and collaborators in building a great city.