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Let's Partner Tech Startups With City Hall

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As Toronto continues the process of choosing a new mayor, the other candidates and myself are rightfully going to be compared with one another.

But I think it's important to also think about how Toronto measures up against other cities, and what kind of mayor will lead this city to new solutions and meaningful change.

Around the world, city governments are making innovative changes to the way they manage their transit systems, allocate their budgets and provide their municipal services. Many of them are using open data and innovative public-private partnerships to solve problems similar to those we face here in Toronto.

In the last year, for example, the municipal government of San Francisco partnered with a startup called ReGroup to improve the city's emergency communications grid. New York City partnered with a small firm who helped them make it easier and cheaper to publish City financial data. And the British municipal body Transport for London used a public competition to develop software to make transit route planning easier for passengers with disabilities.

The solutions to 21st Century civic problems are often found through better ideas, not bigger budgets.

As Mayor, I want to engage this city's talented population of coders, engineers and social innovators to help us grow our startup community and improve public services.

If we want to find real efficiencies, we can't make mindless cuts: we have to change the way our city works.

As a first step, I will introduce a program to partner technology startups with City Hall offices. Startups would work directly with public service staff to add value, solving a particular problem creatively with better design, better use of data or better technologies.

This program, which I'm calling "innov8TO," would select up to eight startups through an annual competition, and pair them with individual City of Toronto departments.

Similar partnerships in other comparable cities have produced a range of new ideas, services and applications. And I know Toronto has the talent and the resources to make huge breakthroughs as well.

Today, I announced my plan at Ryerson's Digital Media Zone. I was hosted there by The SoJo, a social innovation hub dedicated to "turning ideas into action."

The DMZ is filled with similar startups that want to use technology to change the world. Toronto is home to many organizations and incubators for local talent and innovation, from OneEleven on Richmond Street to Extreme Startups, Rotman's Creative Destruction Lab, MaRS and the Centre for Social Innovation.

I believe City Hall should see the startups in these incubators as potential partners. We can solve Toronto's problems by harnessing Toronto's ingenuity. Part of this process, of course, will mean opening up increased access to public information. Open Data is developing as a key resource for citizen engagement, just as it can be a tool for small startups to develop new software applications.

As Mayor, I will make sure Toronto leads the way in data transparency. I want to disclose more datasets at accessible standards than any other comparable city in the world. But this information must also be easier for coders and citizens to use. Toronto's existing Open Data releases often have limited value because the data isn't in a usable format, or it isn't presented in a way that's friendly for casual review by ordinary citizens.

As Mayor, I'll make sure data releases are coder- and citizen-friendly, as seen with New York's presentation of financial data.

This approach has to be adopted throughout City Hall, so I'll make sure open data targets are included as a performance measure for all public service managers. The way we use information is changing and Toronto has to change too, in more ways than just choosing a new mayor.

My plan is simple: give Toronto's talented, innovative minds more access to City staff and data. Together, we'll find creative solutions, offer better services and encourage more Toronto startups in return.