Local Government Magazine
LG Magazine

The story behind Govlaunch – international local government sharing

In many ways, Lindsay Pica-Alfano is your average woman, juggling a career and motherhood. But she’s also something special – dedicated to improving local governments around the world by enabling them to share innovations and successes.

After graduating from Boston University in 2011 Lindsay Pica-Alfano began her career in San Francisco, California in management.

“I started my career at an entry level position in financial services and found that my people skills naturally led me to be a good team builder.

“So much so, that when then a position opened up to expand the technology department, I jumped at it.

“Working in technology can give you insights into the company as a whole. I already knew pain points from an end user’s perspective, having been one myself, and also understood how the business worked. However, in technology I got to see the other side.

“Everything from priorities around deploying new technologies to the roadblocks of legacy systems, software, and technical debt that builds over time and is hard to rise above.

“I didn’t let that deter my team, and we focused on innovative ways to address business needs and technological capacity to increase efficiency and productivity.”

At the time, her husband James Alfano was managing his former venture, EfficientGov, an information service for local governments to find solutions to operational and fiscal challenges with tools to locate and apply for grant funding.

As a former lobbyist in Washington DC, James was well versed in the public sector.

“James could see a clear need for local governments to be able to share innovations, and I knew from my experience that innovation is hard, but possible, if you can lean on a community to see what’s working where.

“Local governments are all tackling the same sort of problems, but there isn’t great communication between them.

“Governments of all sizes are doing some amazing things to improve services, reduce costs and make their communities better. Yet these successes are not being shared largely because there isn’t a good way to organise and disseminate this type of information.

“As a result, many governments are operating in isolation — forced to ‘reinvent the wheel’ each time they face a new problem.

“That’s when James came up with the idea of Govlaunch, a platform where innovative projects could be shared in a standardised and digital format between local governments anywhere.

“I had delegated myself out of a job by this point, so we knew the time was right.”

Lindsay’s ability to write a plan of action, build a team, and get it done combined with James’ experience working with local governments and entrepreneurial vision was an ideal pairing.

They got to work building the site in late 2017 and in April 2019, the first version of Govlaunch was launched.

“I’m a Type A personality: I was keen to release a beta version and get feedback early on, but James is a perfectionist. He leans towards overbuilding, which means robust functionality.”

Govlaunch quickly grew, expanding outside the USA into Canada, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, and, in December 2019, into New Zealand.

The site now boasts some 2800 projects and is free for local governments to use.

Kiwi local governments have been encouraged to submit their innovative projects to the site to share with their contemporaries around the world.

“Local governments globally face the same major hurdles: a shortage of time, of people and of money. Govlaunch tackles this by providing a robust wiki platform and all projects are tagged to enable keyword searches.

“Tagging helps categorise the projects and products on the platform. There are very broad categories that can be searched, such as road safety, citizen engagement, or waste management, and then you can drill down further, and search New Zealand only, for example.

“We are currently working on a new feature ‘collections’, pre-set filters such as ‘public safety’, for example, where we can group projects and tools together. Users will then be able to receive updates on collections of interest.”

Local governments are also able to add resources they’re willing to share.

“A lot of time is wasted on preparing budget packages, presentations, and the like. By sharing these resources, Govlaunch can help mitigate this.”

Lindsay does add that some are less keen to share this kind of ‘proprietary’ information, but the reception to this has been very positive.

While Govlaunch has only been available here for less than a year, Lindsay says 131 Kiwi projects have been submitted to the site to date. The most popular in terms of traffic is Hamilton City Council’s use of the Infor Field Inspector app to conduct warrant of fitness checks on buildings and 15 different types of water asset inspections.

The second most trafficked is Auckland Council’s virtual building inspections with the Artisan app during the Covid-19 lockdown.

“Covid-19 forced us to pause, as with nearly every organisation, but we soon realised that our free service is needed now more than ever.

“Previously, local governments shared their ideas and innovations via conferences, but those are not happening at the moment. Also, conferences tend to be attended by well-resourced councils and usually by leaders in those councils.

“Govlaunch is global and not limited to a paid membership – local government employees at any level with their organisation have free access.”

Lindsays says, in some ways, Covid has been a blessing.

“The lockdowns have given the public an idea of how much local government impacts their quality of life – from rubbish collection to parks to libraries and the rest.

“The benefits for local government during this time is that citizens are using digital technology to give feedback on utilities and services. People who previously wouldn’t are now going online.

“This is an opportunity to get everybody doing everything from paying rates to admin to applying for licences online.

“While there is some resistance, Covid, in general, has prompted a culture of innovation.”

On a more personal note, Lindsay admits that full time parenting of a toddler at home during a pandemic while setting up a start-up has been quite the challenge!

Going forward, Govlaunch will continue to grow as more projects are added. Lindsay says there are some technical hurdles to expanding to non-English speaking countries, but hopes to soon expand into Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries.

“We also have ideas for incorporating vendors in the Govlaunch podcast. We don’t want to go down the advertising route as it will undermine the site.

“Instead, we want honest feedback on products – the good and the bad. Naturally, the vendors are not so excited about this, but it’s more meaningful and transparent for local governments if they’re getting the full truth about a product.

“We’ve also been releasing our picks for disruptors – feature pieces on fantastic start-ups that are revolutionising a space.”

Interestingly, Lindsay says that more than 60 percent of the projects on the platform don’t involve a single product. Instead they’re projects that involve process or design changes.

“One particular council changed the colour of its collections notices and, as a result, saw payments increase by 80 percent!”

That kind of innovation – one that requires very little change yet garners an impressive result – is worth sharing with the world, and one that is well worth copying.

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