The Rise of the Citizen CIO

The Rise of the Citizen CIO

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November 04, 2013
The Rise of the Citizen CIO

Are citizen CIOs a threat to local governments or a blessing in disguise? With government IT departments producing more open data and participation from community interest groups and citizens on the rise, we’re beginning to see the start of a new movement within open government: telling our government which technologies to deploy. Citizens are identifying—and some are creating themselves—the next wave of applications and resources for their municipalities, such as a crowdsourced answering platform for city services, an open data catalog, and a civic infrastructure adoption website for fire hydrants and storm drains. With this, the role of the citizen CIO is beginning to emerge.

What is a citizen CIO?

The citizen CIO can be a passionate citizen or an organized group of citizens. Examples include a citizen champion that is enthusiastic about technology and open source or a Code for America Brigade [] whose mission is to help stand up civic applications for their community. A citizen CIO is a partner with their local government IT department, maybe even an extension. Their efforts are not haphazard, but strategic.

There may be situations were the underlying infrastructure isn’t in place, there aren’t enough resources to support a particular technology, or there is some disagreement with the IT department. What’s a citizen CIO to do? In some cases, they figure out how to deploy it anyway—which might be the right thing to do in some cases—but, without that partnership between all parties, the effort may be doomed to fail from the start.

A citizen CIO that is just shooting from the hip without thinking about long-term maintenance, customer support, user adoption, and all the other things that go along with deploying new technologies may get off to a good start, but this is a marathon, not a sprint. And as the citizen CIO is starting to emerge, government CIOs are already adapting to this new form of collaboration.

“As technology and information become an enabler for communities, the role of the government CIO has changed. Various portals of information related to basic city services, open data, GIS mapping, and economic development become information portals to the public,” said Gail Roper, Chief Information & Community Relations Officer for the City of Raleigh. “The government CIO has to understand that these channels must become a part of the IT governance strategy. Access, information, and public self-service is the new face of government. Getting clear requirements for these channels must happen with collaboration between the community and the government IT department.”

I can’t stress enough how important the partnership component is. In order for government CIO’s to embrace community enthusiasm, citizen CIOs need to have a good plan. And that plan needs to involve stakeholders from the local municipality.

There are already efforts underway by citizen CIOs around the United States. See them in action and explore brief case studies on See how...

  • Oakland officials, city staff, and their community were motivated to work together with OpenOakland to launch Oakland Answers.
  • City and state government employees in Colorado achieved a common vision for an open data catalog by forming OpenColorado.
  • Raleigh citizens partnered with city staff to identify an open source solution to improve an out-dated paper-and-phone process for adopting bus shelters.

Your local government could benefit from the expertise and talent of technology enthusiasts and civic geeks in your community. Are you ready to become the next citizen CIO? Start by volunteering for your CIO or reaching out to your community. Their may be an IT advisory board or task force you could participate in.

The citizen CIO is on the rise. Take that first step and join in.

Visit to get more information and details from the case studies mentioned above and for other ways to get involved.

Published under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license, originally published on

I'm a project manager at Red Hat and the lead administrator for and I've been with Red Hat since 2003. I am the author of The foundation for an open source city, a book that outlines how to implement the open source city brand through open government. I graduated from NC State University and live in Raleigh, NC. I've been applying open source principles in neighborhood organizations in Raleigh for several years, highlighting the importance of transparency, collaboration, and community building.

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