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How Miami's Innovation Academy Promotes Digital Literacy Programs

6 minute read
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We caught up with the "Magic City's" director of innovation and technology to see how they work through digital literacy issues and the programs to promote it.

Miami would probably never borrow any of Denver’s winter weather. But city government officials from the Magic City in Southern Florida did borrow ideas from a program in Denver to help train and educate its employees on process improvement and becoming more innovative and digitally-savvy.

Inspired by Denver’s Peak Academy, Miami created the Miami Innovation Academy, a 2.5-day intensive, hands-on process improvement training program for city employees. Attendees get access to innovation techniques such as process mapping, waste identification and experiment design to help see and solve problems in their work. 

Miami and the Importance of Digital Literacy

headshot of Michael Sarasti
Michael Sarasti

Miami’s effort with innovation training for employees is in line with the desire for organizations to promote digital literacy in the workplace. We’ve discussed themes this month around building digital literacy programs and implementing a digital literacy assessment. Mike Sarasti, the City of Miami’s director of innovation and technology, believes in the importance of digital literacy as it relates to training employees and ultimately serving its constituents in Southern Florida. 

Sarasti discussed with CMSWire how he and the city’s technology leaders view digital literacy and run their Innovation Academy.

Innovation Leads to Process Improvement

Sarasti reports that the city has already trained more than 200 employees. The lessons and work strategies have enabled the city to:

  • Save approximately $75,000 in redirected staff time for Hearing Boards, which manages public hearing records for the majority of the city of Miami's quasi-judicial and quasi-legislative boards.
  • Train 100 percent of the procurement department, which worked together to shave two days from their architecture and engineering RFQ process
  • Reduce the average IT help desk time to close ePlan tickets by 20 percent.

Toss in digital literacy skills, and Miami's got its employees constantly thinking of ways to improve inefficient processes for its citizens. “With digital literacy, we’re really trying to invest as much we can,” Sarasti said. “It's not necessarily our full time role in government — that is trying to deliver services. But [we're taking] any opportunity that we have to upskill our workforce on these topics and themes.”

For instance, Sarasti said training employees on digital skills can only help with things like building web pages and digitizing services that were simply too slow. He wants an environment in which each department stakeholder is the content owner. This is no longer about shoving off web and digital projects to IT (even though we'll always have some of that). 

Related Article: Improving Digital Literacy Is 'Simple'

Better Website, Better Experience for Citizens & Businesses

Want to talk digital-upskilling hard results? Here are some recent results from efforts to boost Miami’s web presence, making processes more efficient:

  • Problem - Homeowners, or prospective buyers, take time off from work to visit hearing boards and obtain assistance with how to remove a lien from their property. Usually takes more than one day.
  • Result - Using the new city website to create step-by-step instructions and standard forms, time spent on scheduling a hearing request was reduced by 15 minutes per request. 
  • Problem - Prospective appellants mail in their appeals to the wrong place, miss their deadlines, or need to take time off from work to visit hearing boards to submit an appeal. Usually takes more than one day, in a highly time-sensitive matter.  
  • Result - New city website reduces process by 20 minutes per request. 

Through efforts like the Innovation Academy and Digital Service Academy, Miami employees gets hands-on training that ultimately helps them solve these kinds of bottlenecks in service delivery. For the past year and a half or so, they have been able to use process-improvement lessons to build web pages or digitize monolithic processes. It’s allowed employees to become “more connected to the digital process” and become true content owners. In the meantime, employees get a handle on lean, agile, continuous improvement and digital development skills. They’ve been able to produce brand new content around 200 services that didn't exist before. 

Learning Opportunities

“It’s really powerful because it gave the ownership of the digital presence back to the process owners instead of some random web team or a pocket of the IT shop somewhere,” Sarasti said. “We told everyone they would have a technical team that can help if they don’t know how to use a content management system (CMS), but the content is going to be owned by these folks."

Related Article: How to Start Improving Digital Literacy in Your Workplace

Innovation Academy Supports Web Improvements 

Of course, it's a team effort for Miami's trainers and tech leaders. Cheriene Floyd has been instrumental in the success of the Innovation Academy, Sarasti said. She’s a co-founder and is responsible for the day-to-day running of the program. Key players on the digital team also include Manny Otero and Becky Randel, the CMS partner is OpenCities

The new website effort is directly connected to its Innovation Academy/process improvement work. This was tackled in the Innovation Academy as a non-technology project but transferred over to the city's Digital Academy to build out the refined process as digital content, Sarasti added. All the steps in this process had never been fully presented to the public. The "processing mapping/step-by-step digital service” pattern was replicated over many new services. More than 100 services are represented on Miami’s new site, many of which have undergone process revision.

Miami has also invested in user experience design training. It recently partnered with a local coding bootcamp called Wyncode Academy, an eight-week UX/UI training program. “This is directly aligned to our digital improvements,” Sarasti said. “We’re training 20 city employees and tackling hand-on exercises with existing applications throughout the course.” 

Also this year, the city will be tackling data with a Data Academy via a partnership with Bloomberg’s What Works Cities/GovEX. “We hope to train more employees later this year,” Sarasti said.

Speaking the Same Language

One of the big goals? Get most employees speaking the same language in a digital and process-improvement sense.

“We're trying to hit it from a number of different ways, and standardize the way we talk about stuff so that is recognizable,” Sarasti said. “And it can’t just be some training you do up front. It’s a repetition game. How can we standardize the language so that everybody is talking about this stuff in similar ways and it's recognizable? And, hopefully, that's where you get culture change, and a little bit more elevated nuanced dialogue.”