How a Chief Digital Officer could be the key to a new Dallas

This weekend, along with 700 new friends, I braved the freezing temperatures and made my way to the Arts District for the Dallas Festival of Ideas.

Despite venue changes, last-minute updates, and technical issues, it was clear that there is no shortage of passionate, engaged citizens who are invested in the future of Dallas.

The Festival of Ideas set out with the goal to inspire and unite the people of Dallas through the power of ideas.

“This festival is about unveiling the next big idea, taking that idea and working out how we can apply it to Dallas. It is a festival that is not just about talking heads, it is about channeling action. Something tangible will come out of this festival, and I can’t wait to see what that will be,” Bob Mong, editor of The Dallas Morning News said in a statement.

The ideas were flowing, from humble suggestions hand-written on brightly-hued post-its like the one that called for “more events like ‘Decks in the Park,'” to poorly researched ideas like a Dallas book festival as suggested by a keynote speaker.

But the answer to the question “what next?” may be found in one of the most popular ideas of the day: the Chief Digital Officer.

Dallas doesn’t have a Chief Digital Officer—yet. But when the idea was suggested during the opening keynotes, it was a collective “ah-ha moment.”

As early as 2011, the position of Chief Digital Officer was introduced in a proposal from the Smarter Cities Challenge in Rio de Janeiro. Since then, the role has become vital to introducing innovative resources and solutions to city government. Vancouver appointed their first Chief Digital Officer in September 2013; Boston followed suit in November 2014.

In conversations overheard across the festival outpost, I noticed a common theme: people were vastly unaware of the numerous initiatives taking place right now in Dallas. Each individual “city” (“the innovative city,” “the cultural city,” “the educated city,” and “the physical city”) is an island unto itself, operating in an echo chamber with little to no cross-pollination with the other cities.

A Chief Digital Officer could help create the infrastructure that would unite the efforts of public services, businesses, nonprofits, and schools and universities, with citizens across the city.

When New York City appointed Rachel Haot as their first Chief Digital Officer in 2011, her primary task was to streamline communications between citizens and their local government, along with a massive redesign of the website.

Her overhaul of not only made the site more user-friendly, but provided the spark for Digital.NYC. Digital.NYC is “the official online hub of the New York City startup and technology ecosystem, bringing together every company, startup, investor, event, job, class, blog, video, workspace, accelerator, incubator, resource and organization in the five boroughs,” according to their website.

Digital.NYC also helped unite the “We Are Made in NY” city initiative with the tech industry. Originally launched in 2005 to celebrate the local media and entertainment industries by highlighting television and movies filmed in any of New York’s five boroughs, “We Are Made in NY” now includes widely recognized digital companies like Songza, Vimeo, and Buzzfeed.

Spend any time engaging with the startup community and you’ll find Dallas has no shortage of talent. This weekend proved the city is also full of inspired citizens. Perhaps appointing one of these passionate citizens as our Chief Digital Officer could be the key to turning the ideas and dreams for Dallas into a reality.

(Image credit: Festival of Ideas)

Raquel Vincent

Raquel Vincent is a Dallas-based creative with a knack for words and inspired creative direction. When she's not working, you can find Raquel hitting a gallery opening, working on her book, or thrifting for unforgettable vintage finds. She loves music festivals, tacos, and her rescue cat Berlioz.