Grace Simrall is responsible for advising the Mayor and leading the city’s Smart City initiative, transforming the resident experience of digital government, and facilitating co-creation of breakthrough civic innovations. Louisville Future had the chance to talk to her about her role.
What does your role as the Chief of Civic Innovation and Technology for the city of Louisville entail?
Grace: My position was one of three that the mayor created when he came into office in 2011. When he came into office, it was very clear that government should be a high-performing organization. He came into office with a very clear vision from his time as an entrepreneur who scaled his business to a global manufacturing company before selling it.
To help the city make that transition, he needed some dedicated resources and he wanted to make sure they were all on the same page. Our jobs aren’t just to do daily work or react to problems, but to actively and proactively solve problems. The job calls for continuously seeking improvements and bringing about breakthrough innovation.
In addition to our appointed roles, our team was part of the innovation delivery team in Bloomberg Philanthropies pioneer cohort. The city received over $5 million to set up an innovation team to support the work of the Chief Innovation Officer.
Has the office evolved over time?
Before, we had two different teams—one for innovation and one for information technology. In 2019, under my leadership, I stressed to the team that their IT work was being elevated to innovation. It was really important for us to have a vision. Our job is to make sure the city is prepared for emerging technologies to help our entire community reach its full potential and to build platforms to get us ready for a digital future.
Because of this change, we were in a really good position to react when COVID came along. I don’t know if, without these changes, we could have responded nearly as well as we did. Instead of being a back office operation, we were better able to address data and technology needs for the community.
Does work involve only the government in the community or does it also apply to companies that exist in the community?
It can be both. One of the big things we have is the Microsoft Future of Work initiative. My office, in addition to Louisville Forward, are the ones who co-architected the initiative and the digital alliance with Microsoft.
What are the day-to-day duties like for your group?
We have some big duties, like taking care of our municipal fiber infrastructure to our digital inclusion initiative. But every day is different. Different stakeholders I meet with, different entrepreneurs who might have interesting solutions that could be useful to the city. And people I mentor in the community who are interested in being reskilled or upskilled.
We also organize programs to help people are not comfortable with technology. These are people who perhaps don’t even have an email account or are unsure about how to use a track pad on a laptop. At the end of the programs, if they sign up for a low-cost internet plan, we give them a free, refurbished laptop or desktop computer. We’ve received over 1,000 computers from donors and volunteers refurbish them to provide to families in need.