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Peer Network Spotlight: Ian Linssen

Ian_headshotIan Linssen is a City Council Assistant for the City of Mesa Arizona. Ian has been involved in municipal and state government for more than seven years and has held various positions in the Arizona Attorney General’s office, Mesa City Manager’s office, Budget and Finance, and Council office. Ian is an avid consumer of all things tech and is especially interested in the intersection of ground-breaking technologies and government regulation.

How has working across departments helped your current role with City Council?

It’s been one of the best tools I’ve had in this role. Since the City Council deals with issues that span the entirety of municipal experience, knowing how to navigate the departments when needing to research a policy item or dive deeper into a question saves an enormous amount of time and effort. It’s also been helpful to have established great working relationships with staff throughout the City. Having a go-to person in each department makes gathering information or asking questions painless.

What are some of the characteristics or skills that led to your success within so many diverse roles?

I think if you enjoy the challenge of new experiences, if you put in the time and effort to overcome those challenges and learn new things, and if you take advantage of your teammates by building good working relationships, you are going to have a great chance of being successful in almost any position. It’s also a huge advantage if you work in a field which you enjoy, and I’ve been lucky enough to have done just that!

How do you coordinate with other council members to ensure that the strategic goals are understood by all city staff?

Each year the Council gets together and dedicates half a day or more for a strategic planning session in order to review the Council Strategic Plan. It’s an opportunity to look back on the past year and see how services and outcomes aligned with Council priorities and also provides Council with a chance to determine if priorities could/should be adjusted. Results of the session are shared throughout the City, the strategic plan is posted online, and staff matches up any future agenda item or initiative to one or more of the strategic priorities.

Has your personal interest in tech ever led to a breakthrough in Mesa?

Though I can’t say it’s lead to a breakthrough per se, it’s been instrumental in creating conversations with Council and staff about the role technology can play in municipal government. In my mind it’s a huge win to simply be able to have a discussion about the intersection of tech and government where there might not otherwise have been one. I can’t forget that it was also helpful in allowing me to be part of the team that assisted with Mesa’s 2014 CfA Fellowship year!

You recently helped bring the Open Data Roadshow to Mesa, how do you think the effects of the event will reverberate in the city?

The Open Data Roadshow was a great introduction to a concept that, in the minds of most staff, was vague at best. The Roadshow allowed department directors and other executive staff to hear real life case studies detailing how local and national organizations have implemented open data policies, and some of the positive results that followed. I think the Roadshow has helped clear the way for more discussion of open data and made it a little easier for Mesa to pursue the open data path.

After working in so many departments in local government, what recommendations might you have for internal communication improvements?

A system of silos can limit the communication and productivity of an organization as innovation or efficiencies realized in one department may not be transferred to the rest of the organization. One effective way of breaking out of this trap is to encourage regular meetings that involve staff from across departments. These meetings are a great opportunity to share the cool things happening within each department and help to bring the rest of the organization up to speed on how they can take advantage of any associated benefits.

Any other advice for your innovative peers?

Keep on innovating! It’s been awesome to experience the amazing progress of technological innovation over the years, especially in the government sphere. As we all see every day, new civic technologies are changing how government serves its constituencies and we are just at the beginning of what’s possible. I look forward to taking part in developing, encouraging, and incorporating the next wave of innovation to come.