Enhancing City Services and Improving Transparency

City: Salem, Oregon

Reporting to: Enterprise Services Strategic Initiatives Officer

The Challenge

One of Mayor Hoy’s key concerns is making government-related customer experiences across the City of Salem more equitable and user friendly. City leadership wants to shift its service delivery approach from being department-centric to being more customer-centric, starting with the process of obtaining building permits. While the city has made strides in streamlining functions, process inefficiencies still lead to work duplication (e.g., processing fee payments) and avoidable steps for customers. By uncovering information gaps and points of inefficiencies, the city will be advancing equity so that anyone, regardless of their previous experience with the city, can successfully complete and obtain a permit to build.

The Community Planning and Development Department houses three divisions that provide development services to the community: Planning, Development Services, and Building and Safety. Customers can engage with these divisions in-person, at the Permit Application Center and online through the city’s permit portal. The department is making improvements to their processes to create a comprehensive approach to the customer experience and want to continue to work on providing a universal process that allows customers to work with all three divisions at once. City officials believe that a comprehensive approach is needed, and data about the customers and their needs is a foundational pillar to make these improvements. City leadership sees the need to conduct a data inventory to categorize information (public, private, and homeowner-specific) and identify where it is stored. Additionally, they would like to better understand the user experience and identify potential improvements to the Permit Application Center so customers have a more straightforward and seamless experience. City officials believe that a comparative analysis that examines other city approaches will reveal areas where the city could improve its technology adoption, communication strategies, and community engagement approach. This project aligns with the city’s broader objective of fostering a data-centric approach, reinforcing Mayor Hoy’s vision for a data-informed City Hall.

Decision-making with data-informed insights and transparency for customers are top mayoral priorities. In addition, city leadership has demonstrated their commitment to harnessing the power of data for informed decision-making by assembling a cross-departmental team to work on performance management around their affordable housing development process and broader data governance as part of the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative’s Data Track. The summer fellow’s work will help further the use of data to improve transparency and accessibility and will serve as a catalyst for positive change, offering actionable tasks, recommendations, and a customer service strategic plan to increase customer satisfaction with the city’s building services. Working closely with the Enterprise Strategy Initiative Officer, the Community Planning and Development Department, the Data Team, the Legal Department, and the City Manager’s Office, the fellow will help answer the following key questions:

  • What are the pain points customers face during the different phases of the building process (e.g., obtaining permits, submitting building plans)?

  • Which points in the process lack clarity or are redundant?

  • What have “veteran city users” learned during the building process (from trial and error or knowledge of the how the city works)?

  • How can the city improve the accessibility of information for its customers?

  • Are there specific areas or services where information availability is lacking or insufficient?

  • What innovative solutions are other cities implementing to improve transparency and customer services?

  • In which areas does Salem lag, and how might the city catch up and excel?

What You’ll Do

To address these questions, the fellow will engage with city staff and administrators, the IT Department, customer service representatives, residents, customers, the business community, and other government agencies.

Key Deliverables Include:

  • Tasks
    • Observe and understand the customer experience in-person and online, accounting for different user personas.
    • Develop a data inventory of datasets related to customer interactions, including at the Permit Application Center and the online portal.
    • Assess how accessible and equitable each customer interaction is and group by type.
    • Research and synthesize what’s working in comparable cities.
  • Deliverables
    • A draft “customer service strategic plan” with an inventory detailing all customer access points, identifying data gaps, highlighting pain points, documenting best practices, and showcasing proven use cases.
    • Presentation of recommendations to key stakeholders including the mayor and city manager.


What You’ll Bring

  • Passion for government or public sector innovation
  • Self-driven work ethic
  • Empathetic communication skills that exhibit humility
  • Design-oriented skillset, familiarity with human-centered design concepts, and design thinking
  • Basic descriptive data analytics, GIS, and research experience
  • Ability to synthesize a high volume of information into structured insights/highlights
  • Experience preferred but not necessary: experience in government, in customer service, and in advanced data analytics


Back to Summer Fellowships page.

Stay up to date on our latest work to improve cities

Follow us