Austin Uses 'Speed Dating' with Summer Interns to Spur Innovation

Source: GovTech on July 25, 2017 | Zack Quaintance

A group of high school interns spent six weeks working within various departments in Austin, Texas’ city government, and the end result was a host of impressive tech-based solutions for civic problems that rival those often provided by private companies.

About 20 students — none of whom are old enough to go buy a beer on Sixth Street — were split into four teams and given a chance to meet directly with members of Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department, Municipal Court system, Housing Authority, and other agencies in order to learn more about the challenges civil servants face. The students then asked questions before ultimately deciding on the department they wanted to use technology to help, in a process Austin CIO Stephen Elkins compared to speed dating.

The goal of doing the internship this way was twofold: Inspire a desire among the students to work in tech, thereby deepening the pool of available technologists for hire in the coming years; and help civil servants address long-standing problems.


“We’re creating real opportunities for these students,” Elkins said. “It’s not just job shadowing. We put them in touch with companies who have businesses in the city to advise and help them."


The entire internship program, which was paid, went on for six weeks. Students came in each day around 8 or 9 a.m. and left around 1 p.m. Then they spent their final week working on presentations for their products.

One team built a chatbot for the Municipal Court after learning that the staff was spending about 2,000 minutes each day handling requests for legal advice, which by law they can’t offer. The chatbot now engages with online users, looks at their individual situations and lays out available options.

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