David W. Rauch is a business analyst for the city of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
How did you get involved with local government?
As an undergrad, I took a public administration course with a professor (Dr. Curtis Wood of Northern Illinois University) who would later be one of my MPA instructors. I was getting a degree in journalism at the time, and Dr. Wood said something like “public administration needs conscientious people badly,” and I thought it would be really cool to go someplace where I am needed badly, so that's how I started down that road.
You were a career changer – you started out as a journalist – how was that transition and what is your advice for people looking to make that change?
Going from journalism to local government was a challenge. It is a change in expectations about how long your projects are going to last. When you are working for a newspaper, you get used to multiple daily deadlines. In city government, I'm working on a project that is taking three years to complete.
We are in the midst of a multi-million dollar project with project managers, project coordinators, and change management, and understanding how to work in a bureaucracy is not a skill you necessarily pick up in a newsroom. In a newsroom, you try to avoid bureaucracy, avoid the game, and just do your job. I like having both perspectives. I know the news wants to cover interesting and good stories, and bringing that perspective to local government means that we tell at least few better stories.
For anybody who covers local government or is in the news media, it is not so hard moving into public administration. I applied to join the local MPA program and was not quite up to the caliber at the beginning. The school allowed me to take a trial class, and if I proved myself, they would accept me as a full-time student. So while I was still working as a journalist, I was taking the course in public administration and it eventually all worked out.
What have been some of the highlights of your local government career so far?
I get to have a lot of fun at work. I was working in Urban Planning and Environment, which is the branch that handles urban interventions and does things that are amusing and fun, that make public life interesting. When I moved to Edmonton, I wanted to just dive in there, so I put eight upright pianos in outdoor public spaces around the city. It was totally volunteer -- the piano moves were donated, the paint was donated, the volunteers tarped and un-tarped them. A little dueling piano bar donated all the money.
I think the best part of all of it was a homeless gentleman played one of the pianos. Someone took a video of him, posted it on YouTube, and it went totally viral, with more than 7.8 million views. It was featured on the Huffington Post and I was getting interviewed by people as far away as Tokyo. What is really great is they actually made a bit of money by licensing the video on YouTube, and they donated the money back to him and the homeless shelter where he usually stays.
When a local government places upright pianos in outdoor space, it is not an expensive thing. There was not that much red tape; it did not require many permissions. The project showed that the government wants to have fun and we can have fun and we can do interesting things.
What’s exciting in local government?
I am really lucky because now I work on the Open City team in Edmonton and we're dealing with big data, open data, civic tech. And it is exciting to bring programmers and developers and data scientists to the table, because we are answering a lot of really tough questions right now, like where does crime happen, or what is the relationship between public transit and the assessment value of your home? And you can start to finally understand the impact a policy decision will have 20 years from now using some really advanced computer algorithms. It is really exciting.
How did you get involved with ICMA?
Well, ICMA is the major organization for public administration. It is my way of encountering the work going on in the rest of the country and in the rest of the world. And it is really exciting because now that I am in Canada, I have been able to get involved a bit with the International Committee. It is good to try to make those connections. Many of the problems that are being faced in the States are the same as Canada and really the same everywhere.
How has ICMA been able to help you with your career challenges?
I would say that I probably got my job in Edmonton because of ICMA. Before I moved up to Canada, I met Simon Farbrother (former city manager and past ICMA president). He opened up a lot of doors for me.
You were a student member of ICMA in the United States, and now you’re a member in Canada. What are the differences, and how do you see ICMA helping its international members?
ICMA is still really growing in Canada; not everybody has heard of it yet. In a lot of ways, I feel like the hub or the spoke in Edmonton - connecting people to ICMA. In our city of 12,000 employees, we only have about 30 or 40 members, and to be part of the center of that and be a representative is a really good career opportunity for me. It would be a good opportunity for anybody in Canada because you can have an outsized impact with a really large international organization.
Do you have any thoughts about increasing the diversity of local government professionals and within ICMA?
I would love to see more diversity in public administration generally. I am kind of in this IT realm and it is, like most places, quite male-dominant. I lead a group of citizen programmers who get together and we actively reach out to the community for new diverse volunteers because there are just as many women as men who are doing fabulous things. There can be a perceived “old boys’ club” mentality, and when you reach out even a little bit, you can really start to increase the diversity and start to make things better.
Are you a member of any other organizations, and why would you be a member of both?
I am involved with the Alliance for Innovation and then IPAC, which is a similar organization in Canada. I appreciate ICMA because it really is international. I can contact somebody in Canada, in the United States, in Denmark, anywhere. I use the Knowledge Network all the time. When I search for a contact in the city of Boston, for instance, the people who are on the ICMA list -- they're the ones who will pick up their phones when you say that you're from ICMA -- and it's not quite that robust with any of the networks that I have through other professional associations.