EDF Climate Corps fellow | October 6, 2015
By: Chandar Prabha Sharma, 2015 EDF Climate Corps fellow and graduate student at Georgetown University.
New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio’s OneNYC Plan lays out a great vision with specific targets for a strong, sustainable, resilient and equitable New York City. In the quest to achieve this vision, the NYC school system will play a key role. The NYC school system is the largest school district in the United States. It is comprised of over 1,800 schools and 1.1 million students. This scale presents a great opportunity for promoting and implementing sustainability. Not only can school buildings be made more energy and water efficient, but also, the students can be made aware of sustainability by tying the built environment into the curriculum.
As the 2015 EDF Climate Corps fellow for the NYC Department of Education, I aimed to find solutions to improve processes and systems in public administration to better support the public sector’s sustainability efforts. In my first week on the job, I saw an opportunity to help manage and coordinate data and information on its school buildings.
The Importance of Centralized Data
The NYC Department of Education, Division of School Facilities (DSF) is dedicated to enhancing the sustainability of the daily maintenance, repair and operations of school buildings including energy retrofits and capital improvement projects. In its efforts, the division must coordinate with other agencies including the Office of Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Learning, the Division of School Construction Authority (SCA), the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS), the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the Department of Sanitation, the Department of Parks and Recreation and several others. As a result, the Division faces a challenge in coordinating data and information.
In the absence of a central database that coordinates information held by all stakeholders, employees must collate that information. This does not allow for the optimal use of the Department of Education’s resources. For example, data management and tracking would inform decision makers as to which school building would provide the best return on investment for a solar installation. Accessible data also facilitates decision-making and allows DSF to prioritize projects to meet the needs of the division under time and resource constraints.
A Twofold Challenge
After talking with the various agencies and hearing their stories, my mission was clear: the Department needed an advanced yet easy-to-use technology to manage its data. I quickly figured out, with the guidance of my supervisor, that a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool could solve the problem but the division’s policies would have to align with the technology.
To get started on this human component to my job, I led consultation rounds with the two key agencies that the DSF works closely with. My aim was to set up a mutually agreed upon framework for regular and reliable data coordination and information sharing among these three parties. I then communicated detailed use-case requirements to the developers of the CRM tool. Throughout the initiative, I emphasized that the technology developers must be fully informed of the needs and aspirations of future users.
The end of my summer engagement culminated in a meeting with all of the partner agencies involved. During this meeting, the developers of the CRM tool explained how the technology could help the agencies save time and resources. This also set the stage for DSF and its partners to review my recommendations on how the agencies could successfully harmonize processes and systems to share cross-departmental information better.
A Common Theme
My fellowship experience highlights the importance of streamlining information, sharing best practices and working collaboratively across large agencies, which is something, employees at public agencies across the nation would agree with. Through thoughtful change management and stakeholder engagement, great improvements to these systems can be made. Also, what is potentially more important from my perspective as an EDF Climate Corps fellow is that such improvements in public administration additionally augment the sustainability efforts of government agencies and facilitate success in their sustainability initiatives and goals.
About EDF Climate Corps
EDF Climate Corps (edfclimatecorps.org) taps the talents of tomorrow’s leaders to save energy, money and the environment by placing specially trained EDF fellows in companies, cities and universities as dedicated energy problem solvers. Working with hundreds of leading organizations, EDF Climate Corps has uncovered nearly $1.4 billion in energy savings. For more information, visit edfclimatecorps.org. Read our blog at edfclimatecorps.org/blog. Follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/edfbiz and on Facebook at facebook.com/EDFClimateCorps.