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Muriel Bowser: The Innovative Pioneer Behind the Washington D.C.’s Public Bots

On the busy streets of Washington DC, it can be easy to miss someone. But amid the suits, ties and shift dresses is a woman who is changing the way the capital’s residents are using technology. Muriel Bowser, the mayor of DC, is so much more than just another politician. An innovative leader who never envisioned herself as getting involved in politics, let alone becoming the mayor of one of the nation’s most prominent and noted cities, Bowser is positioning herself in the tech world, too.

Her political career began in 2004 when she accepted a position within the Advisory Neighborhood Position (ANC). Passion ignited, she launched herself into the arena of politics with one progressive thought in mind:

“To make reporting issues as convenient as possible for DC residents.”

How would she do this exactly?
Bowser’s idea was to utilize chat bots as a way to support public service requests. Via SMS, residents can use DC 311 to report issues, completely automating nearly 70% of the capital’s public service requests. Users simply type “New” or “Menu” into a text message and they are instantly connected to the information they need.

In order to create this chat bot system, Bowser needed to innovate within government systems, something that notoriously is not easy to do considering how slow the infrastructure tends to move and, of course, the lack of funding for most projects of this nature.But, determined to accomplish what she set out to do, Bowser worked with a contractor who was able to create a pilot on his own quickly in order for the mayor to demonstrate the viability of the system.

By demonstrating how a chat bot of this nature could be created and how it would benefit the community, Bowser negotiated around the typical red tape projects like this face, such as budget, timelines, and intensive planning.

A politician by profession but an innovator by nature, Bowser may work in the capital but she doesn’t act like it.

Avoiding bureaucracy through rapid action and creative problem solving, Bowser has officially changed the way DC handles city issues, demonstrating exciting bot possibilities for the rest of the nation while it’s at it.

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