Richard Culatta started on the job this week as Rhode Island's first chief innovation officer. The job represents a homecoming for the 37-year-old South Kingstown native after he most recently worked in senior jobs in the US Department of Education.
Culatta said his focus will include "spending some time looking at the experiences that we create for citizens. One of the things that I'm interested in doing is actually following somebody through the process of registering a business here in Rhode Island, or applying for a license perhaps ... and then use that as an opportunity to redesign government. A lot of times we set up government in ways that are really convenient for government; turns out they're actually not very convenient [for citizens]. And so sometimes one of the most valuable things we can do is say, what if we were designing this to be as efficient as possible for the citizens we serve, and then make the adjustments on the back end that we need to."
Culatta said he also intends to highlight innovative efforts taking place in Rhode Island.
In returning to a state with a reputation for being unfriendly to business, he said he'll be trying to think about "what are ways to make the experience of coming to Rhode Island, either to set up a business or to live here as a family, easy to do -- friendly to do -- and make it an experience that makes people want to be here."
Culatta will be paid an annual $210,000 salary through the Rhode Island College Foundation. He said he expects to be held accountable for his efforts, and pledged to be transparent. The exact oversight process remains unclear, but Culatta said he expects his work to be closely scrutinized by Governor Gina Raimondo, citizens, and the RIC community.
"I think right now what I'm trying to do is not come in with my own agenda, but really listen carefully," Culatta said, adding that criteria for evaluating his performance could range from budgetary savings to enhanced academic performance by students. Being based at RIC, he said, will enable students and professors to be involved in assessing innovation efforts.
Asked why his post is based at RIC and funded through the college's foundation, Culatta said, "Being innovative is often about blurring traditional lines between traditional silos. We wanted to signal that right off the bat, that I'm going to be part of a higher ed institution. We're going to work collaboratively in new ways, we're going to tie into the students and faculty that are there. And also being part of the foundation makes it easier for us to go after some philanthropic dollars, which we intend to do, and really bring in some additional dollars for the state."