As cities double down on results, potential stumbling blocks lurk around every corner. Thankfully, a recent conversation among the i-teams brought three lessons to light that can help ensure a smooth journey to success.

Sometimes, we must remind ourselves to pay attention to the journey just as much as we pay attention to the destination. Reaching our goal can be tough without measuring how we’re doing along the way. This theme resonated at the fourth Bloomberg Philanthropies’ i-team convening in Memphis, TN as city teams thought about their own journeys to innovate around some of their cities’ most pressing issues. During a session on metrics (what is to be measured) and targets (the goal), we gained three key takeaways for any civic innovator’s quest: mind your priority, your data, and your relationships.

Mind Your Priority

The first step innovation teams take when tackling a big problem involves focusing on the depth of the challenge. The i-teams found that this important step not only defined the priority, but also informed target setting. The answers that came out of asking “What are we doing?”, “Why are we doing it?”, “How is it going to make things better?”, and “How is it translatable into numbers that people will understand?” informed targets that were the most practical in making an impact on the priority. These reflective questions also helped determine the types of measurements that could be monitored towards each target. Even so, metrics are only as good as the data source.

Mind Your Data

Paying attention to the quality of the data source is important to make sure targets are realistic and the metrics you track towards reaching those targets are accurate. As a result of potentially antiquated or misleading data, i-teams had to spend time proofing previous studies to ensure that the data was correct and relevant. Additionally, as targets are met, innovators need to be cognizant that aligning metrics and targets with variables that are directly affected will help distinguish whether the impact is a result of a specific innovation or the result of external forces. Equally important, teams must not discount any source of data. Depending on the capacity to gather data, the most reliable source could come from a government agency or private organization. Getting access to that data, however, requires building trusted relationships.

Mind Your Relationships

Neglecting to mind relationships with departmental leaders, implementers, and affected citizens leaves too much room to sabotage metric and target setting from the beginning. Innovation team members really related to this point and there was no shortage of stories about failed attempts to form these relationships. You could hear an ant crawl as every ear in the room listened to how the teams learned from their attempts and recovered. One team member shared that their team ran into resistance after setting lofty murder reduction rate targets, and learned that setting goals without including all people affected made for miscalculated promises and a resistant community. Consulting the residents in the affected neighborhoods, collaborating with the public safety department head, and lowering the scope of the target put all partners in a position to move unilaterally towards the goal, and they ultimately succeeded.

Another team member spoke about how collaborative metric and target setting with department leaders helped the department heads sell the goal to crucial legislative committees or other interested stakeholders. In all, there was collective agreement that solving the issues of an entire city is something that should intently be done inclusively.


The journey to innovate a city government’s way of handling issues can be daunting. However, each milestone reached can be just as encouraging. The session on metrics and targets reminded everyone that being equipped with timeless lessons like minding your priority, data, and relationships makes infusing innovation within cities more manageable while clearing your path to the destination.

Published: June 22, 2016
Category: Blog
Contributors: Norris Williams