Lessons From the Field for and by Civic Innovation Teams

Lessons From the Field for and by Civic Innovation Teams

Innovation teams are a new phenomenon in local government. As such, there are still precious few resources for such teams to follow as they begin their work. This means that people thoughtfully engaged in this work have lots to teach the world, including our City Accelerator teams from Louisville, Nashville and Philadelphia. They concluded an 18-month effort to develop experiments and interventions designed explicitly to improve the lives of low-income residents in their respective cities.

In December of 2014, Living Cities and Citi Foundation launched its first cohort of the City Accelerator program, which was focused on embedding innovation in local government. The goal of the City Accelerator program is to advance and promote the spread of promising innovations that will have a significant impact in the lives of residents. In the 18 months that the cohort has been together, we have had the chance to support teams from three cities work to develop a sustainable approach to innovation.

Louisville, Philadelphia and Nashville were each trying to figure out how to create an innovation team that leverages local assets and targets the needs of low income people in their communities. The original Guidebook, drawn from my experiences in City of Boston’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, was framed as a relatively simple starting point for teams embarking on the innovation journey.

Our hope was that the Guidebook could serve as the initial hypothesis as to how to get innovation going and that we would learn along the way what was really most important and what the interplay between the different elements looked like in a range of cities, as well as where they they needed to focus attention at different stages of their work.

The goal of this our final report is to distill those elements into recommendations for innovation teams seeking to sustain their work over time. We found over the course of this project that the original imperatives largely fit into four main categories.

Set Up Your Team

  • Don’t worry about roles and structures; start doing projects and build a large portfolio of initiatives that make your team a vital part of government operations.

Partner Internally and Externally

  • Provide a valuable service to your colleagues and partners to build strong working relationships while maintaining momentum for your innovation agenda.

Develop Criteria for Innovation Projects

  • Keeping your mayor, city officials, and partners happy is tough work. Determine the scope of work on a given project and balance the need to achieve big impact.

Tell Your Story

  • One important, but often overlooked duty of the innovation team is cultivating an image and reputation. Be able to tell your story to build new partnerships and take on transformative work.
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