What is innovation, and whose job is it? Innovation professionals in cities do many different things, and each city has its own approach to innovation. How are these offices structured? What are the pros and cons? What have we learned about working with other city departments, elected officials, and the public?
Chief Innovation Officers (CINOs, or professionals with similar job responsibilities) draw on tools and strategies from many disciplines – performance management, big data analysis, behavioral science – and a host of new technologies. These offices vary widely in size and organization. Some of them are located in IT departments, some in the Mayor or City Manager’s office, and some are independent departments. They work on a broad range of things – problem solving, data management and analysis, performance management, process improvement, training, advanced analytics, behavioral science, digital literacy, smart city implementation, and more.
Despite the wide variety of approaches across cities, it’s clear that most innovation professionals drive change in their organizations by convening the right people, forming partnerships, and working across silos. They view their jobs as being about solving problems to make people’s lives better using tools like data and technology.
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What Cities Can Do
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Washington DC‘s The Lab @ DC includes a team of social scientists focused on policy and program interventions and high-quality evaluations. Projects include ways to improve policing, flexible rent programs to address homelessness, and more. Additionally, the City’s report, Pathways to Inclusion, serves as a roadmap to create an inclusive ecosystem to help expand the tech and innovation economy.
Improving City Hall Processes
The Providence, RI Department of Innovation was established in 2016, and so far has trained more than 250 employees to help bridge the gap between employees, programs, and their data-based systems. Two of their biggest accomplishments include moving the business license and building permit processes online, eliminating the need for applicants to wait on long lines at City Hall.
Dashboards & CityScores
Boston, MA established one of the first municipal innovation offices in the world – the Office of New Urban Mechanics in 2010 – and is arguably one of the most influential cities when it comes to civic innovation. View some helpful lessons here from Office of Urban Mechanics’ Co-founder Nigel Jacob. Building on these successful efforts, Mayor Walsh established the Citywide Analytics Team, which has implemented several successful initiatives, including the Mayor’s Dashboard and CityScore Boston.