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Civic Innovation

What is Innovation? 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, 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.


At the City Innovation Professionals Forum in August 2017, we heard from Beth Anderson, CINO of Burlington VT; Nigel Jacob, head of Boston MA’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, Brian Elms, who managed Denver CO’s Peak Academy, and Adria Finch, the head of Syracuse NY’s Innovation Team. 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. 

6 Traits of Productive Hackathons, Stephen Goldsmith, Data-Smart City Solutions, July 5th, 2017. Read more.

Innovation and the City, Neil Kleiman and Tom Hillard, Center for an Urban Future, November 1st, 2016. Read more.

The Elected Official as Chief Innovation Officer, Patrick Ibarra, National League of Cities, August 29th, 2016. Read more.

How i-teams Get it Right When They Get it Wrong, Owen Stone, Living Cities, July 29th, 2016. Read more.

Three Themes From the i-teams Convening in New Orleans, Kevin Paul, Living Cities, September 30th, 2015. Read more.

Chief Innovation Officers: Do They Deliver?, Jeffrey Stinson, The Pew Charitable Trusts, February 6th, 2015. Read more.

Guide for Embedding Breakthrough Innovation in Local Government, Nigel Jacob, City Accelerator, January 12th, 2015. Read more.

The Dawn of the Municipal Chief Innovation Officer, Emily Badger, Citylab, March 19th, 2012. Read more.

Breakthrough Cities: How Cities Can Mobilise Creativity and Knowledge, Lauren Kahn et al, Creative Cities, May 31st, 2009. Read more.

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.


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. 


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 Dasboard and CityScore Boston


Ceri Jenkins

Learn more about our work to engage city innovation professionals by checking out materials from the City Innovation Professionals Forum, held in Burlington, VT, here.