Accelerating Innovation in US Cities

Brandee McHale and Ben Hecht | May 14, 2014

Cities across the U.S. are in a unique position to be leaders in driving economic opportunities for their residents and to use municipal innovation to promote economic progress for all. With the backing of political and non-profit leaders alike, many cities are already experimenting with new ways to help their municipalities run better. The big idea is that a more efficient city is able to not only translate into more effective ways to tackle issues, such as poverty, inequality, the education gap and job creation, but also have more money to do so.

We’ve already seen some ways cities are moving towards innovation: They’re creating innovation offices innovation offices, applying in large numbers for innovation prizes and making municipal data available in ways that allow city residents to participate more creatively and actively in solving problems on issues that are top of mind.

These individual efforts, however, have not evolved into the widespread adoption of promising practices at a substantial pace or scale. Since 2008, the Project on Municipal Innovation (PMI) has enabled 35 of the largest and most enterprising City Halls across the country to work together to harness the energy around municipal innovation. These municipal leaders have learned about – and acted on – transformative policy ideas through online policy forums and biannual in-person meetings.

PMI is designed to invest in people as the engines of innovation as they tackle common challenges many cities face – from pension reform and public private partnerships to technology-led civic engagements. The ideas that came out of PMI were plentiful and powerful, but the capacity to put them into practice was lacking.

The new City Accelerator, with funding and technical support from the Citi Foundation, aims to change that reality. The City Accelerator will fuel efforts to move cities collectively from dialogue to action. The new program will provide nine cities with the opportunity to work in three-city cohorts to focus on areas where there is a clear model of innovation ready for adaptation. These cities will also receive the seed funding necessary to begin implementation of their initiatives.

Launching this summer, the first cohort will focus on creating and expanding sustained innovation in city government. Participating cities will dig into important questions and emerging approaches around, for example, what it will take to:

  • Institutionalize an innovation practice that will improve the lives of city residents, especially low-income people;
  • Enable cities to more effectively collaborate and partner with other cities and local institutions;
  • Share learning about what works (and what doesn’t) more broadly to facilitate wider adoption of innovative approaches

At the heart of the City Accelerator is an attempt to standardize emerging state-of-the art practices growing out of the municipal innovation field. By creating the tools and structure for cities to work together to turn these practices into reality, we expect to help move innovative ideas from the periphery to the mainstream. In addition to accelerating the ability of cities to adapt and grow, we will accelerate our nation’s economic growth and competitiveness.

Towards this effort, the Citi Foundation and Living Cities are especially excited to launch this microsite in partnership with Governing as it will serve as a hub for dialogue and engagement, and will enable us to share our learning in real-time from the City Accelerator with others who are focused on city innovation. In addition, through this platform, we will soon introduce a crowdsourcing tool that will allow us to gather input from the public to help us select our first cohort of cities. Please join the discussion and share your thoughts. We look forward to learning with you.

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