Living Cities, with support from the Citi Foundation, today released a toolkit to help local governments adopt cutting-edge approaches to innovation as part of the City Accelerator program. The implementation guide offers practical guidance to local government officials on how to build a durable culture and practice of innovation that draws from leading practices with promising results from cities around the United States, as well as from the private sector. The guide was developed as part of the City Accelerator, a $3 million program of Living Cities with the Citi Foundation to speed the spread of innovation with the potential to benefit low-income people in local governments. The implementation guide – authored by Nigel Jacob, co-founder of the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics in Boston and Urban Technologist-in-Residence at Living Cities – addresses some of the key barriers that local governments face when looking to incorporate innovation in their cities, and introduces fresh ideas as well. 

“In my experience, innovation doesn’t break down so much because of formal policy, but because of the informal norms and understandings that shape people’s behavior and can influence decisions,” said Jacob. “The guide is oriented toward helping practitioners challenge those norms and build new ways of working.”

“Cities are in a position to work together to find breakthrough and proven ways of tackling real challenges faced by low-income residents on an ongoing basis,” said Brandee McHale, Chief Operating Officer of the Citi Foundation. “This guidebook is a practical step to help cities move from dialogue to action and promotes out-of-the-box thinking to focus on achieving results.” 

“If there’s one thing we hear over and over from our local partners, it’s that bureaucracy has its own center of gravity,” said Ben Hecht, President and CEO of Living Cities. “The approaches laid out in this guide should help local leaders to disrupt that inertia and focus on what really matters – outcomes in the lives of their residents.”

The three cities of the City Accelerator’s first cohort – Louisville, KY; Nashville, TN; and Philadelphia, PA – are working to pilot leading innovations in their cities.  The three cities are applying many of the techniques in the guide to projects aimed at benefiting some of their most vulnerable residents. Philadelphia, for example, is implementing some small experiments aimed at learning how to better enroll seniors in taxpayer benefits for which they are already eligible. 

“Innovation in government is one the critical tools cities have to create new ways to identify how we provide for our most vulnerable residents,” said Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter. “I would like to thank Living Cities for creating this Guide, which reflects the innovation driven through the City Accelerator program and identifies methods to further embed innovation into our core services.  I'd also like to thank the Citi Foundation for their support of the City Accelerator program.”

A central tenet of the guide is that a city’s innovation work must be oriented towards the needs and priorities of a city’s residents. The guide also takes on the often challenging decision-making processes in local governments and a tendency to incorporate the entirety of one big idea or none at all. 

“Often in government, the tendency is to avoid rather than manage challenges and open ourselves up to potential setbacks,” said Theresa Reno-Weber, Chief of Performance and Technology for the City of Louisville and a participant in the City Accelerator. “Of course, it’s essential to protect taxpayer dollars. However, if a city isn’t willing to try something new, then we’ll never be able to address the challenges we face. Approaching an issue through little experiments is a way of managing uncertainty and treating setbacks as what they are – necessary steps on the path towards clear results.”

The guide can be found here. It will be updated as the cohort progresses, and additional content will be developed to support implementation by local governments around the country. The Governing Institute, a content partner to the City Accelerator, is providing ongoing coverage of the Accelerator’s work at www.governing.com/cityaccelerator.

The next cohort of the City Accelerator will launch in the spring of 2015. The City Accelerator builds on the Project on Municipal Innovation (PMI), a collaboration between Living Cities and the Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. PMI brings together mayoral chiefs-of-staff and policy directors from 35 cities across the US to discuss challenges facing their municipalities, including inefficiency in city government and inequality. The City Accelerator helps translate dialogue into action by giving cities seed funding to adopt many of the ideas discussed during the PMI sessions.

With a focus on municipal innovation, the City Accelerator reinforces Citi and the Citi Foundation’s commitment to helping cities become more efficient and empowering citizens by providing access to services that enhance livability and prosperity. Through Citi for Cities, Citi partners with governments, businesses, citizens and community groups to identify and implement innovative solutions that drive efficiencies and enhance quality of life – ultimately supporting the growth of cities around the world. Citi plays an instrumental role in helping cities realize their urban vision by harnessing its knowledge, capabilities and best practices from around the world to deliver practical, cost-effective and transformational solutions that benefit citizens, communities and cities. For more information about how Citi is enabling progress in cities, please visit www.citiforcities.com.

The Citi Foundation

The Citi Foundation works to promote economic progress and improve the lives of people in low-income communities around the world. We invest in efforts that increase financial inclusion, catalyze job opportunities for youth, and reimagine approaches to building economically vibrant cities. The Citi Foundation’s “More than Philanthropy” approach leverages the enormous expertise of Citi and its people to fulfill our mission and drive thought leadership and innovation. For more information, visit www.citifoundation.com 

Living Cities

Living Cities harnesses the collective power of 22 of the world’s largest foundations and financial institutions to develop and scale new approaches for creating opportunities for low-income people and improving the cities where they live. Its investments, research, networks, and convenings catalyze fresh thinking and combine support for innovative, local approaches with real-time sharing of learning to accelerate adoption in more places. Additional information can be found at www.livingcities.org.

The Project on Municipal Innovation

The Project on Municipal Innovation is a unique forum that enables city halls from across the country to learn about and act on integrative and transformative policy ideas. More than 35 cities have designated their chief-of-staff or policy director to participate in a highly engaged set of activity that includes online policy forums and biannual in-person meetings at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation.

Download the Implementatio Guide here