Planting the Seed of Change

Practical strategies to help cities become equipt for innovation
June 20, 2017
The Equipt to Innovate survey results give cities an understanding of where they have strengths and areas they need to improve to help them move up in their ranking. David Kidd
Broadly Partnered Data-Driven Dynamically Planned Employee-Engaged Race-Informed Resident-Involved Smartly Resourced

What innovation looks like tomorrow will probably be very different than what innovation looks like today. That’s nothing new these days. We tell our youth that they may hold jobs in the future that don’t exist now. And we grasp to find answers to issues like the opioid epidemic that has exploded seemingly in the past decade.

Cities strive to be proactive, but sometimes it takes decades to have hindsight. Major economic development tools like urban renewal have had both negative and positive consequences, wrongly eliminating neighborhoods in some places while sparking more equitable growth in others.

The tools for innovation will come and go, and grow and recede in importance and efficacy. Times demand change. But what the 2017 Benchmark Survey by Governing and Living Cities on “Becoming a High-Performing City” shows is that the seven elements identified are universal and enduring goals for which to strive.

Since the Equipt to Innovate initiative was launched back in 2016, cities across the country have responded by completing our survey, attending conferences, and reading and contributing to blogs and podcasts about how to drive our communities forward. In turn, Governing has been tracking innovative cities, projects and leaders. We have our eyes on innovation and know that information is powerful.

The survey results revealed that cities have been working hard to be more inclusive, to use technology to improve city government, and to be open to partnerships and bringing in resources in its many forms. No one city, mayor or department can do it alone. Facing tight resources and sometimes bureaucratic processes, the survey reveals that local governments understand that the business and nonprofit sectors are key assets.

Many cities want to work on all seven elements of innovation: Dynamically Planned, Broadly Partnered, Resident-Involved, Race-Informed, Smartly Resourced, Employee-Engaged and Data-Driven. However, the questions of where to begin, how to obtain resources and how to overcome resistance persist.

This is exactly why the benchmark survey is so important. The cities surveyed know where they want to go, and are realistic about where they are now. The survey gives cities an understanding of where they have strengths and areas they need to improve. So here are some suggestions as to how to help your city move up in your ranking and become equipt for innovation.

  • Plan now for changing resources. Even though it feels like times are still tight, with shrinking federal programs and ballooning pensions, long-term innovation cannot happen without planning for stability and going after non-traditional resources like social impact bonds.
  • Look to partners for help with technology. Technology can be expensive and time consuming, and seem outdated as quickly as you upgrade. See if local community colleges, hospitals and businesses can help with a website, provide interns or share professionals to conduct outreach. Keep taps on what businesses are doing to save time and money.
  • Open lines of communication for citizens and employees alike. Have multiple channels for feedback, and make sure there is someone in charge with the resources to respond, especially if comments are public and dated.

 Download the full overview of the survey here.