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Accelerate This: City Hall meets Shark Tank

How They Did It: Nashville

Nashville broadened, deepened, and embedded its capacity to innovate across city government departments through empowered local government employees and partnerships. Through the City Accelerator Nashville has:

  • Strengthened innovation capacity – Metro Government’s innovation program designed to engage government partners working on key challenges facing the Nashville community.  Partnerships included Nashville’s Entrepreneurship Center to expose city employees to new skills and tools.
  • Encouraged 34 Metro departments to submit ideas for solutions to a common problem to city leaders through the Public Investment Plan (PIP) program. Seventeen plans were chosen for full or partial funding totaling $3.5 million
  • Created the Office of Economic Opportunity and Empowerment. With a staff of five and a specific focus on social and economic equity, the office leverages resources and facilitates long-term planning and coordination to reduce poverty in Nashville.  
  • Piloted a transportation program that sheltered 175 homeless residents with access to public transportation during extreme winter weather.
  • Launched a participatory budgeting app, whereby more than 2,000 citizens shared their ideas for the City’s $2 Billion FY17 budget. 
Ideas to Accelerate

  1. Compete through collaboration. Metro Nashville’s televised “Shark Tank”-like pitch competition encouraged collaboration and required participating departments to give a 7-minute presentation and respond to questions from leadership. The full list of approved PIPs is available here.
  2. Conduct cross-department training in design thinking. Ideas2Reality was designed by the city and a design-thinking firm, Design Impact. Read more about their process here.
  3. Tell your innovation story. Governing hosted a podcast on social media and communications in cities with Nashville’s Chris Weidel.
Why this work matters

Nashville focused on strengthening its innovation structure months before a mayoral transition.  While this timing was a potential risk, Nashville took on the challenge to become a proving ground for sustaining a culture of idea generation, implementation, and experimentation. Nashville’s I2R program proved to be a key mechanism for harnessing the power and potential of city employees to identify meaningful improvements in their processes and programs. By identifying key priorities of the new Mayor’s administration, the City Accelerator team maintained the momentum of existing staff capacity and projects but also trained new staff to become public entrepreneurs. Partnering with Design Impact, a nonprofit social design firm, and others, provided critical external support and expertise, in Nashville’s case in design-thinking and entrepreneurial approaches. Cities that are planning for mayoral transitions can take inspiration from Nashville’s commitment to a process and a structure that can deliver outcomes for residents that new mayors can’t ignore.

The process

The City of Nashville focused its innovative capacity on a strategic, collective response to poverty and better results for low-income constituents through the City Accelerator.  Much of Nashville’s work focused on the role city staff can play in innovation. 

Watch Nashville’s original pitch video here. 


Revised February 23, 2017: This article originally appeared under the headline, "Accelerate This: Coming in From The Cold "

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