The Innovation Equation

Working with Living Cities, Governing has identified a set of seven elements that constitute a framework for fostering the innovation cities need.
September 4, 2016 AT 11:00 AM
David Kidd
By Mark Funkhouser  |  Former Publisher
Former publisher of Governing and former mayor of Kansas City
Broadly Partnered Data-Driven Dynamically Planned Employee-Engaged Race-Informed Resident-Involved Smartly Resourced

In his book Diffusion of Innovations, Everett Rogers writes that innovation "presents an individual or an organization with a new alternative or alternatives, with new means of solving problems." The key words here are alternatives and problems. Every organization is presented with problems. The standard way of addressing problems is to provide more resources. An innovation is a means of solving problems that is an alternative to adding resources.

Since local governments will continue to face severe fiscal constraints for the foreseeable future, their ability to solve problems through increased spending will be limited, creating what many call an innovation imperative. The conundrum for government leaders is that innovation cannot be created on command. There isn’t much that is useful in simply telling city employees to go forth and innovate. What leaders can do is establish conditions for innovation to flourish, creating cities that are equipped to innovate.

So what are these critical conditions? Working with Living Cities, Governing has identified a set of seven elements that constitute a framework for fostering the innovation cities need. We believe that the work of cities should be dynamically planned, broadly partnered, resident-involved, race-informed, smartly resourced, employee-engaged and data-driven.

To get an idea of how well cities are actually equipping themselves to innovate, we’ve begun surveying mayors, city managers and chief innovation officers (or equivalent positions) in each of the nation’s 250 most populous cities, asking them to rate their performance on about 10 specific outcomes for each of the seven elements. We’ll be reporting on the survey’s results next year, identifying which cities are top performers, and their achievements will be recognized next summer at the annual Government Performance and Innovation Summit we produce in partnership with Living Cities.

This work also will allow us to identify areas in which cities are having more difficulty―areas to focus on. We are confident that we will gain robust data that will inform later presentations and discussions around the whole concept of urban innovation.

Innovation is more important than ever for our cities, caught as they are in a vise between residents’ rising expectations and growing distrust of government. The cities that measure their urban practices in comparison to their peers, and that experiment with and improve their systems and operations, will be developing and embedding a new urban practice that will enable them to improve the lives of their residents regardless of the challenges that they face.

A version of this column appears in the October 2016 issue of Governing Magazine.