We believe that our chances of achieving transformative change dramatically improve when local government is nimble, collaborative, data-driven, and focused on leveraging public resources to transform systems.

America’s cities have historically been engines for national prosperity and gateways for individual economic opportunity, including for low-income people. Government has historically played an important and constructive role in creating these cities of opportunity. In recent decades, however, local government has too often been slow to innovate and adapt to the realities of today’s hyper-connected, global world. We believe that our chances of achieving transformative change dramatically improve when local government is nimble, collaborative, data-driven, and focused on leveraging public resources to transform systems.

Across the country, we are seeing this need for public sector innovation translate into action. To cite just a few examples: Over 300 municipalities submitted innovative ideas to improve their cities as part of Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors’ Challenge. More than two dozen local and state governments applied to the Harvard Kennedy School to receive technical assistance in pursuing evidence-based Pay for Success approaches to providing services. A growing number of cities have created a Chief Innovation Officer position to advance more effective, forward-looking solutions to tough problems. And Code for America has placed fellows in about twenty cities to develop technological innovations that can improve public sector performance.

Municipal Innovation

300+ The number of municipalities submitted innovative ideas to improve their cities as part of Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors’ Challenge.

As we track these and other exciting examples of emerging momentum around public sector innovation, we at Living Cities are deepening our own focus in this area. We are building networks of entrepreneurial public sector leaders to identify and accelerate innovation, experimenting with the use of civic technology to transform the relationship between municipal government and city residents, incentivizing more effective public sector collaboration in cross-sector initiatives like our five-city Integration Initiative, and building improved understanding of the public sector’s role in improving a place’s ability to attract private investment for public purposes.

Throughout this work, we see three spheres of municipal innovation in which we believe there is great potential for transformative impact, cutting across a range of issues faced by cities.

  1. Operations: The use of data, technology and organizational structures to move innovation from the periphery to the mainstream and strengthen government’s capacity as a platform for producing results.

  2. Capital: Sustainable sources of revenue and modern approaches to resource allocation that a) better combine public, private and philanthropic dollars, and b) redirect funds away from ineffective programs and investments.

  3. Collective impact: Rigorous commitment to cross-sector collaborative efforts that move away from piecemeal, siloed reform initiatives and emphasize systems change.

Later this week, with our partners at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center, we will convene the tenth in-person meeting of the Urban Policy Advisory Group – a network of senior mayoral staff from the 35 largest cities in the country that is part of our Project on Municipal Innovation. Sessions will focus on emerging innovations in all three of the above areas. In the realm of innovative operations, participants will discuss customer relationship management and 311 systems as platforms to further enhance citizen engagement at the municipal level using data and technology. With respect to capital, participants will engage with the Pay-for-Success approach, an outcomes-based framework to funding programs which has great cost-saving potential as well as increased accountability for service providers. Additionally, participants will focus on the Strive cradle-to-career approach, which emphasizes collaborative action and evidenced-based decision making, and explore what can be learned about public sector collaboration from this framework.

An important part of the work of advancing public sector innovation is sharing promising practices across a variety of networks and places. We will be sharing key learnings from our upcoming convening, and look forward to ongoing dialogue with others engaged in public sector innovation work.