In every election season, buzzwords abound. In 2013, “innovation” is one of the central emerging conversations around many mayoral campaigns. In Boston, outgoing Mayor Thomas Menino (known as the ‘New Urban Mechanic’), has led an administration that instituted extensive innovations into Boston city government, including Boston’s Innovation Districts and the Office of New Urban Mechanics. Questions about who will continue this legacy of innovation have pushed the issue to the fore in most of the leading candidates' campaigns in the city. Mayoral candidate Mike Ross has pledged to be Boston’s Innovation Mayor and private sector leaders have even offered an \“ innovation ‘to-do list’” for the incoming mayor. Conversations in other cities around the legacy and impact of innovative mayors beg the questions: why is municipal innovation important and how will it (resist the fate of other campaign buzzwords and) truly materialize in American cities?

Today, cities face staggering challenges, and have to meet them with limited budgets, growing populations, rising income inequality, and aging infrastructure. While some mayors may hope and act as if 20th century solutions will carry their populations to prosperity in the 21st century, it may well be those cities that get left behind. In order to emerge from byzantine challenges as forward-facing cities that can adeptly provide for and serve their citizens, mayors need to build a culture of innovation within their city governments. This means both building a supportive environment for creative new thinking, and intentionally leveraging that thinking through the adoption of innovative models and policies.

Through our initiatives including our Project on Municipal Innovation, which convenes top leadership from 35 of the country’s largest and most creative cities, Living Cities supports this important work. In this network, cities have the unique opportunity to share and reflect on effective strategies and initiatives, and increasingly, to test and evaluate real innovative models in their cities. In particular, we prioritize ideas which 1) help restructure city operations, 2) redirect and better leverage capital to effective and proven programs and policies, and 3) emphasize collaboration both within and outside of the public sector in order to achieve collective impact across sectors, services, and functions. It is within these three areas that we believe measurable outcomes for all city residents, and especially low-income people, can be achieved.

By fostering real innovations in municipal government across the country, we aim to bring the sometimes elusive concept of better government to life, and the impact of better government to bear on city residents, and especially those most in need of this change. We know we are not alone in this work, and look to a growing network of leaders–both within and outside of city government–to advance the agenda of public sector innovation. And with unprecedented opportunities to collaborate across sectors, time zones and issues, we see the network effect as a unique avenue to short-cutting the innovation curve. Come 2014, many major American cities- from Houston to Detroit, Seattle to Atlanta-will have elected the Mayor that will steer the course of progress for their city. We look to these leaders to bring innovation to the center of their agenda, and look forward to supporting them as they do.