Through a unique partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies, Living Cities is supporting a cohort of city hall Innovation Teams deploying bold ideas to tackle the biggest issues facing city governments.

City governments play an outsized role in building communities where every citizen has the chance to thrive. In economic development, infrastructure, housing, and many other areas, cities set policy, direct resources, and plan decades into the future. Often, citizens want to see decisive action from political leaders to respond to the issues most important to them. However, acting quickly without deeply understanding an issue and its contributing factors rarely results in meaningful change—particularly for those people with the greatest need. More and more, cities are seeing the value of embedding innovation to disrupt old ways of doing business and ultimately move the needle on the critical issues facing low-income people.

That’s why Living Cities is taking part in an effort spearheaded by Bloomberg Philanthropies to make city halls across the country, plus two in Israel, more creative, agile, and data-driven. Through a tested approach to embedding innovation in municipal government, cities are employing Innovation Teams (i-teams) to greatly reduce the risks associated with innovation and provide mayors and city leaders with a reliable way to address their highest-priority problems and deliver measurable results.

Innovation Team members from Jersey City discussing their work at a convening event

Jersey City i-team members gather at a recent convening in New York City.

Living Cities is creating opportunities for i-teams to learn from each other and for other cities and urban practitioners to learn from those efforts. Building a network across 19 cities is a big challenge, but we’ve seen this approach pay off before. Through the Project on Municipal Innovation network, more than 35 mayoral chiefs of staff and policy directors share innovative ideas that achieve meaningful results for city governments and their residents. Our City Accelerator program brings cohorts of cities together in deeply engaged ways to accelerate the adoption of specific innovations in their communities. In all of our work, we strive to reach across cities and sectors to challenge the status quo and encourage fresh thinking.

Cities came together for convenings focusing on different parts of the i-teams approach.

Teams are now working through Bloomberg Philanthropies’ tested four-step Innovation Delivery approach, which consists of: Investigating Problems, Generating New Ideas, Preparing to Deliver, and Delivering and Adapting. All the while, i-teams are using data to measure their progress against concrete goals. Once significant progress is made, the i-teams will repeat the process to tackle another key priority.

Cities in the newest cohort are starting to move from the investigation to idea generation phase. Already, we are seeing tremendous promise as the approach is brought to bear on a wide array of issues. For example:

  • Mobile, AL has connected with teams that were part of the first i-teams cohort like New Orleans to learn from their experiences breaking down long-standing barriers between city agencies as they develop a holistic plan to address blighted property
  • Los Angeles is speaking with a range of subject matter leaders in the community to understand lessons learned and areas for improvement City-wide. They are also speaking with potential partners from the private sector and reviewing lessons learned and leading programs from other cities both within the i-teams cohort and elsewhere as they look to support neighborhood development without displacement.
  • Jersey City, NJ and Long Beach, CA are collaborating on ideas to help streamline the small business applications process.

This peer-to-peer network of problem solvers is a big part of why the i-teams approach has such tremendous promise. And, it demonstrates the important role that philanthropy can play as cities seek to disrupt the status quo. By bringing an unconventional set of networks, resources, and expertise to bear, Bloomberg Philanthropies is in a unique position to create an ecosystem of innovation among local governments and embed innovation from within. We are excited to partner with them on this journey.

We’ll be watching closely as i-teams move through this process and gear up to deliver concrete solutions to difficult problems in their communities. Along the way, we’ll continue to share reflections, challenges, and successes.