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Lessons Learned Implementing Bold Ideas

By Anne Emig, Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Government Innovation program

Since 2013, hundreds of cities around the world have competed in Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge by proposing bold new ideas that solve urban challenges, improve city life – and have the potential to spread.

Ten cities – five in Europe and five in the United States – have been named winners, and this year five cities in Latin America and the Caribbean will join the ranks of this growing international innovation network. Cities submit an original idea, finalists are chosen, and those teams are paired with innovation coaches, given access to innovation experts, and exposed to innovation methods to improve their ideas.

The winning proposals range from a plan to improve cognitive development in disadvantaged children in Providence, Rhode Island to a system of using garden waste to fight global warming in Stockholm, Sweden. But all ten share something that ties them together.


Providence won the Grand Prize in the U.S. Mayors Challenge for its proposal to increase the number of words low-income children hear before entering kindergarten.

Today, we released a report that offers important advice from the winning cities to municipalities looking to bring bold ideas to life. In summary, the lessons are:

Playing Politics:

  • The bigger and bolder the idea, the more political support is needed to make it happen. However, city administrations change, re-election campaigns can shift priorities, and political atmospherics in general are challenging. This makes it all the more important for innovators to understand the political space they are working in and try to be inclusive in forming alliances and relationships that can support their case.

Support Can Come from Anywhere: 

  • Political approval is great, but so are resources from outside government. Cities should capitalize on the energy surrounding innovative projects and bring on board a diversity of organizations and people who can offer advice, make introductions, provide funding, and advocate on behalf of the city.

Managing Internal Affairs:

  • Innovation leaders know they have to manage up – but they also must skillfully engage their peers in order to succeed. In particular, middle managers are crucial to successfully implementing bold new ideas, so their buy-in must be earned. Taking the time to create enthusiasm for a new strategy among middle managers and helping them understand how a successful rollout is not just good for end-users, but good for them and their career as well, will pay dividends in the long run.

The Right Team for the Job:

  • A team that excels in producing a framework for a bold new idea may not be the perfect team to actually implement it. Understanding the team’s strengths and weaknesses and how individuals fit together as a whole is essential to bringing an idea to life. Passionate and visionary leaders also need comrades with common sense skills who can simply get things done.

Keeping Eyes on the Prize:

  • It’s critical to create a compelling narrative that sustains the attention and enthusiasm of government workers and the public. The winning teams constantly reminded their colleagues that the day-to-day tasks and deliverables were all in pursuit of a higher and larger goal; nothing less than changing the world, if only a little at a time. It’s that kind of powerful and ambitious narrative that builds passion and brings out the best in people.