Mayors and cities are uniquely positioned to drive bold solutions to complex challenges.
Bloomberg Philanthropies initially tested the i-teams approach through a multi-year investment in five cities with great results. The mayors of all five pioneer cities saw the value of the i-team and invested public dollars to sustain them when the grants ended. Nearly 20 cities are now participating in the program, using dedicated i-teams to bring creative new approaches to their cities’ most pressing problems.
Innovation-teams conduct deep qualitative and quantitative research and analyses to assess local conditions, develop innovative, responsive solutions, and relentlessly measure progress against clear goals.
From city halls to public agency front lines, governments are thinking more and more about how to create innovative solutions to their most pressing problems. It makes sense given the challenges governments face – dwindling budgets, increased citizen expectations, and morphing societal needs. But there’s something beyond that happening, too. City leaders are increasingly seeing innovation as a mindset and process to help solve challenging problems and improve the lives of the people they serve. And, increasingly, they realize it is an essential capability they wouldn’t want to govern without, reflected in the emergence of dedicated innovation officers, teams, and labs around the world.
Bloomberg Philanthropies is funding innovation teams (i-teams) who help city leaders drive bold innovation, change culture, and create an ongoing ability to tackle big problems and deliver better results for residents. Mayors have effectively used i-teams on issues as diverse as murder reduction, economic development, and customer service.
APPLYING THE BLOOMBERG PHILANTHROPIES APPROACH TO DRIVE INNOVATION IN CITIES
Innovation Teams – New Orleans
THE IMPERATIVE FOR INNOVATION
Cities are uniquely able to innovate and transform citizens’ lives, but face many barriers to developing and implementing solutions to tough challenges. City governments are not always organized to support innovation, especially when it comes to addressing “horizontal” issues—such as poverty reduction, sustainability, or customer service—that are the shared responsibility of multiple departments and chains of command. The absence of standard management and engagement strategies to overcome department silos makes it harder for leaders to define, deliver, and sustain solutions to these complex and multifaceted challenges.
Further, many mayors’ offices lack the human capital, organizational capacity, or financial resources to take on bold ideas. A tension exists between “putting out fires” and managing day-to-day responsibilities and finding the time and space needed to think, plan, and launch new solutions.
There are few incentives within bureaucracies to experiment and try new things—but there are plenty of motivations to maintain the status quo or settle for incremental change. New programs that fail tend to attract more attention than those that succeed. And when it comes to innovation, there will inevitably be efforts that do not work as planned.
The i-teams program was created to provide cities with a method to address these barriers and deliver change more effectively to their citizens. By using the most effective approaches to innovation, i-teams greatly reduce the risks associated with this work, and provide mayors with assurance in their ability to develop and implement effective solutions to their highest-priority problems.
Innovation Teams – Boston
INNOVATION TEAMS HELP CITIES SOLVE PROBLEMS IN NEW WAYS
Bloomberg Philanthropies began investing in i-teams in five cities in 2012. Today, nearly 20 cities around the world are participating in the program.
Situated in City Hall, i-teams report to the mayor and work closely with colleagues in city government, offering them a different set of tools and techniques to innovate more effectively. In partnership with these colleagues, they seek to deeply understand the problems they are trying to solve by building empathy for the people impacted by them, and then work quickly and creatively to co-create and test solutions that deliver meaningful results for residents. Mayors and city leaders are consistently turning to these i-teams to solve their city’s most pressing problems, and they are making big changes that matter.
What makes i-teams so powerful? They give city governments the ability to solve problems in a new way. Cities need a new discipline and corresponding to generate transformative ideas that produce real impact. By establishing dedicated i-teams, city leaders can create the space for staff to step away from their daily work and to rethink issues, reimagine outcomes, and capitalize on bold new possibilities.
We believe i-teams are most powerful when they are:
- Ambitious: Mayors and city leaders use i-teams to bring creative new approaches to their cities’ most pressing problems. Innovation teams are uniquely positioned to make big changes on difficult problems that span departments.
- Rigorous: Creative and effective solutions are the result of the right problem diagnosis. Innovation teams mine large volumes of quantitative and qualitative data, look outside their city to learn from others that have wrestled with similar challenges, learn from people beyond the usual suspects, and consider problems from multiple angles to understand the root causes.
- Human-Centered: Government solves problems faster and more creatively when it recognizes and relies on other people and ideas in their communities. Innovation teams share challenges and invite residents in their city to help define problems, then develop and test solutions.
- Risk Taking: Innovation teams challenge “business as usual” in their organizations. They test ideas with residents early on, before they are formalized, funded or vetted, in order to quickly gain feedback and improve their ideas so they can ultimately invest in the best solution.
- Impact-Driven: Innovation teams relentlessly focus on results. They set targets and use data and performance management to measure progress and impact. They have a bias toward action because they know that, in the end, the work matters only if it delivers meaningful impact that residents can see.
- Versatile: Innovation teams seek to take on challenges across a wide spectrum of city issues. They transcend silos that normally exist, spend finite time solving a thorny issue, and are then redeployed by their mayors and city leaders to tackle the next big problem no one has yet been able to solve.
Innovation Teams – Tel Aviv
BIG RESULTS; SIGNIFICANT EXPANSION
Bloomberg Philanthropies initially invested in dedicated i-teams in five cities: Atlanta, Chicago, Louisville, Memphis, and New Orleans. The results were strong. In New Orleans the i-team helped the city reduce its murder rate by 20% in less than two years. In just sixteen months, Memphis’ i-team leveraged the approach to fill 53% of the empty storefronts in key commercial tracts of the city, giving hope to small business owners and reinvigorating the city’s core. Mayors in pioneer cities successfully deployed their i-teams to decrease homelessness, reduce youth violence, and stimulate economic growth, and these i-teams continue to be re-deployed to solve new and pressing problems.
In December 2014, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced a significant expansion of the i-teams program. New i-teams are now hard at work in 11 additional U.S. cities including Albuquerque, NM; Boston, MA; Centennial, CO; Jersey City, NJ; Long Beach, CA; Los Angeles, CA; Mobile, AL; Minneapolis, MN; Peoria, IL; Seattle, WA; and Syracuse, NY. And for the first time, two international cities also joined the program: Jerusalem and Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel. Mayors in each of these cities created dedicated i-teams who have developed and delivered bold new approaches to issues such as affordable housing, traffic congestion, aging infrastructure, and immigrant inclusion.