Research, Innovation and Cities: The Year in Review

Throughout 2016, NLC’s Center for City Solutions and Applied Research presented and spoke on a wide range of city topics to audiences from San Francisco to Shanghai and everywhere in between – making sure that, wherever possible, city voices are elevated and heard.

Photo by Jason Dixson Photography. www.jasondixson.com

NLC continues to shape the national dialogue on cities, work with city leaders on the ground, and help local officials lead. Pictured here at City Summit 2016 discussing the future of autonomous vehicles in cities: Jon Shieber, senior editor at TechCrunch; Debra Lam, chief innovation & performance officer of Pittsburgh; Justin Holmes, director of corporate communications and public policy at Zipcar; Brooks Rainwater, senior executive and director of Center for City Solutions and Applied Research. (Jason Dixson)

This year has been one of growth and success for NLC’s Center for City Solutions and Applied Research (CSAR). Throughout 2016, we released impactful research across a range of focus areas – from the nuts and bolts of governing to future transportation and workforce shifts, innovation districts, and what cities need to know about drones.

We published familiar annual titles including our State of the Cities report, which analyzes the top issues for our nation’s mayors. We released the 31st edition of our City Fiscal Conditions report, which found that cities’ fiscal positions are strengthening as they continue to recover from the great recession. We finished out the year with our City of the Future research focusing on the critical role that automation and other disruptive changes are having on the workforce. At the core of each of these research products, our primary focus is analyzing how major, timely issues will impact cities.

Coinciding with our broad research agenda, CSAR experts have been on the ground in cities across the country working hand in hand with mayors, councilmembers, and city officials to build equitable, sustainable, financially sound communities that are prepared for future opportunities and challenges. And, in response to the growing opioid crisis, CSAR worked across NLC and together with the National Association of Counties (NACo) to convene the City-County Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic, which recently published recommendations to help local officials to put an end to the epidemic.

Our Rose Center for Public Leadership continued its leading work on local land use challenges with the 2016 class of Daniel Rose Fellows. Those cities included Denver, Rochester, N.Y., Long Beach, Calif., and Birmingham, Ala. The Rose Center also launched the first-ever Equitable Economic Development Fellowship, selecting six cities to participate in its inaugural year: Boston, Houston, Memphis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Charlotte, N.C. This fellowship builds the capacity of America’s cities to ensure that prosperity is shared across their communities.

CSAR’s Sustainable Cities Institute (SCI) launched new programs in 2016 that support and recognize NLC members’ efforts to preserve a clean environment, promote green jobs, and tackle climate change. The SolSmart program was launched in April to help cities make it easier for their residents and businesses to go solar. SCI also announced Leadership in Community Resilience, which is working with 10 cities from around the country to help local officials, city staff, and community partners share their experiences and advance local resilience efforts.

This year our team also incorporated NLC University into the Center, working to provide more focused programming and expanded capacity for city leaders. One example of this shift can be seen in this year’s City Summit attendance in Pittsburgh, where we had a 60 percent increase over last year. Additionally, with the hiring of new staff, we are looking to expand online learning and enhance the annual Leadership Summit.

NLC continues its work to end veteran homelessness, encouraging local leaders to make a permanent commitment to make homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring. Through our leadership on the Mayors Challenge to End Veterans Homelessness, we facilitated on-the-ground engagement and assistance to city officials nationwide. We also continue to work together with the State Municipal Leagues on an annual research project focused on the critical intersections between city and state policy. This year we published Paying for Local Infrastructure in a new Era of Federalism, offering a state-by-state analysis of infrastructure financing tools.

CSAR also hosted a number of large events across the country. In the spring, we held the third annual Big Ideas for Cities event with a range of compelling stories from our nation’s mayors, expertly facilitated by the Atlantic’s James Fallows. In the fall we hosted the Big Ideas for Small Business Summit with economic development officials from 25 cities sharing strategies for building local small business and entrepreneurial ecosystems. Most recently, we hosted the second annual Resilient Cities Summit with the Urban Land Institute and U.S. Green Building Council, which brought together mayors from 15 cities across the country to focus on critical resilience strategies. These annual events allow NLC to elevate the voice of city leaders on issues that matter to communities across America.

Through our work on these important issues, we solidified partnerships with agencies across the federal government and worked with them on key programming, ensuring we are effectively communicating the voice of cities at every level. Some of these included: Small Business Administration for Startup in a Day, the Department of Veterans Affairs on veterans homelessness, the Department of Housing and Urban Development on the Prosperity Playbook, and Department of Energy on Net Zero Energy.

Throughout the year, our team presented and spoke on a wide range of city topics to audiences local, national, and global – from San Francisco to Shanghai and everything in between – making sure that, wherever possible, city voices are elevated and heard. We continue to help shape the national dialogue on cities, work with city leaders on the ground, and help mayors and councilmembers learn and lead – and we look forward to our work in 2017.

Read our 2016 publications:

About the author: Brooks Rainwater is Senior Executive and Director of the Center for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities. Follow Brooks on Twitter @BrooksRainwater.

 

Does the Maker Movement Hold the Key to Economic Growth?

The power of this movement is its ability to draw production back into cities. This can have profound economic and social benefits.

MakerspaceA man builds a 3D printer at a makerspace. (Getty)

This is an excerpt from NLC’s upcoming report, The Maker Movement. The report was created in partnership with the Department of Public Administration and Policy at American University.

If you’ve visited Pittsburgh lately, you might have noticed companies like Google and TechShop have setup outposts in the city’s developing urban core. Drawing on the prowess of the robotics engineering programs at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Melon, the city has found a new calling, becoming one of the most encouraging spots for innovation in the country, and the so-called maker movement.

These economic investments in startups, makerspaces and the technology sector are resulting in real dividends for the city. Revenue from economic growth has translated into protected bike lanes, open spaces and parks, and events – projects aimed at making the city a place people want to stay and lead active lives.

From Rust Belt cities like Pittsburgh to rugged outdoors towns like Burlington, Vermont, the maker movement is providing localities a framework for unlocking growth and engaging citizens. With the growth of the movement, which views the producer as the consumer, co-location of manufacturing, engineering and design is common – a process that is transforming our city landscapes.

And that’s the power of the movement: its ability to draw production back into the cities where consumption occurs. This can have profound economic and social benefits. In addition to added jobs, proximity means more innovative potential for workers. The untapped skills and knowledge of out-of-work producers become part of the creative economy of the city.

But, what is the maker movement, exactly?

In the 1990s and early 2000s, the United States’ technology and manufacturing industries experienced a significant transition. With the advent of the Internet, computers began shrinking in size and price, while global connections grew exponentially and economies became inextricably linked.

During this time, the U.S. began outsourcing much of its technological needs. However, the introduction of new technologies such as 3D printers and non-commercial droids spurred an interest in Do-It-Yourself (DIY) and Do-It-With-Others (DIWO) hobbies. Faster prototyping and the availability of fabrication tools as well as easier sourcing of parts and direct distribution of physical products online further contributed to the desire to grow community workspaces.

In this sense, the maker movement gained momentum from the increasing participation of all kinds of people in interconnected communities, defined by interests and skills. The increased predominance of makerspaces offers individuals a compelling social experience that is built around interpersonal relationships.

According to Atmel Corporation, the leading manufacturer of microcontrollers and touch technology semiconductors, and a major backer of the maker movement, there are an estimated 135 million U.S. adults who are makers. In 2013, Wired magazine reported that the overall market for 3D printing products and similar maker services reached $2.2 billion in 2012, a compounded annual growth rate of almost 29 percent when compared to the $1.7 billion the industry recorded in 2011. Projections are expected to reach $6 billion by 2017 and reach $8.4 billion by 2020.

Each region of the U.S. and each local community has a slightly varied understanding of what the actual maker movement is, and its definition is often affected by the unique economic environment of each locality. In many cities like Detroit, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, the maker movement has emerged organically as former manufacturing cities look to diversify by incorporating innovative new technologies into their existing factories.

The transition away from generic, mass-produced, made-in-China merchandise and back to local industry seems to encourage entrepreneurs who are looking to share their ideas and innovations with other like-minded people, and build broad-based support for the maker movement.

Brooks Rainwater bio photoAbout the Author: Brooks Rainwater is the Director of the Center for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities. Follow Brooks on Twitter at @BrooksRainwater.

Sandy Recovery Highlights Resilience Lessons

Graffiti in New York following the devastation cased by Hurricane Sandy. (photo: Ayasha Guerin/inhabitat.com)

Graffiti in New York following the devastation cased by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. (photo: Ayasha Guerin / inhabitat.com)

The Chen residence in the Midland Beach neighborhood of Staten Island is occupied once again. During the 2012 superstorm known as Hurricane Sandy, the Chen home was inundated with 10 feet of flood water, as were other residences in the Midland and New Dorp Beach areas. As of March 2015, the Chen family is back in a restored home thanks to New York’s Build It Back program and the partnership with IBTS (Institute for Building Technology and Safety), an National League of Cities Corporate Partner.

The completed Chen house. (photo: james Brooks)

The completed Chen house. (photo: james Brooks)

The Chen home and others like it have new siding, enhanced insulation and better fire resiliency measures. The property is also raised twelve feet above the ground. The critical measure is that the property is well above both the Base Flood Elevation (BFE) and the Design Flood Elevation (DFE). This means that even if the property is on a flood plain, flood insurance is not required.

The City of New York, working through its Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Mayor’s Office of Housing Recovery Operations, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), established the Build It Back program to coordinate, streamline and evaluate the recovery effort. IBTS is one of the largest contractors serving the city in the areas of architectural and structural assessments, rehabilitation or reconstruction design, contract management and reporting, and final inspections for single family homes.

Visiting the hardest hit neighborhoods on Staten Island and in the Gerritsen Beach area of Brooklyn is an experience both similar and different from visiting neighborhoods in New Orleans hit by Hurricane Katrina 10 years ago. The topography is familiar, and it’s the first sign that these beach bungalows are susceptible to a rising tide. Although the beach dunes rise up from the shoreline, once the waters crest the dunes and flow across Staten Island’s Father Capodanno Boulevard, the landscape drops away another 10-20 feet. Flooding in this area continued nearly a mile inland to Hylan Boulevard.

Build It Back is a massive project. Through March 2015, nearly 26,000 registrants have applied for the program. From Queens, where Breezy Point is located, there are 11,374 registrants. Staten Island has 5,782 registrants, and Brooklyn has 7,968. Eligible homes can have both exterior and interior storm damage repaired. Where appropriate, homes and utility lines are elevated above flood levels as well.

To date, the IBTS team has received contracts to carry out 483 housing elevations. Of these, 253 have received home owner reviews, 198 have received elevation designs for approval, 139 have had construction documents turned over to the city Department of Buildings, and 106 have received permit approvals.

Mr. & Mrs. Slaven with the contractors. (photo: Jim Brooks)

Mr. & Mrs. Slaven with IBTS contractors. In the background sits the Slaven house on cribbing. (photo: James Brooks)

The drama in the story is not in the numbers, but in the first-hand accounts told by residents such as Mr. Francis and Mrs. Lauren Slaven of Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn. Today, their house sits atop 12-foot timber cribbing waiting to be permanently set on its new foundation. A gregarious and talkative woman, Mrs. Slaven is vivid in her recounting of swimming to safety in the face of Sandy. She even managed to save her dog, but lost a pet bird in the ordeal. They will return to their renovated home shortly.

The results of the recovery work thus far have helped drive some innovations both in the management of CDBG Disaster Recovery funds and in the design specifications for home elevations. For example, with support from HUD, IBTS developed a unit price contractor procurement model for CDBG-DR housing rehabilitation and/or reconstruction. IBTS is applying these lessons to the balance of their Build It Back work, bringing a considerable level of savings to New York City storm recovery efforts and also to new work awarded by the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery (GOSR) on Long Island.

Brooks, J.A. 2010About the Author: James Brooks is NLC’s Director for City Solutions. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement. Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.

The Sharing Economy and the Future of Cities – What’s Next?

This post was co-authored with Lauren Hirshon. Brooks Rainwater and Lauren Hirshon recently published the National League of Cities report “Cities, the Sharing Economy and What’s Next.”

Sharing Economy 5

The sharing economy is impacting cities. Around the world, innovative sharing economy technologies and business models are redefining how city dwellers access resources and consume goods. City leaders welcome innovation in their cities – but as regulatory challenges continue to arise, many would like a better understanding of how best to approach the growing sharing economy.

Sharing Economy cover minThe National League of Cities report Cities, the Sharing Economy and What’s Next provides an analysis of what is currently happening within the sharing economy in American cities. In order to explore the multifaceted nature of this space, the report focuses on five key themes: innovation, economic development, equity, safety and implementation.

The sharing economy is impacting the delivery of goods and services across a wide range of industries. Jeremiah Owyang’s Collaborative Economy Honeycomb demonstrates how this space has grown to include 12 distinct areas from space and transportation to logistics, learning and more.

Uber, Lyft, SideCar and other Transportation Network Companies (TNC’s) have dramatically disrupted travel patterns in cities. For many, hailing a cab or calling for a ride has been replaced with the act of opening a mobile application, requesting a ride, and tracking a little car graphic as it makes its way across a map to your location.

On the homesharing front, Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO and other companies are shaking up travel – specifically, the manner in which people make use of resources like apartments, homes, spare bedrooms or even castles.

Meanwhile, other platforms and concepts like TaskRabbit (a mobile marketplace to hire people to do jobs and tasks), SnapGoods (a site for lending and borrowing high-end household items), and Feastly (a marketplace for dining experiences) are taking off as well.

Why Sharing

Also described as collaborative consumption, the collaborative economy, or the peer-to-peer economy, the sharing economy is growing and changing the way people use and consume resources and services. But it is also disrupting local regulatory environments. With this major shift occurring in urban hubs, all eyes are on cities for global leadership.

True to their reputation as laboratories for experimentation, many cities are testing different approaches and developing unique, locally-driven solutions to new challenges. While there is no status quo – and the relative novelty of the issue still precludes long-term, tested best practices – city leaders are springing into action to consider how these platforms and services will impact major issues in cities.

Cities, the Sharing Economy and What’s Next deals most specifically with two facets of the sharing economy: transportation and space, or the areas generally referred to as ridesharing and homesharing. In our report we highlighted themes, insights and lessons learned that emerged from conversations with current and former city leaders from around the country who are developing new strategies and tactics to regulate this evolving sharing space.

While there are still many unanswered questions, we’re certainly working towards clarity on the important topics to consider in this research. Depending on community priorities, neighborhood compositions, available housing stock, tourism demands, existing transportation networks, major events and other issues, the cities we interviewed chose to take different approaches. Thus, a wide spectrum of solutions has emerged.

For example, when considering ridesharing safety issues, some cities like Dallas have opted to develop a new set of insurance requirements. The city of Dallas created a novel three-phase approach to ensure that TNCs had insurance coverage 24/7. Other cities have decided to revisit their policies for taxicab companies.

Sharing Economy 3

Regarding the manner in which these services impact equity and access, some cities have created funds to support wheel-chair accessible transportation. Others have included clauses in ordinances explicitly stating that services cannot be denied to certain passengers. Many are looking for ways to capture new data to track areas like pick-up and drop-off locations.

Sharing Economy 4

Across the interviews we conducted for our report, many city leaders expressed wanting access to more data from sharing economy companies. Unlike most traditional service providers, the business model of sharing economy companies is predicated on data and the ability to match end user customers to vehicles or available housing. The availability of this data – for cities to better understand equity and access issues, as well as for the purposes of developing enhanced transit systems – is a theme that warrants further exploration.

Cities are also taking a varied approach to addressing the new economic reality created by sharing economy businesses. In a number of cities such as Austin, Texas, Washington, D.C., Madison, Wisc., Portland, Ore., Chicago and San Francisco, homesharing companies have begun to include local hotel taxes in their rate structures – either voluntarily or as part of local regulations on homesharing.

Some cities have not yet reached agreement on these issues, and the onus is on hosts to pay appropriate taxes on their revenues. In Washington, D.C., the recent TNC legislation included a provision requiring TNCs to pay taxes equaling 1 percent of all revenues from trips originating from within the city; annual revenue totals are estimated to be in the millions. In Seattle, TNCs must pay a fee of 10 cents for each ride that originates in the city. Other cities, such as Dallas, decided not to touch the issue of revenue capture when drafting legislation.

Our report provides additional details on each of these issues, the strategies city officials are developing, and their reasoning behind their approach. While our report doesn’t provide all the answers, it is meant to be a primer for what is currently happening in this arena – and we hope it offers some sense of comfort that city leaders are not alone in grappling with substantial new regulatory challenges.

Sharing Economy 2

We also hope our findings inspire city officials to ask the tough questions. The sharing economy is disruptive, and it’s moving quickly. It’s changing how we get around, where we stay, how we manage tasks, what we buy – and sometimes the changes occurring can be overwhelming for city officials.

However, the presentation of these new challenges offers city leaders the unique opportunity to not only think about present concerns but also to look to the future. City leaders should consider the new opportunities these platforms and services are creating to transform approaches and operating models so that cities can become even more agile, responsive and innovative themselves.

The sharing economy will only continue to grow and evolve as cities serve as laboratories for these ever-changing technologies and business models. There is great promise in the rapid ascent of sharing economy services in our nation’s cities. The best thing that city policymakers can do is keep an open mind about how the new economy might be beneficial with the right regulatory framework in place – because sharing is here to stay.

About the Authors:

Brooks Rainwater bio photoBrooks Rainwater is the Director of the Center for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities. Follow Brooks on Twitter at @BrooksRainwater.

 

Lauren Hirshon 104x120

Lauren Hirshon is the Director of Consulting at the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute of Government, and a public sector strategist, coach and innovator. Follow Lauren on Twitter at @LaurenHirshon.

Cities Can Still Help Children and Families Get Health Insurance

“It doesn’t matter why people don’t have insurance; what matters is that we help them get it.”
-Valerie McDonald Roberts, City of Pittsburgh

<> on July 20, 2010 in New York, New York. (Getty Images)

Although the 2015 deadline to enroll in health insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s Healthcare Marketplace has passed, there are still ways for children and families to get covered. Depending on household size and income, children and families may qualify for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and enrollment for both programs is available 365 days a year.

Medicaid and CHIP provide free or low-cost benefits to eligible families, including:

  • Coverage for inpatient and outpatient hospital services
  • Screenings and preventative services
  • Prescription drugs
  • Immunizations
  • Mental health services

For the last two years, NLC has been working with local leaders to connect families to these important public health insurance programs through our Cities Expanding Health Access for Children and Families (CEHACF) initiative. Cities have a vested interest in expanding coverage for children and families. When families have health insurance, the burden on hospital emergency rooms is reduced, families avoid the sky-high medical debt that often results in a financial crisis and children are healthier, which means parents take less time off of work to care for sick kids.

The eight cities participating in CEHACF are implementing a variety of effective strategies to get eligible children and families in their communities enrolled in Medicaid or CHIP. These include working with community organizations to coordinate citywide outreach events, conducting targeted outreach, e.g., school-based outreach and training city staff to provide one-on-one enrollment assistance. These cities are working to improve access to coverage for their residents because they know that having health coverage improves the quality of life for families and provides a level of economic and emotional security that families not only need, but deserve.

As Valerie McDonald Roberts, Chief Urban Affairs Officer for Mayor Bill Peduto in Pittsburgh noted in her recent op-ed, “When you find yourself telling your children that they can’t break an arm or a finger not only because it will hurt or take a long time to heal, but also because you can’t afford to take them to the hospital, you feel vulnerable.” With Medicaid and CHIP, no family needs to feel vulnerable.

The bottom line, as McDonald Roberts aptly puts it, is that “when you visit the doctor, the people at the front desk don’t care who issued your insurance card. They just want to see that you have one.”

What is your city doing to promote Medicaid and CHIP enrollment? Let us know by contacting Dawn Schluckebier at schluckebier@nlc.org.

Dawn Schluckebeir_headshot
About the Author:
Dawn Schluckebier is a Senior Associate for Family Economic Success in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Dawn on Twitter at @TheSchluck.

Open Data Is Finally Making A Dent In Cities

This post originally appeared on Fast Company’s Co.Exist blog.

Chicago-StOpen data can help you find your lost dog, make your commute more efficient, and make government more transparent – if cities will let it. (Getty Images)

What is the best way to get from 12th Street to Main, and should I take the subway, a bike, or rideshare? How many lobbyists are there in my city and more importantly, what are they doing? And, by the way, where did my dog go?

All of these questions and more can now be answered in cities as a result of open data. Beyond just its functional use for an increasingly app-dependent society, data collection and analysis is powering and redefining how we think about ourselves and how we interact with others, in almost every part of life. From who we date, to who we share our commute with to work, a whole new world is being created through access to useful, usable information.

As with a range of leading issues, cities are at the vanguard of this shifting environment. Through increased measurement, analysis, and engagement, open data will further solidify the centrality of cities.

In Chicago, the voice of the mayor counts for a lot. And Mayor Emmanuel has been at the forefront in supporting and encouraging open data in the city, resulting in a strong open government community. The city has more than 600 datasets online, and has seen millions of page views on its data portal. The public benefits have accrued widely with civic initiatives like Chicagolobbyists.org, as well as with a myriad of other open data led endeavors.

Transparency is one of the great promises of open data. Petitioning the government is a fundamental tenet of democracy and many government relations’ professionals perform this task brilliantly. At the same time that transparency is good for the city, it’s good for citizens and democracy. Through the advent of Chicagolobbyists.org, anyone can now see how many lobbyists are in the city, how much they are spending, who they are talking to, and when it is happening.

Throughout the country, we are seeing data driven sites and apps like this that engage citizens, enhance services, and provide a rich understanding of government operations In Austin, a grassroots movement has formed with advocacy organization Open Austin. Through hackathons and other opportunities, citizens are getting involved, services are improving, and businesses are being built.

Data can even find your dog, reducing the number of stray animals being sheltered, with Stray Mapper. The site has a simple map-based web portal where you can type in whether you are missing a dog or cat, when you lost them, and where. That information is then plugged into the data being collected by the city on stray animals. This project, developed by a Code for America brigade team, helps the city improve its rate of returning pets to owners.

It’s not only animals that get lost or at least can’t find the best way home. I’ve found myself in that situation too. Thanks to Ridescout, incubated in Washington, D.C., at 1776, I have been able to easily find the best way home. Through the use of open data available from both cities and the Department of Transportation, Ridescout created an app that is an intuitive mobility tool. By showing me all of the available options from transit to ridesharing to my own two feet, it frequently helps me get from place to place in the city. It looks like it wasn’t just me that found this app to be handy; Daimler recently acquired Ridescout as the auto giant continues its own expansion into the data driven mobility space.

We are a data driven society, from the private sector where consumer data drives the bottom line to the public sector where more and more outputs are being quantified and analyzed. New businesses are being created and existing firms are growing as companies use open data to build products that improve the lives of people living in and visiting cities. In whatever city you are in, data is a tool to make lives easier, create more robust two-way communications between the governing and governed, and increase and improve commerce.

In the National League of Cities’ newly released report, City Open Data Policies: Learning by Doing, we sought to find out what cities are currently doing with open data and what they could be doing far into the future. Working together with our partners at American University’s Department of Public Administration and Policy, this publication is a resource for cities developing open data policies.

By opening data, cities are developing an unprecedented portal into the operations and functioning of government for the use of and to the benefit of community members, the private sector, and open government advocates. Enhanced data analysis and increased open data availability also allows us to envision a future where city services are radically transformed, leading toward a seamlessness of operations from city government to resident delivery. This forward momentum further reinforces that data has become the infrastructural backbone in the century of the city.

Brooks Rainwater bio photoAbout the author:Brooks Rainwater is the Director of the Center for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities. Follow Brooks on Twitter at @BrooksRainwater.

Top 3 Ways to Foster Civic Innovation

This is a guest post by Gayatri Mohan of PublicStuff.

Innovation is all around us, and it’s more than just a buzzword. Cities of all sizes are tapping into multiple channels and local resources; they’re creating effective strategies for innovation in governance.

In a recent article by Jonathan Reichental, CIO of Palo Alto, he explains the importance and potential of civic innovation and urges city leaders to prioritize innovation at all levels of government. “Civic innovation” sounds broad and daunting, but there are three steps governments can take to successfully make it a central part of their strategy.

Build Out the Right Channels to Listen

Virgina Veteran Homelessness Infographic

Click on this infographic to view it in a larger format.

Government agencies can establish systems to better listen to their constituents. With an abundance of online civic engagement platforms, forums and mobile apps, this is now easier than ever. The City of Philadelphia uses its Philly311 mobile app, website and call center to better serve and connect with its diverse population of 1.5 million. Citizens have reported issues related to graffiti, residential maintenance, trash, potholes, vacant lots and vacant homes. Gathering this data and understanding the community’s most acute problems helps the city prepare in advance and allocate resources accordingly.

“It’s so exciting to find yet another channel to provide our residents with a more open and accessible government,” said Rosetta Carrington Lue, Customer Service Officer and Philly311 Director.

The City of Tallahassee, Fla. uses a similar mobile-first platform, DigiTally, to enable citizen participation in improving their community. By empowering citizens to be the eyes and ears of their neighborhoods, the community has seen tangible results, from everyday issues being resolved quickly to citizens requesting new bus stops and traffic signs.

But listening is only the first step. How can government leaders further engage the people they serve and truly include them in the business of governance? How does government-citizen interaction become a seamless dialogue around community concerns, ideas and tangible solutions?

Respond Directly to Public Demand

Philadelphia continues to build additional tools into its existing platform to keep it current and relevant for citizens. The Election Day tool, developed by Chief Data Officer Tim Wisnewski, was purely driven by public demand for more information on polling locations, candidates, ballot questions, voter ID rules, and polling hours. Various agencies within the City, like the Office of City Commissioner, GIS Services Group in the Office of Innovation and Technology, and the Philly311 team, came together to build and release the widget in time for elections.

Get Your Community On Board

City of Tallahassee's first interactive press conference
City officials and press gather at the city of Tallahassee’s first interactive press conference. (photo credit: City of Tallahassee)

Building channels to listen and respond to citizen demands is key, but leaders have to make sure their systems are adopted by city staff as well as citizens. In a recent survey, we found that a lack of staff and community adoption were significant roadblocks to adopting new tools in local government. Cities trying to implement new technology programs in their communities have a lot to learn from the city of Tallahassee, Fla.

The city has seen nearly 8,000 app downloads, more than 400 staff users and almost 6,000 completed service requests since DigiTally’s launch. To promote awareness and adoption upon launch, the city hosted public events like its first interactive press conference outside City Hall to conduct mock request submissions. The city also hosted lunch and learn sessions at the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce, and made an announcement through their local television talk show to educate local businesses, citizens and civic organizations.

In his article, Jonathan Reichental points out correctly that “communities are demanding more efficient governments… [and] have high expectations for the way cities function.” Nurturing a culture of innovation, and strengthening communication and citizen relations are key steps towards meeting those expectations.

Gayatri Mohan bio photo 175x175About the Author: Gayatri Mohan is Marketing Team Lead at PublicStuff, a civic software company based in New York. She can be reached at gayatri@publicstuff.com.