Supporting city and local government innovation

City and local government authorities can be more innovative in the way they work, share data and stimulate local innovation.

Characteristics of innovative local governments

While there is no single pathway to success, there are characteristics that high-performing city and local governments share:

First, innovative city and local government authorities make sure that very different areas of policy work in concert: Good policy in one area can be undermined by bad policy in another. As a result, they tend to have teams, individuals or strategies in place who champion innovation across departmental siloes.

Second, they are open by default: They recognise that the kind of knowledge and ideas needed to drive change are unlikely to reside entirely within the administration’s office. As a result, they habitually find ways to work with the local community, businesses, civic groups and citizens in solving urban problems.

Third, they employ styles of working that are more closely associated with start-ups than with bureaucratic government: They are happy to try things out and are not afraid to fail. They are increasingly delivering agile projects, prototyping, deploying user-led design and developing digital services. As a result, they can move quickly as the world changes around them.

Frugal government innovations

Most government innovations don’t need to rely on big budgets or advanced technology. There are many low-cost actionsgovernments can take to innovate.

Frugal innovation––the ability to ‘do more with less’–involves a process of developing cheap and high-quality products or services that not only create business and social value but are competitive and minimise the use of resources such as energy, capital and time.

National government can create healthy competition and cooperation among sub-national governments to support fugal innovation.

Some of the best examplesof new, creative approaches to digital and data innovation at a local government level have emerged out of small teams that do not have large budgets but have been given the time and space to discover and experiment with iterative and incremental methods on small-scale projects.

In the UK, NESTA has produced a handbookwith 20 evidence-based tools, designed to “bring bold ideas to life” changing lives from within government.

NESTA have also prepare guidanceon how governments can use prototyping to support innovations in service development that encourages low-cost, low-risk experimentation. This includes strong leadership to make the case for prototyping, ensuring there are the correct skills and roles on the project team, and ensuring the organisational culture embraces prototyping. Ensuring staff feel empowered to ‘just try it out’.

Innovation through procurement

Government procurement can also be used to drive local innovation. City and local governments are increasingly recognising the value of acting as customers of innovation. By opening up procurement mechanismsthey can benefit from the efforts of new, innovative firms. By improving access to younger, smaller businesses, authorities can access a wider range of new ideas and technology than traditional market procurement has allowed for.

Digitisation and open source communities

A lot of attention has been given to the concept of a smart city. This describes cities that use of a wide range of electronic and digital technologies and deploy information and communications technologies to transform life and working environments.

Local authorities can nurture the development of these digital systems. They can lead by example, supporting the growth of broadband digital infrastructure, wireless networks, e-gov and m-gov services and Internet of things sensor networks.

However, there are many more modest, yet still innovative approaches to digitisation and data use that city and local governments can apply.

City and local authorities can make betteruse of open source data platforms. This allows developers take advantage of resources that already exist. By fostering collaboration and reliability, open source communities and platforms can help local councils answer some of the biggest challenges they currently face: finding relevant tech skills, accelerating speed to market and delivering innovation with limited budgets, while integrating new services and capabilities through community-based approaches.

Creating an innovative culture in local government

Drawing on studies of innovation in Australian local governments, John Martin describeshow important it is to develop an innovative culture in local government. This is based on three important factors:

First, each council was clearly focussed on assisting their community address difficult issues relating to significant local economic restructuring.

Second, innovative local councils are constantly looking to learn new ways of doing things.

Third, innovative local councils maintained flexible organisations allowing ideas and people to move between functional areas of council to get the job done.

Unique to local contexts

While there are common trends, innovative processes are unique to each city or local government.

Boiled down, local innovation is about finding new and better ways of doing things. It is about trying out new ideas and approaches and working in collaboration with others.

This involves new skills, an innovative organisational culture, good leadership, and a willingness to mobilise existing resources in new ways.

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