What does it take to get teams of innovation-minded and data-savvy individuals to jump into the most irretractable and messiest problems faced by today’s cities and quickly formulate new types of solutions? Can they get calcified and broke city governments to look at old problems new ways?
That’s what Bloomberg Philanthropies is finding out, as part of its five-city, $24 million Innovation Delivery Team initiative in which dedicated individuals will attempt to unravel decades’ worth of calcified processes and creaky infrastructure. “These are paid people who will work full-time for their cities trying to do new things,” says Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City and creator of the project.
The teams’ mission is to help chief executives pinpoint, reimagine and address tough problems. They are promoting new ways of looking at economic development, increasing export jobs, customer service, public safety and quality of life.
“The program is one of the largest foundation-backed efforts ever to test a structural approach to increasing innovation capacity in government,” Neil Kleiman, special advisor to the dean of New York University’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, writes in Governing. “It is about innovation that looks well beyond the goal of generating a raft of bright new ideas or implementing transformative new technologies.”
The teams are configured to operate as standalone units within mayors’ offices, Kleiman reports, and are staffed with project managers, data analysts and creative problem-solvers — rather than with experts in specific subject areas — whose skills can be applied to any problem or issue. And, importantly, they will stick around to make sure the new ideas are implemented, unlike traditional task forces or blue-ribbon panels which disband after their recommendations are published.
Beginning last July, Atlanta, Chicago, Louisville, Memphis and New Orleans each received grants to recruit staff for respective innovation delivery teams. In Kleiman’s words, “these teams can move. The dedicated capacity — bolstered by the mayoral mandate — is enabling the teams to get through big, messy issues quickly.”
Already, Kleiman reports, the teams are providing “deep and robust” analysis of problems, “allowing them to ground their initiatives solidly in data.”