An innovative approach to joined up problem solving

SUMMARY
SCY have been working with The City of York Council (CYC) to develop the city's innovation strategy to tackle present and future challenges at both strategic and operational levels. As part of this strategy, (which includes developing a flatter management structure focusing more on competencies and less on traditional job roles), the City of York has opened up the process of solving the bigger medium to long term challenges through conversations with businesses and the community. This is using an ‘Open Innovation’ process, including an online platform for placing questions/challenges and for posting solutions. The most promising solutions posted, are further developed with the aid of a new ‘disruptive innovation team’ within the council, to create a tangible ‘pilot implementation plan’. The innovation team help to navigate around potential barriers and using their experience and contacts within the system and aid the idea providers to develop alternate ways of addressing the big challenges.
We would love to share our approach with Cape Town, who sound like they would like to develop a similar relationship with their business community and who have experienced similar challenges to us.

PROBLEM
The challenge we faced in York was less public sector money, lots of silo-ed working within the city, and poor relationships with the business community and the council. Also a big issue was different time scales between public and private sector working, and level of paperwork and process required to push new ideas through. Our solution addresses all of these issues.

SCY have been working with The City of York (CYC) and the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts (NESTA) to develop these relationships, through their own business networks and with the residents of the city. It was identified that through working with the 'knowledge-rich SME's' in York and also through understanding the issues affecting the residents through conversations with them, much better solutions could be implemented to benefit all. 

Through co-developing solutions to some of the biggest medium - long term challenges with the business community and residents, we can strengthen future relationships with these groups to provide an innovation ecosystem of support for the city.

This was where the idea for an Open Innovation Platform and follow up workshops was developed. The platform is the conversation space to bounce ideas around and discuss possible solutions, and the workshops to further develop and refine the best ideas to fit the resource available and to implement pilot schemes to test the ideas.

SOLUTION
York's pilot process focused on 4 initial challenges, to demonstrate the platform and follow up workshops to test the robustness of this problem solving process. These questions were themselves developed through an open innovation process with consultation between other organisations and departments and were:

1. Hidden Gems – What ways can underutilised York assets i.e. equipment, property, buildings, and land, be exploited to benefit businesses, the community and City of York Council?
2. How can footfall and transport be used innovatively to generate income and improve environmental sustainability in the city?
3. How can we intelligently use non-intrusive tools and methods to aid older and vulnerable people in their homes? E.g. smart assisted living, buddy systems, safety improvements, tools and ideas to reduce isolation.
4. How can City of York Council (CYC) procure work from small businesses easily, with less barriers and what ways can residents and businesses be proactive in approaching the council with beneficial ideas and products?

CYC have already been approached by other departments to post additional questions on the platform, and to use this new approach to problem solving. Initial feedback has been very enthusiastic. CYC are embedding this method for solving challenges into the culture of the organisation.

The methods we use could easily be transferred to Cape Town and relevant challenges could be posted using similar technology and processes

IMPACT ON ECONOMY
As York developed the process through seed funding from NESTA, the costs so far have been low to set up the platform and develop the workshops. The intelligence learned by York can easily be shared with Cape Town. 

Through the process of peer review through both the online platform and follow on workshops, as well as the support offered by the innovation team to shape the ideas into implementable projects, new innovations can be de-risked and economic impact can be realistically gauged. At the workshop stage the evidence base and business case can be developed in advance of the pilot for each challenge. If the solution is not deemed economically feasible then it will not go beyond this phase.

Each individual challenge is different in nature, but through the process of refining the ideas and developing the evidence base and business case for each during the workshops, a clear 'benefit margin' can be explored and can be presented to the council's senior team. Where economic benifit and social/environmental benefit is demonstrated, the project can be funded to plot stage to 'test it out'.

The challenges have proved economically beneficial through smarter solutions requiring less resource from the city funds, and revenue generated from the new models. Also the level of social enterprise involvement means that any money made goes straight back into the community.

IMPACT ON CULTURE
This is where the biggest impact can be found. The community is at the heart of the project and through working on the challenges posted, real relationships can be developed with the motivated individuals and businesses looking to make a difference in the city. Challenges are well understood at grass roots level and solutions fit closely with the problems when they are suggested by the people who live with those problems.

Bringing in hi-tech innovative companies into the mix also links new technological solutions to the challenges, educating the city to new possibilities and trying out new techniques before many other cities.

The 'idea providers' win in this project as their ideas are supported, resourced and very quickly implemented with them closely involved in the process. We have specifically focused on making sure ideas are responded to quickly, and that business and community see their ideas come to fruition quickly and effectively.

Everyone benefits, the community through better solutions to their problems, the councl through 200,000 brains helping them to develop solutions which fit the problems the best, the local businesses who can develop solutions for their own city, and can be rewarded for their efforts through resource and exposur

IMPACT ON ECOLOGY
Consideration for environmental impact is inherent in the whole project, which emphasises 'smarter' solutions rather than just cost effective ones. 

One of the challenges on the platform tackles environmental sustainability head-on. i.e. How can footfall and transport be used innovatively to generate income and improve environmental sustainability in the city? 

One proposed solution to this challenge involves fitting paving stones in the city centre which generate electricity as they are walked on. This can dramatically reduce the city's carbon footprint. 

When selecting the best ideas from the platform, one of the criteria to get to the second stage is to demonstrate a solution which considers its environmental impact. Through embedding the open innovation process in the city we also hope to receive many more environmentally sound solutions as we progress.