#citiesshare Session 4: Delivering innovation in cities

Cities aim to foster innovation, and yet, organising internal processes to actually deliver does not seem straightforward. During a peer learning session, James Anderson, Head of Government Innovation Programs at Bloomberg Philanthropies, and Philip Colligan, Deputy Chief Executive of Nesta, challenged global cities' representatives on what assets could be mobilised to make innovation a tangible reality. 

As an introduction to the session, Philip Colligan presented recent research that has identified four types oiTeams (innovation teams, units or funds) that make innovation happen in local and national governments around the world:

  1. Developers – creating new solutions to specific problems/policy priorities (from idea generation to delivery).
  2. Enablers – engaging citizens, NGOs and businesses to find new ideas (e.g. using challenges to make government an innovation platform to generate and run ideas, engaging SMEs, reaching to business /non-profits via challenges, etc.).
  3. Educators – looking at and changing culture of governance from a broader and deeper perspective, transforming processes, skills and culture of government  (up-skilling civil servants, training, consultancy).
  4. Architects – situated outside government but paid by government, thinking on macro-level, wider policy and system change.

City officials were asked which of those approaches resonated the most with cities, and whether there was a fifth type of team for innovators that could help them adopt or design in-house capacity.

What did city officials take away from this session?

  • Enthusiasm for innovation has moved beyond our capacity to measure it. Too many people are busy re-inventing things; yet we must get better at accounting for investment into innovation. E.g., hold competitions not based on app quality but on impact.
  •  Innovation teams that survive administrative shifts are the ones who measure and demonstrate impact data, while those that survived and didn’t measure, were good at describing their minimum value proposition. 
  • Get the Mayor or CEO of the city to champion the team. The Chief Executive’s role seems central to create an enabling environment, provide political support and foster a positive innovation climate. 
  • Leadership drives behaviour and is key in all levels to make innovation possible –it can be an enabler or a barrier.
  • Innovation teams do not need to be a permanent fixture. They can –and sometimes should– have a short-term mission.
  • The role of cities is to provide assets for innovation, and the number one asset is open data. However, data should be collected and stored in useful ways, such as for economic development.
  • Cities need to bridge the gap between public and private sector to benefit from the skills and expertise of industry. This can be accomplished by building partnerships between cities and other institutions to access knowledge. E.g. enablers are open to ideas outside government, such as teaming up with universities, like in Newcastle and Krakow.
  • City leaders are interested in better ways of connecting with peers in other cities, finding out what they are doing and how they are adapting and managing change. E.g. moving from pilot to scale.
  • Examples presented by city officials included: the Mayor of London Low Carbon prize; Dublin’s adoption of “Code for America”; the introduction of GIS in San Luis Potosi (Mexico) fighting management resistance; the design lab to educate civil servants in Sweden; Moscow’s Center for Innovation Development to close the gap between government and entrepreneurs; open innovation and engagement in York. 

What else should local governments do to deliver innovation? Share your insights below. 


From 23-25 June 2014, Mayor of London Boris Johnson hosted Cities Summit | Solutions Worth Sharing together with Citymart and supported by Citi. The Summit brought together city governments, businesses and entrepreneurs with bright ideas to help improve citizens' quality of  life. The Summit kicked off with a Peer Learning Session for cities, creating a dynamic dialogue among city officials around four key themes on how to make innovation a tangible reality. Participating cities included London, Barcelona, Dublin, Fukuoka, Heerlen, Kristiansand, Krakow, Lobito, Louisville, Madrid, Malmö, Moscow, Newcastle, Philadelphia, San Luis Potosí, Sant Cugat, Seville, Sheffield, Tampere, Tartu, Valencia, and York. 

Check out the entire #citiesshare series in our blog for the contents of the other sessions.