diffusion of innovations

#citiesshare Session 2: Sharing solutions

Why are good solutions not spreading more quickly across cities? Scott Cain, Executive Director at Future Cities Catapult, and Sascha Haselmayer, Citymart CEO, challenged city officials during a peer learning session to ask themselves how good solutions could scale faster.  City officials were asked if they had bought or “copied” a solution from another city, instead of reinventing their own. One of the ideas stressed during the session, was the importance of embracing failure and learning from mistakes.

What did city officials take away from this creative session?

Sharing and borrowing ideas (or shameless “stealing”)

  • Take something that works 90% and improve it rather than trying to (re)invent something from scratch that is 100% right.
  • Collaborate: find partner cities and work together.
  • Political transitions can be complicated, but sharing can be enabled by political change (post-mayoral legacy), not for political gain.
  • Being a first-mover city means making more mistakes, and there is often political risk involved.
  • Define a process to collect bottom-up data.  
  • Solutions are not always transferable. It is important to adapt and align, taking the key elements, and analyzing the ability to implement it (considering organizational challenges, resources, economic environment, and citizens).
  • Seek innovation through start-ups, create capabilities and provide training to align departments. 

Embrace failure

  • Cities never talk about bad ideas or experiences, however, this information should be shared. Learning from what did not work minimizes risk. City officials should get together to discuss.
  • Open and honest sharing of failure (“permission to fail”) should not only be acceptable, but part of the scaling process. As an example, in Philadelphia, one out of three projects is expected to fail. It is important to agree on an acceptable amount of risk and failure.
If we do not fail we are not trying enough

Buying ideas and spending on scaling

  • Beware of provider “lock-in”. Cities are supersaturated with vendors all claiming to have the “best” solution, and it might become too overwhelming to choose one solution and be sure it is right.
  • In a snap survey in which cities were asked what percentage of annual budget they should spend on sharing solutions, all agreed that at least part of their annual budget should be allocated to this purpose (answers varied from 10 to 60%).

Creating a common framework for evaluation

  • Cities need a more coherent framework that focuses on their needs, starting with problem definition and service delivery.
  • Think fast-follower: see solutions and learn why they worked; let others make the mistakes and learn from them.
  • Evidence and KPIs: identify and engage what can deliver and measure priorities. Proven ideas bring more efficiency.
  • Consider the viewpoints of citizens on how to create trust and validate ideas.  Their opinion should be represented and they should be involved in identifying challenges through open innovation platforms.
  • It is important to break silos. You could either nominate and train a high-level team of “barrier-busters” as a “coalition of the willing” that can break down the silos between different departments through collaboration, or invite anyone that wants to join to a crosscutting innovation forum.
  • Change attitudes from “Nice idea, but it wouldn’t work here because…” to “Nice idea! Here’s how it could work here…”

What else can be done to share high-impact solutions among cities? Share your insights below. 

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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. 

Next post will cover how to overcome public procurement barriers.

Why are US Cities Slow to Adopt Innovation?

As noted in our last post, American cities are lagging behind others (like Eindhoven, Stockholm, and Barcelona) in the adoption of innovative service technologies.  Funding is one large barrier, and perhaps the most important.  However, other barriers exist that, if addressed, could increase the feasibility of funding for what are often thought of as risky investments. Evaluation and Evidence

It’s a bit of a chicken and egg problem.  Really cutting edge technologies will have no evidence to back themselves up when they are first launched.  Early adopters cannot be risk averse, must trust their intuition, or both.  This is challenging for city governments.

Additionally, even when evidence is available, for early technologies the evidence often comes from foreign countries or different cultural contexts.  Cities need to be able to apply what has worked elsewhere to the local context in a convincing way.  In order to mitigate this barrier for other potential adopters, and for a city’s own financial health, an evaluation program needs to be incorporated into the technology adoption process to prove or disprove the innovation’s smart and sustainable claims.

Lastly, without evidence, it is difficult to prove a relative advantage of the technology – will it improve the status quo?  This is a complex question; the technology may be good for some and bad for others raising equity concerns, which, if realized, are bad for society, and even if not, are difficult doubts to overcome at the outset of an innovative proposal.

Physical and Environmental Variables

Our existing physical environment can produce barriers to innovation adoption as well.   This article from Slate highlights the challenge of adopting service-providing robots in the complex, random dynamic urban environments of modern cities.

Dero Bike Rack Company produced the ZAP!, a solar-powered device that counts passing bicycles as part of an employer-based bicycle riding encouragement program.  While their device shows a lot of promise for decreasing vehicle miles traveled on a localized level, the city of Minneapolis has faced challenges in implementing it.  While the city desires to invest in the technology city-wide, they have found a challenge in the divided nature of our urban space – private property owners don’t want to install the device on their building unless it will have a direct benefit for their tenants.  Again, this is difficult to prove for a new technology.

Communication Channels

Communication channels are the bloodstream of innovation diffusion.  The current governmental budget crunch has led to less money for travel, less conference attendance, and less spreading of ideas.  This highlights the importance of the internet as a means of information spreading (e.g. webinars, forums, blogs, even interest-based listservs).

Citizens themselves are becoming more comfortable with mobile and web technologies.  This level of comfort needs to be communicated to decision makers and leveraged as evidence of the potential success of new communications technologies and social media.

Persuasive Local Champions

If communication channels are the bloodstream, then local champions are the heart of innovation diffusion.  Someone needs to identify the barriers and develop strategies to break them down.  This person needs to be tireless and to empower others to advocate as well.

Going back the case of Dero Bike Racks, because the company is located in Minneapolis, it has seen all ZAP adoption within that city.   There is a sense of trust due to this proximity, which has created a local champion within the government.  This case highlights the opportunity for technology companies to partner with the cities in which they are located to pilot, test, and evaluate their innovations.

The Summit in November will undoubtedly address many of these challenges.  If these barriers can be mitigated, innovative service technologies will be viewed as less risky, less costly, and more advantageous, increasing the ability for cities for find funding for cost-saving investments.

-          Terra Curtis

 

Why are US Cities Slow to Adopt Innovation?

As noted in our last post, American cities are lagging behind others (like Eindhoven, Stockholm, and Barcelona) in the adoption of innovative service technologies.  Funding is one large barrier, and perhaps the most important.  However, other barriers exist that, if addressed, could increase the feasibility of funding for what are often thought of as risky investments. Evaluation and Evidence

It’s a bit of a chicken and egg problem.  Really cutting edge technologies will have no evidence to back themselves up when they are first launched.  Early adopters cannot be risk averse, must trust their intuition, or both.  This is challenging for city governments.

Additionally, even when evidence is available, for early technologies the evidence often comes from foreign countries or different cultural contexts.  Cities need to be able to apply what has worked elsewhere to the local context in a convincing way.  In order to mitigate this barrier for other potential adopters, and for a city’s own financial health, an evaluation program needs to be incorporated into the technology adoption process to prove or disprove the innovation’s smart and sustainable claims.

Lastly, without evidence, it is difficult to prove a relative advantage of the technology – will it improve the status quo?  This is a complex question; the technology may be good for some and bad for others raising equity concerns, which, if realized, are bad for society, and even if not, are difficult doubts to overcome at the outset of an innovative proposal.

Physical and Environmental Variables

Our existing physical environment can produce barriers to innovation adoption as well.   This article from Slate highlights the challenge of adopting service-providing robots in the complex, random dynamic urban environments of modern cities.

Dero Bike Rack Company produced the ZAP!, a solar-powered device that counts passing bicycles as part of an employer-based bicycle riding encouragement program.  While their device shows a lot of promise for decreasing vehicle miles traveled on a localized level, the city of Minneapolis has faced challenges in implementing it.  While the city desires to invest in the technology city-wide, they have found a challenge in the divided nature of our urban space – private property owners don’t want to install the device on their building unless it will have a direct benefit for their tenants.  Again, this is difficult to prove for a new technology.

Communication Channels

Communication channels are the bloodstream of innovation diffusion.  The current governmental budget crunch has led to less money for travel, less conference attendance, and less spreading of ideas.  This highlights the importance of the internet as a means of information spreading (e.g. webinars, forums, blogs, even interest-based listservs).

Citizens themselves are becoming more comfortable with mobile and web technologies.  This level of comfort needs to be communicated to decision makers and leveraged as evidence of the potential success of new communications technologies and social media.

Persuasive Local Champions

If communication channels are the bloodstream, then local champions are the heart of innovation diffusion.  Someone needs to identify the barriers and develop strategies to break them down.  This person needs to be tireless and to empower others to advocate as well.

Going back the case of Dero Bike Racks, because the company is located in Minneapolis, it has seen all ZAP adoption within that city.   There is a sense of trust due to this proximity, which has created a local champion within the government.  This case highlights the opportunity for technology companies to partner with the cities in which they are located to pilot, test, and evaluate their innovations.

The Summit in November will undoubtedly address many of these challenges.  If these barriers can be mitigated, innovative service technologies will be viewed as less risky, less costly, and more advantageous, increasing the ability for cities for find funding for cost-saving investments.

-          Terra Curtis