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.
- 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.
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.
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.