How innovation and technology are improving city services


Salt Lake City, pictured here, is one of 12 cities studied by Sherri R. Greenberg in a recent IBM report on the role of technology and innovation in improving city services (Wikipedia).

“Increasingly, cities are the public sector service delivery engines in the United States,” writes Sherri R. Greenberg, author of a recent IBM Center for the Business of Government report that looks at the roles of innovation and technology in improving city services. With federal dysfunction and strained state budgets, residents are increasingly looking to mayors, council members, city managers, and other city administrators to provide new and better services, contends Greenberg, who is also Clinical Professor in Public Policy Practice at the University of Texas at Austin.

Looking at twelve cities that are recognized as leaders in innovation and technology — Austin, Texas; Boston, Chicago; Kansas City, Missouri; Louisville, Kentucky; New York City; Philadelphia; Riverside, California; Salt Lake City; San Francisco; Seattle; and Washington, D.C. — Greenberg outlines six findings that highlight practices and trends in cities that effectively leverage innovation and technology to better serve residents. Several of these findings call attention to the importance of partnerships across silos and agencies and — more directly to our interest at The Intersector Project — across business and non-profit sectors.

Finding One: Cities need new governing structures for innovation.
Coordinating efforts around innovation and technology in city government can effectively arise in both mayor-council forms of government (typically found in cities with populations of greater than 250,000) and city manager-council forms of government (more often found in growing cities and cities in the Midwest and Southwest). A key distinction of a governing structure that encourages innovation is a person or department with a clear “role, responsibilities, and authority” to lead and facilitation innovation and technology.

Finding Two: Cities need new funding and partnering arrangements.
Cities that have more stable funding streams for innovation and technology efforts tend to have less sporadic innovation, Greenberg finds. While many cities fund innovation on a department-by-department basis or through a central innovation office, cities are increasingly looking to partners outside of government. Greenberg discusses the foundation partners, non-profit partners, university partners, and business partners that these cities are increasingly working with to expand capacity, expertise, and access to resources to improve services.

Finding Three: Cities are leveraging existing technology initiatives to make data more accessible.
A trend we follow with great interest, cities are increasingly using hackathons, challenges among the civic tech community, and open data initiatives to “open up” the inner workings of government to residents.

Finding Four: Cities are increasing public engagement.
Cities are increasing public engagement through crowdsourcing and crowdfunding. Crowdsourcing allows cities to leverage the “services, expertise, or funding” of others; to collect information, ideas, and solutions; and to gather input and feedback.

Finding Five: Cities are making performance data accessible.
Cities are using data tracking and management tools to evaluate efficiency and effectiveness and increase accountability. “Complimenting the software is a city philosophy that management and policy making can be data driven,” Greenberg says.

Finding Six: Cities are enhancing services to residents.
Focusing on sustainability, transportation, permitting processes, and land use and zoning processes, Greenberg discusses the ways in which civic tech makes information more readily available to constituents, enhancing services in these areas.

Greenberg’s report also includes brief case studies of innovation. These studies contain useful takeaways on best practices, governance structures, initiatives, and partnerships that contributed to success in each city. Together, they provide a compelling case for the importance of partnerships and innovation in improving city services throughout the United States.