i-Team New Orleans: Public innovation from within

blogimage_NewOrleansiteamEffective cross-sector collaborations require partners to find common ground across their varying sector-based cultures and values to develop the common understanding and shared vision necessary to collectively tackle persistent social issues. The public sector is often viewed as the least nimble in cross-sector arrangements, occasionally stereotyped as the staggering bureaucracy that stumbles on its own red tape. Local governments, however, are increasingly bucking this categorization, becoming remarkable hotbeds of social innovation.

Innovation teams, or i-teams, are groups of individuals from multiple  sectors who have been tasked with finding innovative solutions to persistent social issues in cities and states all over the world. These teams combine data and design into a rigorous model that provides a structured and deliberate approach to innovation. New Orleans received one of the five inaugural grants offered by Bloomberg Philanthropies in 2011 to develop an i-team housed within City Hall. Mayor Mitch Landrieu assembled a team of eight staff members that included data analysts, project managers, and policy analysts with experience in private sector consulting and government sector to work exclusively on two-to-three priority areas at a time. The decision to limit the priority areas was a deliberate tactic to maintain focus on producing results in an accelerated time frame.

By the end of 2012, New Orleans was on a five-year streak as the city with the highest murder rate in the United States. The Mayor’s Office’s highest priority was to reduce the city’s murder rate, and it called upon the i-team to take up this issue. The team used a four-step model to generate and implement innovative solutions to end this deadly streak: Investigate the problem, generate new ideas, prepare to deliver, and deliver and adapt. The team analyzed existing data, interviewed key stakeholders, conducted focus groups with residents and reviewed best practices research. They studied successful violence prevention strategies from other jurisdictions and selected eight local initiatives with the highest potential for success. They worked with the local police department to thoroughly analyze the specific circumstances of each murder that occurred between 2009 and 2012. The i-team continuously monitored progress of the initiatives and reported a 19 percent drop in murder rates at the end of 2013. New Orleans became one of only five comparable cities to experience a decline in its murder rate from 2012 to 2013.

This is only one of many examples of the potential impacts that cross-sector teams of innovators can have working within city and state governments. Government leaders should continue to garner support for and champion the creation of spaces to incubate solutions to issues that plague their cities. Localized teams can be particularly effective because of their access to and knowledge of institutions and stakeholders that may be unknown to outside reformers.