How cities can incubate innovation

How cities can incubate innovation

Cities are using existing technology initiatives to make data more accessible, according to a recent IBM study.

The report, “Using Innovation and Technology to Improve City Services,” by the IBM Center for The Business of Government, examined how cities are using innovative policies, governance structures and technologies to improve city services.

The author, Sherri Greenberg, examined 12 U.S. cities with reputations for using innovation and technology to improve the services they provide to their residents. She cited a variety of success factors, including a city’s policies and platforms, third-party partnerships and the framework for a successful funding initiative.

Among the technology trends Greenberg found driving innovation in local government were:

  • Adopting digital and mobile technologies
  • Using internal and external technology development methods
  • Using technology to increase public engagement
  • Expectations by residents for mobility, transparency, accountability, collaboration and civic engagement via technology.

Greenberg found that cities are creating and using open data projects to publish their existing data in more accessible, exportable online formats. Often, the published data includes geographic variables, chemical and environmental data, building construction information, health and economic indicators and information from the private and nonprofit sectors.

“Cities frequently provide data about city departments and functions to promote transparency and accountability,” said Greenberg. “Providing open data requires that the data be clean and accurate and be accompanied by data dictionaries. Visualization tools and application programming interfaces (APIs) help people understand and use the data to their greatest potential.”

Further, private companies and nonprofit organizations are linking their data to city data to provide a better understanding of the city and to develop applications for public use and private profit.

Another city government trend is using hackathons involving participants from multiple sectors to mine data and develop code or technology to promote public engagement and improve city services.

“To conduct a hackathon, a city must provide accessible, exportable open data and many cities develop special open data sets for these events,” she said. “The most successful city hackathons jumpstart a project, provide focused work for an ongoing project, or ‘kick the tires’ on an idea to see if it has traction.

Based on the report’s findings, Greenberg recommended that cities enhance their innovation capabilities by looking for targets of opportunity, building capacity, seeking internal and external champions, developing a compelling business case, formalizing new practices with concrete laws and strategies and fostering a culture of creativity and collaboration.

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.

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