15 Lessons From IBM On How To Transform A City

IBM as a company has years of experience helping cities around the world improve how they deliver services. A white paper published by IBM titled “How to Transform a City: Lessons from the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge”, provides 15 lessons for leaders looking to transform how their cities operate:

1. Be Bold- Even Audacious– Set the bar high and really challenge yourselves otherwise the progress you make will be marginal at best.

2. Think Differently – Be willing to try new ways of doing things.

3. Pick A Target That Is A Shared Priority – To get something difficult done, it will have to be at or near the top of the priority lists of all of the participants. Everybody involved has to pull together or the group will be pulled apart.

4. Address Challenges Holistically – There’s rarely a silver bullet that solves a complex problem. It’s important to view a particular issue in its totality, and come up with a coordinated set of solutions.

5. Create the Right Balance of Ambition and Focus – There’s an art to choosing a goal that is both ambitious and manageable. Cities are complex systems of systems and must be viewed in their totality, but leaders have to pick a place to begin.

6. Break Down Bureaucratic Barriers – City departments and regional government agencies often operate in near isolation from one another, but that’s a major barrier to getting things done. Mayors must find ways to compel or convince agency heads to collaborate and share data.

7. Partner with Businesses and Non-profits – It’s important for city governments to engage with other actors in society, including universities and other non-profits, business organizations and individual businesses. Also, the earlier you get all the stakeholders involved, the better.

8. Encourage Citizen Involvement – Citizens can provide valuable insights into the most effective ways to improve the quality of life in their city. In this social networking era, it’s even more crucial to engage with citizens, and, thanks to all of the new technology tools that are available, it’s easier to do so.

9. Understand the Value of Data – Evidence-based decision making really works. You can do things smarter and better, also more efficiently and more quickly.

10. Embrace Transparency – Open up city data and combine it with data from other sources. It’s not enough just to put data online. You have to present it in ways that makes it easy for citizens to use.

11. Prepare to be Surprised – Many cities were formed decades or centuries ago as manufacturing or transportation hubs. In some cases, their original reasons for being are gone. Today, the most successful cities are magnets for well educated and creative people whose ideas improve through interactions with one another. Out of that social blender come some startling ideas.

12. Don’t Reinvent the Wheel – While there are plenty of differences between cities, they also have a lot in common–whether they’re big or small, mature or fast-growing, in North America or Southeast Asia.

13. Set Up a Performance Management System – The adage, “If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it,” is attributed to 20th century business management guru Peter Drucker. That goes for government leaders, as well.

14. Invest for the Future – Sure, money is tight, but cities must be prepared to invest up front for long term benefits.

15. Take Action Immediately – The research and final report aren’t of much value if cities don’t take action based on them. These can be small steps: reallocation of funds, new data gathered, a working group set up or a staff position created. The most important thing is to keep the process moving.


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