Does your city have a CIO (Chief Innovation Officer)?

Recently we collaborated with the Smart Cities institute to conduct a worldwide telepresence seminar at the Cisco offices, discussing ‘Gigabit Cities’ – Open Government, Big Data and Innovation.

Our partners Sandel and Associates have been working with Kansas City to develop economic development strategies, and one key initiative for the city has been a deal with Googleto equip the city with fibre for gigabit broadband.

As one demonstration of the application of these new technologies the telepresence seminar brought together city development innovators from around the world: San Francisco, Barcelona, Hong Kong among others, with us dialing in from Toronto.

You can read a recap of the event and also watch the full webinar replay here on the Sandel site.

Recognizing and supporting innovation

One key theme that really stood out for me was the point made by Jay Nath, the Chief Innovation Officer for the City of San Francisco.

Defining the recipe for creating a more innovative culture at the Municipal level he identified the very simple but powerful point about his own role, that the first step is specific recognition of the function of Innovation itself, via a suitable job title.

This made perfect sense. Everyone always talks about the importance of innovation, but who actually translates these words into action? A key example is the field of IT, where new, innovation-enabling technologies like Open Data is often assigned, understandably, to the technology unit and the CIO.

Of course their involvement is essential but as Jay explained without this additional broader focus on innovation it can be under-estimated and disregarded as a ‘technical matter’, not receiving the senior executive support it might and exploiting the potential it offers for local economy development.

Open Data Ventures

This opportunity for local economic development is especially important to Canada, experiencing an ongoing Innovation deficit and associated issues like a lack of venture capital for new start-ups.

Last year a report by the Toronto Board of Trade highlighted this missing funding:

“One of the biggest challenges that our region’s start-up companies and entrepreneurs face is a lack of access to the venture capital they need to move their business and product on to the next stage.”

This funding challenge presents the context for showcasing the economy transforming power of these new technologies.

New York City is a leading pioneer in this field, and in their Digital City paper last year where they were reporting on their progress they made this headline observation:

“New York City runs the most advanced municipal Open Data initiative on the globe, with over 350 government data sets that serve as the backbone for independently created applications that attracted over $6 million new private investment.”

This is such a powerful formula because it achieves multiple levels of benefit for the city, simultaneously.

Without spending any additional funding New York has simply used their existing technology and information assets smarter, and enjoyed a multi-layered benefit: They’re improving citizen service access methods, which in turn drives down costs, and then the by-product of this process is they attract new investors and catalyze new local businesses!

Their program blends together foundations of Open Government, Citizen engagement, universal Internet access and an industry stimulation focus to communicate an exciting vision of Policy Leadership that will encourage and enable a new generation of entrepreneurs.

At a time of economic crunch, when government stimulus and austerity measures are failing to re-ignite the economy, it`s critical these exciting new ideas are shared and acted on so that the public sector also puts their shoulder behind the big push as well.

Roles like a Chief Innovation Officer, provide the vehicle to reflect and enable this support.

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