Getting the most out of the Fellowship

The Peer Network is designed to encourage the sharing of innovation best practices between municipalities. With the 2013 Fellowship cities and counties preparing for the fellows arrival, what better place to start than how to get the most out of the Fellowship?

We recently asked Nigel Jacob, co-director of the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics in Boston (and 2011 CfA partner) to share his tips and lessons learned on how to best take advantage of their Fellowship year with all of our 2013 partners. A central theme was collaboration, not just between local government partners and their respective fellow teams, but also between cities and other local governments:

“There’s a lot of talk about how cities need to be in competition — for talent, for people, when positioning themselves for people to move to their localities,” he said. “But we have just as much to learn from collaboration as we do from competition.”

Nigel identified five key elements for building a successful civic innovation ecosystem in cities:

  • Create a safe space to innovate. Building context for people to fully engage in the work of innovation can be challenging. It’s important to frame the issues and proactively set expectations.
  • Focus on people’s needs. Civic innovators need to adopt a human-centric approach to the tools we build for people, prioritizing user needs and the citizen experience.
  • Build partnerships with outside players. Cities can engage partners to manage risk and increase resources. There’s a broad range of possible partners including startups, universities, community groups, nonprofits (like Code for America), and foundations.
  • Pilot quickly. Taking a cue from the lean startup approach, cities should get things up and running rapidly — then test initial assumptions and iterate from there.
  • Manage like a product. Think of the tools you’re building as products, not projects, and borrow approaches from the product manager’s playbook to create successful and sustainable initiatives.

And, of course, you can’t underestimate the importance of small moments along the way to bring people together. “Finding little wins that you can discover along the way, moments when people can come together and solve some small issue — that’s critical to the experience of innovation,” said Nigel. “We’ve found the more of those you can get, the more effective collaboration will be moving forward.”

We’re looking forward to many more of those moments as we expand the Peer Network to include more cities and counties over the next few months (Ed. note: The Peer Network currently in closed beta with our 2013 government partners and will be launching publicly in April). You can register now for our upcoming online info session about the Peer Network on February 5, 2013.

View the full deck from the presentation below:

Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.

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