How 3 Cities Are Seeking New Ideas

Louisville, Baltimore and Chicago are seeking new ideas from their employees to improve city services. Neil Kleiman, a special advisor to the dean of New York University’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, highlighted in a recent article how these three cities are seeking new ideas.

Louisville– Mayor Greg Fischer applied for and received a Bloomberg Philanthropies Innovation Delivery Team grant to improve customer service. The Mayor took the initiative to hold a contest seeking feasible ideas from all city departments. The winning departments got to participate in the city’s new customer-service initiative and work directly with the mayor’s newly formed innovation team. Department heads were invited to a half-day idea session and asked to bring at least three proposals apiece — either original thoughts or best practices from other cities.

As Kleiman states: “The directors arrived with a slew of ideas, and fought hard for them. The process sparked fresh approaches and pushed the agencies to put their best thinking forward. Louisville’s customer-service initiatives — which range from improving animal services to revamping the rezoning process — are now ready to go. And while the process had many other facets, the goals the city chose to pursue grew directly out of the competitive brainstorming session.”

Baltimore- Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake created an innovation fund due to her frustration with her city’s persistent budget shortfalls and the lack of money for new ideas. The city set aside $2 million and asked agencies to pitch ideas that they thought would both enhance services and save money to a panel of judges. Accepted projects are funded with loans, to be paid back within five years, and agencies are expected to provide business plans showing how they expect to meet their obligations. In just two years, more than 30 ideas have been proposed, and three have been funded.

Chicago- Mayor Rahm Emanuel has also created an innovation loan fund. The city has set aside $20 million for efficiency and customer improvements. So far $2 million has been committed to projects that will cut red tape for businesses and make it easier for citizens to access city services.

Government employees have lots of ideas to improve the bureaucracy of government but leadership at the top is necessary to make it clear to upper management and all employees that new ideas are wanted. Creating competitions and innovation funds seem like good ways to encourage employees to step forward with new ways of doing business. Perhaps other cities can learn from and utilize these methods to improve their operations?

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