The Bridgespan Group, October 15, 2012
Overcoming common barriers to innovationAmerica’s largest cities face increasing demands from their constituents, even as their resources diminish. Given the prevailing social, demographic, economic, and environmental trends, these challenges are unlikely to abate any time soon. While state and federal governments use policy to effect change, city governments are on the front lines, directly responsible for executing change efforts. Ultimately, many of society’s problems, from handgun violence to homelessness and climate change, will be solved—or not—in our cities.
But innovation is a tremendous challenge, due to three particular barriers: silos that prevent collaboration on cross-cutting issues; limited funding for new initiatives; and the blend of talent in government itself, with longstanding civil servants working alongside relatively short-lived political administrators. The last challenge is particularly cumbersome, and can exacerbate the others. Civil servants have few incentives to rally for change, and more incentive to wait out the current administration to minimize offending longstanding constituencies and relationships. Because change efforts are typically a risk until there is a positive effect to show for them, it’s not surprising that civil servants are slow to embrace the flavor of the month coming from the mayor’s office, when history has shown that they may just be asked to undo it when the next mayor arrives.
To spur change, the Innovation Delivery Team Initiative funds a group of people who sit outside of all municipal departments and report directly to the mayor. These teams look across agencies and functions of government in their cities to address critical priorities. The Initiative borrows from successful models used around the world, including Sir Michael Barber’s approach to change in the United Kingdom, which championed a relentless focus on results. The Initiative also incorporates lessons from New York City, Malaysia, Maryland, Louisiana, and other areas. The result? A detailed “playbook” with tactical advice on how teams can generate solutions and deliver results.