Do Chief Innovation Officers Deliver for Cities and States?

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is investing millions in selected cities to allow them to hire innovation teams, or “i-teams.”

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is investing millions in selected cities to allow them to hire innovation teams, or “i-teams.” lev radin / Shutterstock.com

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

In addition to seeking breakthrough solutions to state and municipal government problems, they serve as catalysts in trying to transform operations.

This article was originally published by Stateline, an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts.

When then-Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley was wooing former tech entrepreneur Bryan Sivak to become his state’s new ideas guy, he asked what title Sivak thought he should have.

“Chief innovation officer,” suggested Sivak, who had just finished a stint as the District of Columbia’s chief technology officer. Initially O’Malley balked, Sivak said, because it “sounded kind of flaky.” But O’Malley, a Democrat and disciple of data-driven management, soon relented, and in 2011 Sivak became the first chief innovation officer of any state and possibly any U.S. city.

Since then, having a chief innovation officer in government has become all the rage. Colorado and Massachusetts now have somebody who holds that title, as do more than two dozen cities, from Philadelphia to Kansas City, Missouri, to Riverside, California. The increasing availability of digital data that government can use to analyze problems and assess solutions has accelerated the trend.

Tech firms were the first to anoint chief innovation officers to assess markets and identify new products and revenue. Corporations mimicked them, and now government has them to tackle everything from homelessness to violent crime, potholes to economic development.

In addition to seeking breakthrough solutions to civic problems, innovation officers serve as catalysts in trying to transform how government operates, especially in times of tight tax and budget constraints.

“You need to look across the board and figure out how to do things better, faster and tie it into the overall management structure,” said Sivak, now the chief technology officer and entrepreneur in residence at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

But some question whether innovation officers can bring original problem-solving to hidebound bureaucracies. Even Sivak acknowledges that “it’s a title that is very vague … and without a chief executive who understands it and looks at it as somebody we need to have, there’s a risk of it not being a very valuable position.”

Stephen Goldsmith, former mayor of Indianapolis and director of the Innovations in Government program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, is harsher.

“Everybody is talking about innovation,” Goldsmith said. “A lot of what people are talking about in innovation is not that innovative.”

Sometimes, Goldsmith said, cities or states develop a mobile application for a government service and call it “innovation,” when they really haven’t revolutionized how government operates or devised better, thriftier and longer-term solutions for citizens and taxpayers.

CINOs vs. CIOs

In most states, chief information officers (CIOs) who oversee information technology operations essentially act as chief innovation officers (CINOs), said Doug Robinson, executive director of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO).

In a NASCIO survey of state CIOs in September, two-thirds said sparking innovation in how government operates was a critical part of their jobs, and 80 percent said they saw themselves as taking the lead in using data to address problems.

But Goldsmith said combining CIO and CINO roles isn’t a good idea. Although data is key to formulating new strategies and creating solutions, he said, it’s only a tool to assess what works or doesn’t work, and to measure the costs and productivity of a new approach.

What innovation officers really need, Goldsmith said, is the imprimatur of the governor or mayor to challenge the status quo up and down the bureaucratic ranks–even if it means stepping on some toes.

“You need someone in the executive office – the governor or the mayor – to take on entrenched interests: the bureaucracy, the vendors, or labor, and chart a path to a better solution,” Goldsmith said.

Tapping someone from outside government often works best. Some states and cities have created “entrepreneurs in residence” programs to attract successful people from the private sector willing to devote their time and creative juices to public service.

Like Sivak, many innovation officers and entrepreneurs in residence come from successful information technology startups that aren’t bound by the confines of government or large corporations.

“A lot of innovation in the private sector is from disruptive startups, with no ties to any corporate culture,” said Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a think tank that promotes technological innovation and productivity in Washington, D.C., and the states. Just like governments, he said, “many corporations are innovation-averse.”

Bloomberg’s Innovation Teams

Many cities and states don’t have the capability or money to come up with different solutions. Even when government employees have good ideas, they often are burdened with pressing daily workloads or trapped within bureaucracies.

Recognizing that, Bloomberg Philanthropies, a foundation started by the billionaire and former mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg, is investing millions in selected cities to allow them to hire innovation teams, or “i-teams.” These squads of consultants join city government for three years to take on specific problems.

With $24 million divided among them in 2011, Atlanta reduced homelessness, Chicago overhauled its licensing of local businesses, Louisville cut the time it takes to rezone property, Memphis tackled gun violence and underprivileged neighborhoods and New Orleans reduced its murder rate.

After seeing those results, Bloomberg Philanthropies in December announced that it would donate between $400,000 and $1 million per year for three years to 12 other cities (Albuquerque; Boston; Centennial, Colorado; Jersey City, New Jersey; Los Angeles; Long Beach, California; Mobile, Alabama; Minneapolis; Peoria, Illinois; Rochester, New York; Syracuse, New York; and Seattle) to tackle issues such as affordable housing, public safety, infrastructure finance, customer service and job growth.

“Successful innovation depends as much on the ability to generate ideas as it does the capacity to execute them – and i-teams help cities do both,” Bloomberg said when the philanthropy announced the latest round of recipients.

Problem-Solving in Louisville

If there’s any government that can serve as a model for making innovation a part of its culture, Goldsmith said, it’s Louisville-Jefferson County, Kentucky.

There, Democratic Mayor Greg Fischer has the equivalent of a chief innovation officer and strategic planner in Ted Smith and the equivalent of a CIO, human resources chief and performance watchdog in Theresa Reno-Weber.

It’s Smith’s job in the mayor’s office to strategize, seek possible solutions and enlist outside help, such as businesses or nonprofits, to tackle issues. Reno-Weber’s job is to round up the data, harness government employees to achieve goals and then measure how well government is doing in meeting them.

Smith, for instance, will look at how to delay closing the city’s landfill, which is 30 years from becoming filled, and seek to get big institutions, such as hospitals, to help pay for recycling. Reno-Weber will assess how well that works and post data results on the city’s open portal, LouiStat, so the public can monitor them. The public can track all of Fischer’s initiatives on the site.

One task Smith and Reno-Weber are working on is reducing nonemergency calls to the 911 dispatch center. “It’s not only expensive,” Smith said of nonemergency ambulance runs, “but it means an ambulance may not be available to a heart-attack victim.”

The city now posts nurses in the 911 dispatch room to determine whether callers really need an ambulance or just a ride to the drug store, the grocery store, or the doctor’s office. If a situation isn’t life-threatening, an alternative response vehicle can be dispatched.

Meanwhile, Smith is assessing Reno-Weber’s data on nonemergency calls to see whether there’s a market for a private-sector transportation service to drive people who call 911 for nonemergency transportation.

So far, the city has cut its nonemergency call rate by 30 percent since 2012. The goal is to cut it in half by 2017.

Can other cities, and states, achieve similar outcomes by adopting a formal innovative approach to problem-solving? Sure, Smith said. In his opinion, “all … should have an innovation capacity.”

(Top photo by lev radin / Shutterstock.com; second photo, of Louisville, by American Spirit / Shutterstock.com)

FEATURED CASE STUDIES
Powered By The Atlas
Town meets changing LCR compliance by prioritizing communication, resident education, and equity
Wellington, CO 80549, USA
Improved Water Quality and More Field Time Due to a 97% Reduction in Office Admin Work
Marin County, CA, USA
Integrated city systems, unified data, & automation drive 316% increase in field efficiency
Seattle, WA, USA

NEXT STORY: When Useful Information Becomes Overwhelming

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.