Technology Can be a Facade for Civic Innovation

Until recently, executives have struggled to integrate innovation offices into the changing landscape of government operations. With innovation departments being highlighted as a means for engaging open dialogue and solving problems between governments and the populations they serve, the concept of including an innovation office within a government agency is now anticipated and expected.

Innovation offices oversee everything from handling information (big data) and supporting start-up businesses within a city, to procurement issues and brokering deals across government agencies. Often, innovation offices use social media outlets or develop mobile apps to help government agencies communicate with the public and gather insight and opinions from constituents.

The concept of “civic innovation” can be lost in overall innovation efforts. The New America Foundation white paper, The 2050 City: What Civic Innovation Looks Like Today – and Tomorrow, offers a definition:

“Civic innovation aims to transform our nation’s cities by strengthening the relationship between citizens and their local governments in order to improve lives.”

In order to truly embrace civic innovation, offices must transform the fundamental way in which the government fosters relationships with community groups. Technology can be effectively used to empower communications, but ultimately, process improvements and relationships with residents should be the primary objective.

Civic innovation initiatives can operate under a variety of names, including civic engagement, smart cities, best practices, and public-private partnerships. The office works to streamline and improve the efficiency of internal processes, while opening dialogue between the government and the public. 

Challenges do exist in the evolving understanding of what role a public sector innovation office plays. Each city or agency can use innovation offices in different ways. Some use these offices to combine communications and streamline efforts across all public services. Other municipalities treat their innovation offices as transparency organizations, or as agencies to develop new business in the area, or even as chief information officials. Usually, the common denominator is that these offices look for ways to fundamentally change the way the government does business, making it more efficient, less costly, and easier for the public to understand and use. 

5 Perspectives to Develop Civic Innovation

Following are 5 ideas from the New America Foundation to support the concept of civic innovation driving government improvements:

  1. Re-frame the idea of innovation to include improvements that are not technology-related
  2. Consider technology as a facilitator of a desired change
  3. Think about ways to establish relationships between groups that do not normally interact
  4. Consider the needs of all communities – including those that don’t embrace technology
  5. Use civic innovation and the improved relationships between government and residents to mend and strengthen public trust

These perspectives place innovation offices in a prime position for making effective, lasting transformations in the way the government and the public work together.

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