Assessing Innovation Strategies

The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government (HKS) recently published a 3-part miniseries that explores the process of city innovation and provides instruction to public officials seeking to promote and support these efforts locally.

In the first part of this series, the authors introduced city innovation and highlighted some current initiatives in key cities. In the second part, the authors introduced strategies cities could use to encourage and implement local innovation efforts.

The final paper in the series, which is the focus of this article, discusses the use of an assessment tool for implementing the framework described in the previous papers. The assessment tool is based upon the strategies presented in earlier papers, and consists of suggested objectives, questions and indicators for measuring each strategic component.

Public leaders can use this tool to evaluate the efficacy of their current efforts, promote local innovation, assess their progress and demonstrate the importance of their work to both stakeholders and residents. Below is a summary of Improving the Local Landscape for Innovation Part 3: Assessment and Implementation.

Assessment Tool Objectives

When seeking to improve the local landscape for innovation, public officials must answer three questions:

  • What strategies are we already using and how will we know if they are effective?
  • How do we communicate the value of the work we are doing to stakeholders and the public?
  • How can we institutionalize our work to ensure that it continues in future administrations?

The goal of the assessment tool is to help public leaders promote and support innovation by:

  • Using the framework’s strategies as a lens to assess their current efforts.
  • Adapting the framework to fit their community.
  • Obtaining metrics that answer the three questions listed above.

Deploying the Assessment Tool

Instead of answering every question included in the assessment, public officials should use the tool to identify the most relevant indicators, questions, objectives and components based on their unique situations. The primary purpose of the tool is to further local innovation landscape efforts and facilitate discussion. This assessment tool can be incorporated into existing performance measurement efforts, or it can be used as a stand-alone system.

Considerations and Challenges to Implementation

Location and Accountability

The location of an innovation team or initiative within the structure of a city can affect the initiative’s effectiveness and level of influence. Regardless of location, innovation teams must be held accountable for how they utilize political capital, funds and time.

Budget and Staffing

Another critical consideration for supporting innovation is the budget. Key details include the budget’s size, the source of the money, how the money is allocated and the process for disbursing funds to providers and agencies.

Personnel Rules and Unions

Administrative structures and contractual language can present challenges to innovation initiatives. Public officials often identify work rules as an obstacle to reform. These factors should be analyzed carefully so that public officials can understand the obstacles they present as well as the feasibility of changing them.

The Costs of Measurement

Conducting evaluations is a challenge for many cities. Depending on the scope and intensity of the evaluation, it can be quite costly in terms of both personnel and money.

Continuity across Administrations

Public officials should structure all innovation efforts so that they will be sustained by future administrations. Institutionalizing efforts that promote and support innovation are essential to durability.

To learn more about strategies for innovation, contact us.

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