Innovation in the City of Austin

Many local governments are embracing innovation initiatives that have become commonplace in the private sector. Budget pressures and constituent expectations are pushing government leaders to act. From interactive citizen smartphone apps to appointed officials responsible for driving innovation, the changes in government are encouraging.

The City of Austin, Texas, is an excellent example of an innovation-driven city government.

For example, the Austin Sustainability Office was created in 2010. The Office has identified 10 areas for innovative efforts with 40 separate initiatives. The areas addressed include “Mobility and Air Quality,” “Ecosystems,” and “Zero Waste,” just to name a few.

In October of 2013, Austin Energy’s Green Building Program , one of the Sustainability Office ongoing initiatives, received a Program Excellence Award for Community Sustainability. reported:

“The Green Building Program … promotes the construction of more sustainable and eco-friendly homes and buildings. Austin is considered a pioneer for green building initiatives, as many cities have developed similar programs over the past few decades.”

More recently, the City of Austin funded an Innovation Office consisting of a Chief Innovation Officer, supporting Analyst and an initial operating budget of $114,000. The commitment to innovation can be seen in the seriousness and details of the search that Austin officials undertook to select the Chief Innovation Officer.

The Chief Innovation Officer appointment involved a 2-year search. The applicants were screened for knowledge of best practices and tools in areas such as community engagement, community sourcing of potential solutions, rapid prototyping of projects, open government and facilitating change initiatives. The city held a public meet and greet event to solicit public input before making the final selection.

The selected individual, Kerry O’Connor, comes with a long list of credentials including a Masters in International Affairs from George Washington University. O’Connor’s previous experience includes her role as an Innovation Catalyst with the Research & Design Center at the U.S. Department of State, Office of the Secretary. She has experience implementing open innovation, human-centered design and agile software development.

The City of Austin reports that:

“She (O’Connor) also participated in White House sponsored interagency working groups,  incorporating innovation in government so that employees think differently, take risks and redesign approaches to solving problems.”

Ms. O’Connor’s new role will require her to plan and execute programs to develop local innovative solutions; including developing and managing a process for test projects. Her duties include the development of partnerships with organizations capable of supporting innovative research and development.

Recently, Austin was named as one of the top 10 Best-Run Cities in America by 24/7 Wall St. Along with a strong economy and high credit rating, Austin can now also boast of an Innovation Office and Chief Innovation Officer.


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