How to implement “open innovation” in city government

Victor Mulas at the Worldbank: “City officials are facing increasingly complex challenges. As urbanization rates grow, cities face higher demand for services from a larger and more densely distributed population. On the other hand, rapid changes in the global economy are affecting cities that struggle to adapt to these changes, often resulting in economic depression and population drain.

“Open innovation” is the latest buzz word circulating in forums on how to address the increased volume and complexity of challenges for cities and governments in general.

But, what is open innovation?

Traditionally, public services were designed and implemented by a group of public officials. Open innovation allows us to design these services with multiple actors, including those who stand to benefit from the services, resulting in more targeted and better tailored services, often implemented through partnership with these stakeholders. Open innovation allows cities to be more productive in providing services while addressing increased demand and higher complexity of services to be delivered.

New York, Barcelona, Amsterdam and many other cities have been experimenting with this concept, introducing challenges for entrepreneurs to address common problems or inviting stakeholders to co-create new services.   Open innovation has gone from being a “buzzword” to another tool in the city officials’ toolbox.

However, even cities that embrace open innovation are still struggling to implement it beyond a few specific areas.  This is understandable, as introducing open innovation practically requires a new way of doing things for city governments, which tend to be complex and bureaucratic organizations.

Counting with an engaged mayor is not enough to bring this kind of transformation. Changing the behavior of city officials requires their buy-in, it can’t be done top down

We have been introducing open innovation to cities and governments for the last three years in Chile, Colombia, Egypt and Mozambique. We have addressed specific challenges and iteratively designed and tested a systematic methodology to introduce open innovation in government through both a top-down and a bottom-up approaches. We have tested this methodology in Colombia (Cali, Barranquilla and Manizales) and Chile (metropolitan area of Gran Concepción).   We have identified “internal champions” (i.e., government officials who advocate the new methodology), and external stakeholders organized in an “innovation hub” that provides long-term sustainability and scalability of interventions. We believe that this methodology is easily applicable beyond cities to other government entities at the regional and national levels. …To understand how the methodology practically works, we describe in this report the process and its results in its application in the city area of Gran Concepción, in Chile. For this activity, the urban transport sector was selected and the target of intervention were the regional and municipal government departments in charge or urban transport in the area of Gran Concepción. The activity in Chile resulted in a threefold impact:

  1. It catalyzed the adoption of the bottom-up smart city model following this new methodology throughout Chile; and
  2. It expanded the implementation and mainstreaming of the methodologies developed and tested through this activity in other World Bank projects.

More information about this activity in Chile can be found in the Smart City Gran Concepcion webpage…(More)”