The Next Frontier of Engagement: Civic Innovation Labs

Maayan Dembo at Planetizen: “As described by Clayton Christensen, a professor at the Harvard Business School who developed the term “disruptive innovation,” a successful office for social innovation should employ four main tactics to accomplish its mission. First, governments should invest “in innovations that are developed and identified by citizens outside of government who better understand the problems.” Second, the office should support “‘bottom-up’ initiatives, in preference to ‘trickle-down’ philanthropy—because the societal impact of the former is typically greater.” Third, Christensen argues that the office should utilize impact metrics to measure performance and, finally, that it should also invest in social innovation outside of the non-profit sector.
Los Angeles’ most recent citizen-driven social innovation initiative, the Civic Innovation Lab, is an 11-month project aimed at prototyping new solutions for issues within the city of Los Angeles. It is supported by the HubLA, Learn Do Share, the Los Angeles *City  Tech Bullpen, and Innovate LA, a membership organization within the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation. Private and public sector support for such labs, in one of the largest cities in America, is highly unprecedented, and because this initiative in Los Angeles is a new mechanism explicitly supported by the public sector, it warrants a critical check on its motivations and accomplishments. Depending on its success, the Civic Innovation Lab could serve as a model for future municipalities.
The Los Angeles Civic Innovation Lab operates in three main phases: 1) workshops where citizens learn about the possibilities of Open Data and discuss what deep challenges face Los Angeles (called the “Discover, Define, Design” stage), 2) a call for solutions to solve the design challenges brought to light in the first phase, and 3) a six-month accelerator program to prototype selected solutions. I participated in the most recent Civic Innovation Lab session, a three-day workshop concluding the “Discover, Define, Design” phase….”