• Running a city or a city region in the old Whitehall way and without involving people is utterly irrelevant, says @AndyBurnhamGM
  • Making targets public helps means everyone knows what success or failure looks like – and is great motivation, says @PeteButtigieg
  • A leader needs broad support for major change to occur, says @MayorGregor of @CityofVancouver

Urbanisation is one of the key megatrends reshaping our world around us. With more than half of the global population living in urban areas and more and more people joining them every day, city leaders face huge challenges in managing the increasing demands on infrastructure, public services and job creation, to name a few. To help them address these issues, we present 12 Top Tips from leaders we have previously spoken to from around the world.

1. Design cities around people, not the car

Mick Cornett, Mayor of Oklahoma City

“We held a referendum on putting new, pedestrian-friendly elements into our infrastructure, and voters approved a one cent sales tax, set to expire after seven years, with a target of raising $777 million. Now we’re building hundreds of miles of sidewalks, new jogging and biking trails throughout the city, landscaping and narrowing streets to make them a more interesting walk. We’re creating a city that is designed around people, rather than being designed around the car.”

2. Data gets stuff done

Martin O’Malley, former Mayor of Baltimore and Governor of Maryland

“In the information age, without the performance management, the metrics, the radical commitment to openness and transparency, as a leader you can’t get anything done. Not only is this necessary to drive a big bureaucracy but it is now expected in a democracy. Mayors have had an easier time grasping this because the things they deliver have always been very visible. They are always front and centre on visible things like trash, crime and streetlights.”

3. Reach out to stakeholders

Sly James, Mayor of Kansas City, Missouri

“We have learned that to reach our maximum potential and to be most successful and have the broadest possible public impact, we need to work together, and have almost ingrained this in our psyche over the past few years.”

4. Open up digital to everyone

Ann Hellenius, former Chief Information Officer, Stockholm 

“It’s a priority to make sure that digital is leveraged into the lives of those schoolchildren who don’t have access to the internet at home. We have to cater to their needs, just as much as those kids who have iPads at home.”

5. Seek out broad support

Gregor Robertson, Mayor of Vancouver

“A leader needs broad support for major change to occur – we can lead the charge in government but engagement is crucial. Some 35,000 residents were involved in shaping the Greenest City 2020 plan, and this has led to many different neighbourhoods and community groups having a direct stake in what we are doing. Ultimately, it’s all about people power.”

6. Be clear with voters

Patricia de Lille, Mayor of Cape Town

“Putting a clear plan to the electorate is important. This brings legitimacy and ensures everyone shares the vision.”

7. Put aside partisanship

Kevin Faulconer, Mayor of San Diego

“It’s not about partisanship, it’s about getting results. It’s not about Republican, Democrat or Independent, it’s about getting things done. When you’re focusing on things that matter to people – such as improving our streets, keeping our recreation centres open longer for families – then these priorities transcend day-to-day politics.”

8. Don’t be afraid of technology

Leigh Tami, Chief Performance Officer, Cincinnati 

“There are a lot of people who could be really proficient with their understanding and use of data, but who can’t get over the technology barrier. It’s like a ‘black box’ – they don’t understand how it works, and assume that they can’t. This is a shame because a lot of it is not necessarily about the technology, but more about understanding the issue, the processes behind it, and about building relationships – persuading people that we can be trusted with their data and that we can talk through their information to create something that will be helpful.”

9. Team up to build up

Andy Burnham, Mayor, Greater Manchester City Region

“If you are to realise a city-region’s potential, then you have to involve people differently. Running a city or a city region in the old Whitehall way – i.e. publishing strategy documents decided in closed rooms and then instructing the public sector to work in a certain way – is now so totally out of date it is utterly irrelevant.”

10. Make targets public

Pete Buttigieg, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana

“We committed the city to repair or demolish 1,000 vacant and abandoned houses in 1,000 days – a challenge which was met two months ahead of schedule. We publicly committed to this so that everyone knew what success or failure looks like. And this motivated me and my team to do everything we could to meet that target.”

11. It’s all about implementation

Salomón Chertorivski, former Economic Development Secretary, Mexico City

“The magic of public policy is specifically in the implementation. But to implement properly it needs to involve institutions, so that they are part of what is being tried and achieved. But it is really a circle – evaluating the implementation and what went well and what didn’t; redesigning, correcting and implementing. I think success comes from successive attempts, rarely from one single implementation that comes out perfectly.”

12. Include data specialists in your talent pool

Beth Blauer, Executive Director and founder of the Center for Government Excellence at Johns Hopkins

“In the private sector, there are computer engineers who are developing the tools and the product managers who communicate why they are necessary – thereby bridging the gap between the problems that technology is meant to solve and the technology itself. We don’t have that in government right now – but we need to make this part of the process in order to help achieve better outcomes and a stronger impact.”

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