One month ago, CPI, in partnership with the Center for Urban Innovation at The Aspen Institute and the Boston Consulting Group, released The Future of Cities: how cities can innovate with intention to achieve impact. On April 9, we brought together over 100 of the most influential city leaders from across the country to discuss how cities can innovate with intention – using innovation and technology to both address deep societal challenges in the present while also laying the foundation for cities that are more livable, equitable, and resilient in the future.
Here are the three takeaways from the event that have really stuck with us:
1. Innovation needs to be anchored in equity
The need for innovation to be anchored in ‘equity’ was a persistent theme in nearly all conversations throughout the day. We heard about how equity cannot be a one-off conversation, but rather needs to be included as a core consideration in the prioritization, design, and measurement of new innovation approaches. As Sly Majid, Chief Service Officer of Austin, TX, put it “conversations about equity need to happen all the time, otherwise you aren’t having a conversation about equity at all.” Part of the way city leaders can ensure that new innovation and technology initiatives prioritize equity is by simplifying the evaluation of strategic decisions. Noah Siegel, Interim Deputy Director of Transportation for the Portland Bureau of Transportation, told the audience about how the city asks two basic questions to guide their decision making: “is it good for the climate and is it bad for racism?”
2. Residents must set the direction of innovation
As we say in the handbook, while cities have made great strides in applying new methodologies – such as human-centered design – to engage residents and incorporate their voice into the design of new approaches, that engagement often occurs too late in the process, depriving residents of real power to shape the direction of innovation. This can lead to both significant barriers when implementing new solutions, but also, over time, can erode the legitimacy of government in the eyes of residents who see increasing daylight between their needs and government solutions. As Kiran Jain, COO of Neighborly and former Chief Resilience Officer of Oakland, CA, aptly put it: “If you don’t have a seat at the table, then you’re on the menu”.
3. Cities must embrace ‘good’ failures
In conversations that we had with event attendees throughout the day, we heard that while it’s important to celebrate success stories, it’s equally as vital to hear about and understand the failures that were necessary to reach that success. This is consistent with a theme we detail in the handbook where we explain that failure is a necessary ingredient of effective experimentation – but a fear of failure oftentimes inhibits progress in cities. We’ve taken this feedback to heart and going forward our team will look to elevate a more nuanced view of success in cities, that also highlights the struggles and failures necessary to achieve progress.
Where we go from here
We produced this handbook because we believe in the power of cities to not only be the incubators of new innovation and technology, but also to be drivers of social progress and stewards of public values. This event only reinforced our belief that cities have so much potential to drive change – so thank you to all who came and took part.
But we don’t want the conversation to stop now. In the coming months, CPI will look to deepen our understanding of how cities can innovate with intention through additional research, collaboration, and on-the-ground engagement with cities. So we invite you to join our discussion online, tell us what you think and get in touch if you are a city leader who wants to discuss more about innovating with intention.
Stay in the loop about our Future of Cities work and upcoming events by subscribing to our newsletter here or email us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to see how we might be able to work together. You can also join the conversation online using @CPI_Foundation and #FutureofCities.