IBM report: 7 trends driving today's forward-thinking cities

Wed, 2015-04-15 06:00 -- Kevin Ebi

As technology rapidly improves, the services that citizens need and expect from their cities also grows. But even cities that use technology to make incremental improvements may soon be left behind -– if they haven’t been already. A new report finds today’s leaders are not only innovating, they are also innovating the way that they innovate.

The report -- Using Innovation and Technology to Improve City Services -- identifies key trends that are driving cities to break out of the old business-as-usual models. It was written by Sherri Greenberg, a public policy professor at the University of Texas at Austin and presented by the IBM Center for the Business of Government. IBM is a Council Lead Partner.

What’s driving the change
According to the report, the transformation is driven by a combination of factors that include new technology, a shift in the way that citizens use city services and participate in government and a desire of the cities themselves to change.

The report says cities are driven by an effort to break down silos that prevent departments from working together. They are also trying to do more to include citizens in programs and the decision-making process.

For their part, citizens are changing too. Nearly two-thirds of adults now use cell phones to go online. Nearly 60% of seniors go online. That’s prompting government to not only offer more services online, but also ensure that those services can be accessed on-the-go.

How cities are innovating
The report highlights a dozen cities, finding most have created new city leadership positions to more effectively identify areas to improve and progress. All but one of the case study cities have Chief Innovation Officers; all but five also have Chief Data Officers. These are point people who are always on the lookout for new opportunities to improve and are invested in seeing the ideas through to implementation. These leaders should also help foster a spirit of creativity and collaboration throughout city departments.

The cities are all strong advocates of open data, which often promotes citizen engagement through crowdsourcing. Hackathons are common, but these cities are also asking for public input through discussion forums, social media and other platforms. The cities are also providing much more performance data, such as crimes and police response, allowing citizens to see for themselves how the government is working. That seems to boost engagement even more.

The highlighted cities are less uniform in the way that they pay for projects. While some set pay for incubation and pilots out of a central fund, others apply for grants or develop public-private partnerships on a case-by-case basis. But they do ensure that they have room to grow. Cities need to have adequate resources to take action on the ideas and that help typically comes from outside.

Generating the ideas
The highlighted cities make a concentrated effort to work with the public and business leaders to identify opportunities for improvement and to help shape and guide the strategy. For example:

  • Riverside, CA, established a public engagement advisory board that not only includes key city leaders, but also leaders of six technology companies and university researchers. It also established an employee exchange with Xerox, helping the city to understand what technology can do and giving the company insight into the public’s needs.
  • San Francisco created an entrepreneur-in-residence program that promotes collaboration between city staff and start-up firms, resulting in more creative and practical plans than they might come up with on their own.
  • Kansas City, MO, is also trying to get more young people involved. Its Mayors Challenge Cabinet invited young adults to get involved in a steering panel. The city has also used idea fairs, in addition to creating special public panels on topics ranging from engagement to open data.


Kevin Ebi is a staff writer and social media coordinator for the Council. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.

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