March 2016 -- The first ever “Innovation Lab” workshop event by Alliance for Innovation (AFI) brought together leaders from a dozen of Colorado’s cities to derive solutions to the region’s challenges in the area of civic trust.
AFI’s First Innovation Lab Tackles Civic Trust
“I think it’s something we are all battling,” said participant Allison Scheck, Marketing and Community Relations Manager for the City of Lakewood. Scheck said civic trust and engagement are especially important right now, in the year of a presidential election. “Maybe all of us [local and federal alike] are getting lumped into ‘government’ and what ‘government’ is and how we behave together.”
Pictured: Allison Scheck, City of Lakewood
“Civic trust is a topic that everyone is concerned with and everyone wants to get right,” said facilitator Nijah Fudge, West Regional Director for the AFI. In alignment with AFI’s mission, Fudge expressed that group discussions like this one are imperative for the advancement of communities. “They can discern what’s been working, what hasn’t been working and draw out the ideal solutions to the challenges that each individual organization may be facing.”
As a participant, Allison Scheck was happy for the chance to glean ideas for better civic trust from her peers. “I think citizen engagement is always a challenge. It may never be fixed, but what I think is great is that this [lab] gives us the opportunity to figure out how to move further along in our own communities and reach residents who can give us that balanced perspective and engage with us.”
A Process Leading to Cutting-Edge Ideas
AFI uses a process defined by the Harvard Business Review for ways to foster innovation. The Innovation Lab took participants on a path of questioning, exploring and networking to lead city management into experimenting. “We know that 82 percent of our membership are more than likely to try something new,” Nijah Fudge said. “That doesn’t mean the other 18 percent don’t want to innovate, it’s just that they need more information before they take that leap. These forums give everybody a level playing field to learn from each other and think about trying something new.”
Pictured: Nijah Fudge, Alliance for Innovation
One avant-garde idea broached in the Innovation Lab was for local governments to put some of their civic engagement efforts into the hands of the people. For this tactic to succeed, local government must act as the facilitator and allow citizens to tell the story. “As hard as that may sound when you read this, some cities are really experiencing results,” Fudge said, adding that citizens can best dictate their own sense of community. “Citizens are a little bit more effective when to comes to spreading the word and making people feel like the community they live in is special. It’s always better to hear from your neighbor,” Fudge explained.
“We probably learned 10 times, 100 times, 500 times more than we would have if we were just listening to one person’s opinion,” Allison Scheck commented on the Innovation Lab’s interactive structure. “Some technologies were brought up and ways of doing things a little bit differently, which I hadn’t thought about or researched, that I can start tackling immediately to see if it would be a good fit for us. I also made some connections that I will follow up with, who I think can help us move forward.”
Citizen survey experts from National Research Center, Inc. (NRC) - specializing in survey research and analysis – were stirred by the way Colorado’s City leaders brought data and creativity into their discussions. “It was inspiring to see our clients coming up with so many innovative solutions to some of the toughest challenges that they are dealing with,” said NRC Senior Survey Associate Damema Mann.
AFI’s Innovation Lab started in Colorado and is already spreading to other western states. The second of this three-part series will be held on May 12th in Wheat Ridge. For more on this event and others, visit Alliance for Innovation’s website transformgov.org.