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Government knowledge network GovLoop® says there is no one definition for civic innovation. A recent post describes it as anything that improves the lives of residents. GovFresh contributor Alex Howard calls it “… a new idea, technology or methodology that challenges and improves upon existing processes and systems, thereby improving the lives of citizens or the function of the society that they live within.” In a nutshell, civic innovation can be described as government and community members working together to improve the lives of all involved.Civic innovation has been listed by U.S.-based publication Governing.com® as a top trend in leadership at various levels of government. And many governments, continually faced with doing more with less, have relied on civic innovation projects to help improve efficiency, save money and gain a fresh perspective on challenging issues. If you’re looking for ways to solve problems and invest in solutions, while at the same time reinforcing your agency’s relationship with its citizens, look no further than civic innovation.

The civic innovation process

If you’re considering civic innovation programs for your agency, here’s a five-step process to help guide you:

  • Step one—Understand your community’s priorities. There are numerous ways government can connect with its constituents to better understand their needs, including social media, 311 centres, online civic engagement forums and mobile apps. These platforms, when actively used and engaged with, make great “listening” tools. To encourage community input through these channels, offer earbud wraps or splitters imprinted with your civic engagement platforms and distributed in community mailers.
  • Step two—Define your strategy. Once you have a problem or challenge you’re ready to address, you can begin to develop your strategy. Bring stakeholders and community members together to further define the issue and build consensus on next steps and solutions. Enable people to comment, offer suggestions and vote on a plan of attack. Thank constituents for their input with initiative-branded promotional items, such as tumblers or stylus key tags.
  • Step three—Develop a solution. You’ve polled your audience on the problem and strategized methods to tackle it. You’re now ready to define a solution. Develop a clear and actionable plan, research it and test it against other potential solutions. You will want to collect feedback on proposed resolutions, perhaps with a survey. Ask the following: Does this solve the problem at hand? Would you adopt this solution? And are there better solutions out there? Encourage thoughtful responses with a prize draw for a Bluetooth® speaker or flashlight/power bank.
  • Step four—Validate and analyze. You’ve heard it before, but we can’t say it enough—what matters gets measured. The success of your project should be closely monitored and tracked to ensure solutions are being adopted and that they are indeed useful.
  • Step five—Systematize your success. Finally, if your plan worked, systematize it by putting a formal plan in place for next time. Why reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to?

Civic innovation may be the solution to many public sector challenges. It is transforming communities and economies all around, and it just might work for your agency, too.

Jarvis, Emily. “What Civic Innovation Looks Like Today and Tomorrow.”  GovLoop. N.p., 15 July 2013. Web. Retrieved 28 July 2015.

Towns, Steve. “Government Technology Trends to Watch in 2014.Governing. N.p., Jan. 2014. Web. Retrieved 14 July 2015.

Root, Julia. “The GovLab Selected Readings on Civic Innovation: Cities and Civic Technology.” The Governance Lab NYU. N.p., 30 Nov. 2014. Web. Retrieved 19 July 2015.

Schultz, Daniel. “Setting the Stage.” Civic Innovation SlideShare. N.p., 16 Jan. 2015. Web. Retrieved 30 July 2015.

Robbins, Emily. “Top 3 Ways to Foster Civic Innovation.” CitiesSpeak. N.p., 12 Feb. 2015. Web. Retrieved 30 July 2015.

Willis, Brent. “A Civic Engagement Strategy in 6 Steps.” Votility. N.p., 15 Aug. 2013. Web. Retrieved 30 July 2015.

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