Los Angeles is just the latest city to join the movement toward embracing social innovation in government.
In collaboration with local incubator Hub LA, Learn Do Share, and Columbia University, the City Controller’s Tech Bullpen launched an 11-month initiative inviting citizens to use the city’s open data portal, Control Panel LA, to come up with solutions for government efficiency and solving local challenges.
The Civic Innovation Lab is similar to Chicago’s CivicLab, Open Austin and OpenOakland, which also aim to connect citizens with government problems that need solving. In fact, more and more innovation projects have cropped up since President Barack Obama created the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation in 2009, Planetizen points out. But as one of the most populated cities in the country, can Los Angeles really make a difference through its new innovation lab?
In order to be successful, a social innovation initiative like the Tech Bullpen should operate by investing in solutions that are designed by citizens outside of government and emphasize “bottom-up” projects instead of “trickle-down” ideas, according to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen. Two other measures of success include implementing metrics to measure progress and also investing in initiatives outside of the nonprofit world.
The Tech Bullpen works in four phases. First, citizens attend a workshop featuring how to use the open data during the “Discover, Define, Design” stage, then they brainstorm solutions to resolve problems outlined in the first phase. The third stage consists of a six-month accelerator program to prototype the possible solutions.
As Planetizen found during one of the inaugural workshops, citizens do not write the Requests for Solutions (RFS), which means that the founders of the Tech Bullpen are ultimately in charge of how much input is used for the final proposal. The six-month accelerator program also poses an issue of whether a prototype will be rushed due to time constraints, and it’s still unclear what kind of performance metrics the group plans to use to measure success.
However, L.A.’s Civic Innovation Lab also brings together a variety of entrepreneurs and innovators across different industries with ordinary citizens who have the best insight into what the city can do differently. While the model is not perfect, it’s certainly a step in the right direction toward successful civic innovation, and has the potential to serve as a model for other dense cities across the country.