The year of city-wide innovation
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We all know that our local public services need to change. We want better outcomes, we care about local services and we expect them to be delivered well. We also know how hard it can be for cities to innovate and to be responsive to our increasing demands and expectations.

Cities are complicated. Local authorities have to balance the need for security and continuity with being able to respond quickly. They need to deal with a wide range of competing demands whilst being transparent and accountable. They need to do all of this whilst navigating politics and dealing with declining budgets.

But despite this complexity, conditions are ripe for cities to innovate. Decision-making is being de-centralised and cities are increasingly at the right spatial scale and have the right levers to change things. City Deals and Local Enterprise Partnerships are just some of the mechanisms where power is being handed to local leaders to decide what’s best for their city and to get on with delivering it.

There’s also an openness to new solutions and a growing awareness that local services need to be delivered in partnership with local people, as we’ve seen in the work we’ve been supporting at Nesta through People-Powered Health, Creative Councils, the Centre for Social Action Innovation Fund and the work we’re developing on Innovation in Jobs. Technology is also key to all of this as it enables different kinds of relationships, interaction and participation. And diminishing budgets mean that cities have no choice but to think differently about the services they are responsible for.

Embedding social innovation

So, now is the time for cities to innovate. Around the world city governments are increasingly experimenting with social innovation. We are constantly coming across great examples of social innovation approaches being put at the heart of city decision-making. In Europe the European Commission is increasingly funding research and practice so cities can learn how to embed social innovation in their work, whether they are trying to reduce unemployment or radically redesign their transport system.

Bloomberg Philanthropies have also brought the Mayors Challenge approach to Europe. We’re partnering with them to launch a new competition inviting European cities to come up with innovative solutions to major urban challenges to improve city life. Cities of Service UK  is another new initiative we’re partnering on, inspired by the US Cities of Service Movement, to support cities to develop and implement innovative approaches to mobilise volunteers to impact on pressing local challenges. And our recent Innovation in Growing Cities event showcased some more great examples of how cities can redesign local services.

But how do cities make sure that social innovation is at the heart of what they do? We think that we’ll see every major city in the UK develop its own social innovation strategy in 2014, ensuring that innovation is championed and supported.

These strategies will set out new mechanisms to do this through dedicated budgets, teams and processes that incentivise and reward innovation and challenge attitudes to risk and failure, putting experimentation at the heart of city approaches. They’ll also draw on the experiences of other cities around the world that are showing how to make this work. 2014 will be the year that social innovation tops cities’ agendas.