By Andrew Zaleski.
The cities with the strongest markets for civic innovation are also the cities where entrepreneurs believe strong connections exist between the tech community — those forming tech startups — and civic actors — those interested in solving entrenched municipal problems.
“Innovation That Matters,” a new, mammoth report, argues just that. A joint venture between D.C.-based incubator 1776 and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the report is the culmination of six months of surveying and interviewing entrepreneurs, leaders of civic institutions (schools, hospitals, utility companies), local investors, elected officials, business leaders, and corporate partners across the U.S. Four civic sector industries, which the report defines as “highly regulated industries with entrenched institutional players intended to serve the public good,” were studied: education, health, energy and cities themselves.
Eight U.S. cities were examined: San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Chicago, New Orleans, Boston, Austin, New York and Detroit.
The introduction sounds the clarion call for tech entrepreneurship, asserting that the Digital Revolution will be — and has been — as transformative as the Industrial Revolution of the early 20th century. But the ascendance of the Internet has yet to bring about meaningful change in everyday society. “From struggling schools and broken health systems to climate change and budget crises,” the report’s authors write, “our most pressing problems today seem to be a world apart from the focus of the tech community that considers itself the vanguard of the future.”
A host of findings are highlighted, with calls to action for people working throughout the urban civic tech ecosystem. For instance: City officials should experiment with the traditional procurement process that currently entails agencies describing a solution to a municipal challenge and instead issue “requests for proposals … in which civic institutions explain their existing pain points and ask others to come up with solutions.” But the central kernel of the 154-page report, the piece from which other observations, findings, challenges and proposed solutions are derived, is the importance of “network connectivity” — “the defining factor that influences the development of entrepreneurial innovation.”