Introduction to the Civic Innovation Spotlight

By Jessie F. Hahn

Jessie F. Hahn is the Executive Director of Meeting of the Minds. She is an experienced urban planner, specializing in urban-regional policy with a particular focus on sustainability and clean energy. Previously, Jessie launched the successful Regional Energy Policy Program at Regional Plan Association in New York City. She has written numerous articles which have been featured in RPA’s Spotlight on the Region, The Hartford Courant, Urban Age Magazine, The Record, NPR, among others.

As the world’s leading center of innovation, San Francisco has a significant impact on international economic activity and culture creation. As the Bay Area Council Economic Institute reports, “the region’s ability to play a role in the creation of entirely new business paradigms and spaces of social activity is unrivaled, producing world-leading companies and jobs in the Bay Area, nationally and around the world on a large scale.” As home to the top technology and creative leaders in the world, San Francisco also sees an increasingly talented workforce being drawn to the Bay Area.

San Francisco’s technological ecosystem provides the ideal components for civic innovation to flourish: investors; research institutions; startup accelerators, incubators and coworking spaces; as well as legal and professional services to support the innovation sector. This rich network and exploratory landscape creates a unique opportunity to improve the lives of San Francisco residents by thinking outside the box and bringing innovative ideas and resources into government.

The Bay Area Innovation System“The key to how the region innovates is a culture that encourages risk-taking and accepts failure—an environment that supports entrepreneurial activity. Perhaps the most important binding factor, however, is the region’s openness to new ideas and new participants. Multiple disciplines collide and interact, creating novel ideas and unanticipated applications. This is enabled by a culture that is highly permeable, with few institutional barriers to the movement and combining of people and ideas.”The Bay Area Innovation System, 2012

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s Office of Civic Innovation (MOCI) cultivates a space for creativity and entrepreneurship within government and creates paths for collaboration and new ideas. This expanding civic innovation in government space can have a transformative effect on communities which is why MOCI was launched in 2012 to make San Francisco more innovative, accessible, responsive, nimble, and efficient. MOCI’s projects cover areas including supporting an entrepreneurial workforce, data-oriented decision making tools, and streamlining permitting for projects in public spaces. Chief Innovation Officer, Jay Nath, explains MOCI’s guiding principles:

“We believe in making the walls of government more permeable and inviting citizens to become a part of the ecosystem that will transform how we run City Hall. We need a government that is willing to take smart risks and celebrate both successes and failures. Most importantly, we need a government that not only serves the public but invites them to co-create new solutions.”

Meeting of the Minds is working with MOCI to illustrate how the City is providing cutting-edge and innovative services. We will share a handful of these stories through a new, monthly feature called the Civic Innovation Spotlight. The Civic Innovation Spotlight series will go deeper into the untold stories of government innovation and inspiration in San Francisco. Stay tuned for civic projects that address accessibility, education, health, energy, and public services in San Francisco.

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Read more from the Meeting of the Minds Blog

Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology

Big Data, Automation, and the Future of Transportation

In recent years, a variety of forces (economic, environmental, and social) have quickly given rise to “shared mobility,” a collective of entrepreneurs and consumers leveraging technology to share transportation resources, save money, and generate capital. Bikesharing services, such as BCycle, and business-to-consumer carsharing services, such as Zipcar, have become part of a sociodemographic trend that has pushed shared mobility from the fringe to the mainstream. The role of shared mobility in the broader landscape of urban mobility has become a frequent topic of discussion. Shared transportation modes—such as bikesharing, carsharing, ridesharing, ridesourcing/transportation network companies (TNCs), and microtransit—are changing how people travel and are having a transformative effect on smart cities.

Smart Cities and the Weather

A study by the US National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in 2008 found that the impact of routine weather events on the US economy equates annually to about 3.4% of the country’s GDP (about $485 billion). This excludes the impact of extreme weather events that cause damage and disruption – after all, even “ordinary” weather affects supply of and demand for many items, and the propensity of businesses and consumers to buy them. NCAR found that mining and agriculture are particularly sensitive to weather influences, with utilities and retail not far behind.

Many of these, disaster management included, are the focus of smart city innovations. Not surprisingly, therefore, as they seek to improve and optimize these systems, smart cities are beginning to understand the connection between weather and many of their goals.  A number of vendors (for example, IBM, Schneider Electric, and others) now offer weather data-driven services focused specifically on smart city interests.

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