Amplifying Resilience through People-Led Innovation

More and more people live in urban areas. At the same time, and often resulting from the growing urban population, cities worldwide are increasingly confronted with complex environmental, social, and economic shocks and stresses. When formulating adequate and sustainable responses, cities often realize that traditional approaches and existing resources fall short.

Addressing 21st century challenges will require innovative approaches.

In January 2018, the Bertelsmann Foundation and The Governance Lab at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering released their methodology for “People-Led Innovation.” The methodology is aimed at empowering public entrepreneurs, particularly city-level government officials, to engage the capacity and expertise of people in solving major public challenges.

The partnership (and methodology) were born out of the Bertelsmann Foundation’s partnership with 100 Resilient Cities on the Transatlantic Policy Lab project, which employed living labs to source bottom-up policies for 100RC member cities Boston and Athens. One of the primary goals of the People-Led Innovation project was to crystalize and communicate lessons learned from this nearly two-year process.

Our People-Led Innovation methodology specifically focuses on unlocking an undervalued asset for innovation and the co-creation of solutions: people and their expertise. It contains a set of tools, questions, and, perhaps most importantly – formalized steps – that leaders can follow to ensure that they are incorporating people into their decision-making.

A Phased Approach Toward Unlocking the Expertise of People

People’s expertise comes in a range of flavors – from interests and experiences, to skills and credentialed knowledge. But to promote resilience in the most effective and innovative way possible, leaders need to unlock the knowledge and expertise of people at each stage of the innovation cycle.

Drawing on examples from our own practice and that of others, our methodology and guidebook illustrate how policymakers can engage people along every stage of the innovation cycle – define, ideate, experiment, and expand – to promote resilience through agile methods.

For example:

  • Before embarking on its Resilience Strategy work, Singapore engaged in an extensive problem definition and prioritization process through its Centre for Liveable Cities. By going through this process, cities are able to identify, target, and apply expertise to the challenges facing their citizens.
  • Members of Chicago’s Civic User Testing Group receive a small stipend for testing out – and providing feedback on – civic websites and apps. Over the long-term, the methodology helps leaders embed resilience into their policymaking process by ensuring they are being “people-led” at all times. Since cities face a multitude of chronic stresses and shocks, the People-Led Innovation methodology also includes off-ramps that allow policymakers to abandon ineffectual solutions.
A Matrix to Determine How and Who to Engage in Problem-Solving

While our People-Led Innovation Methodology is designed to engage people at every stage of the innovation cycle, it is equally important to identify and curate different groups of people – formally or informally organized – to include distinct needs, expertise, and capacity. The four phases of the methodology are therefore complemented by a “Matrix of People Engagement” that enables city leaders and others to identify who to engage at what stage and for what purpose.

This operational tool for identifying optimal pathways for engaging people in problem solving reflects the diversity of groups of people outside of government who can play different roles across the innovation lifecycle, including residents, nonprofits, local business owners, and resource partners such as foundations. It also illuminates the role people can play and how their input will be solicited, integrated, and acted upon.

Informed by Practice and Broad Consultation

The partnership between the Bertelsmann Foundation and The Governance Lab blossomed out of projects and research conducted by both organizations over the past several years. From the Bertelsmann Foundation, this included the weeklong living labs in Boston, Massachusetts and Athens, Greece as part of the Transatlantic Policy Lab project. The Lab, built to be as people-led as possible from the start, resulted in recommendations that were incorporated into the Resilience Strategies of both cities. The Governance Lab drew on expertise and practices gleaned from multiple data-driven, citizen-centric projects such as  Civic Challenges and Smarter Crowdsourcing.

Ultimately, both organizations consulted with 100 Resilient Cities staff and Platform Partners, Chief Resilience Officers (CROs) and citizens to consolidate these steps into what would become the methodology. A key component of this process was the invaluable feedback received during a workshop with CROs and partners held as part of 100RC’s Urban Resilience Summit in July 2017. After previewing a draft of the methodology, we asked participants to apply it to their specific challenges facing their cities in Asia, Latin America, Europe, and the United States.

Next Steps

Going forward, the Bertelsmann Foundation and the Governance Lab are in the process of communicating the results of the methodology to cities and stakeholders worldwide. We are actively engaging with several cities to find out where – and how exactly – the methodology might be applied to intractable urban challenges facing leaders – and citizens. We encourage you to connect with us if you think your city might benefit from being more “people-led!”