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Last year, the City of Toronto founded its first ever Civic Innovation Office. A team of Toronto’s civically-minded innovators was assembled and given an ambitious goal: to help the City rethink issues, reimagine outcomes, and rapidly act on bold new possibilities.
After learning the ropes and some lessons along the way, we’re ready to pull back the curtain on our efforts.
Throughout the year, we’ll be using the blogging platform Medium to shed light on the processes, projects, and people behind our efforts — efforts that will make 2018 a banner year for the City of Toronto and for you, our city’s residents, and for the many City staff alongside whom we work.
Our Story (So Far)
Embracing and scaling innovative methods into the operations of any large City is no small feat. Indeed, 2017 was the year that taught us that creating social impact with a small team and a big mandate isn’t easy.
We showed up on the first day with an ambitious drive to tackle bold complex issues with a human-centered approach, which is more common in the tech sector than in government. We were welcomed by City staff as the first Canadian city in the Bloomberg Philanthropies Innovation Teams Program (“i-teams”). We were ready to dive in — or so we thought…
Even though we were trying to work as a startup, the only way to be truly successful in our new surroundings was to take the time to understand the many checkpoints ahead: jurisdictions, policies, press, agendas, dependencies; all manner of existing power structures; opinions, and experiences!
So, we dug in and took our time to learn the people, the policies, and the procedures required to get things done.
Our Game Plan
At the outset of 2018, we remain committed to innovation within the City and using everything we’ve learned both outside, and inside, the government organization to improve how the City gets things done for you.
We’ve also reflected on an opinion that many hold about the way the City operates. We know that many people from the outside looking in — and maybe even some of you — see government as a slow, plodding machine burdened by bureaucracy and inefficiency.
What we can say now with the benefit of exposure to the system is that the work done by the City’s staff to deliver services to all residents of our city is equal parts incredibly challenging, demanding, and humbling.
All the more reason that we remain no less committed to our goal for this year: creating a more responsive government.
Throughout 2018, the Civic Innovation Office will be working to achieve that goal with the support of a number of key contributors. After all, no great change can be accomplished without great teamwork and there are four key contributors that we are working with to shape the year ahead.
Bloomberg Philanthropies is both financially and emotionally invested in our efforts. Their team believes in what we’re doing, and shares our vision of Toronto as an innovator on the world’s stage.
We’re proud to have their support in helping us make our wonderful city even better. We encourage you to stay up-to-date with what they are up to, along with the other i-teams, through the Bloomberg Cities Medium account.
It takes great people to make meaningful things happen, and the City of Toronto’s staff are partners and collaborators in our efforts.
From our City Manager, all the way to front-line staff, we are inspired by and grateful for the support from the City’s hard-working public servants.
Even before the Civic Innovation Office was assembled, many of the City’s own staff succeeded in introducing meaningful changes in innovative ways from which we draw encouragement. We have been inspired by the events and speakers the City’s Innovation Lab has organized over the years. Another compelling program is the team behind the Specialized Program for Interdivisional Enhanced Responsiveness (SPIDER) (PDF), which has been running for a number of years. They have proven that government innovation isn’t just about technology solutions, and that residents in vulnerable situations are incredibly important stakeholders. The City was also publicly recognized last year by IT World Canada with a Digital Transformation Award on strides made in the emerging sharing economy.
Suffice to say, Toronto is modernizing thanks to the great people working for it and we’re excited to join them.
The Broader Civic Community
We’re likewise respectful of, and grateful for, the outpouring of support we’ve received from Toronto’s civic community. These are diverse groups of folks, such as volunteers and civic tech enthusiasts, who work on building solutions that address various challenges affecting our city.
After officially announcing the launch of the Civic Innovation Office at the Elevate event last September, we’ve been able to connect and collaborate with some of the best and brightest in Toronto’s tech scene — from seasoned professionals at some of the city’s biggest and brightest companies to volunteers and passionate participators in the City’s many civic organizations like CivicTech Toronto, Code for Canada, and the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI), to name just a few.
The strength of this community means that when we’ll be able to develop solutions efficiently and effectively with our most important stakeholders.
Residents of Toronto
Our most important stakeholders are you, the people of Toronto. You are at the heart of our work, and the reason we will invest our blood, sweat, and tears into making our efforts this year as impactful as possible.
Our Year Ahead
How is the Civic Innovation Office going to create a more responsive government?
If you browse the “What We Do” page on our website, you can see some of the finer details, but this broad theme of responsive government represents our mission. Our flagship project for the year will be centered firmly around it.
We will be publicly announcing our initiative for this year very soon, but in the meantime, we want to hear from you.
Stay In Touch
Want to know what’s happening at the Civic Innovation Office? Join our mailing list from our website, follow us here on Medium and on Twitter at @civictoronto, to get the latest updates and opportunities for getting involved.
Thank you for reading our very first Medium post. Great things are coming and we want you to be part of it. Stay tuned for more!