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How to Capitalize on Regional Innovation

Last week I had the opportunity to present at the Government Innovation Summit in Salinas, CA. The City of Salinas partnered with the Alliance for Innovation to convene local government leaders to learn about the work of governments across the country. This event focused on tackling tough issues in culture change, community engagement, readiness for performance analytics, and benchmarking. This was the first time this group of 50+ government thinkers met, but it certainly won’t be the last time they look to collaborate regionally.

This effort to collaborate regionally means that these governments are intentionally moving past the normal, internal boundaries of their decision making and service delivery to try to solve common problems that affect them all. This is an important way that governments help introduce each other to effective new ideas and strategies. Although these governments all work in a similar geographical area, they haven’t worked together in a meaningful way to create real change or address continual problems in their communities. The desire to change the status quo encouraged these groups to establish the Government Innovation Summit in Salinas.

There are many benefits to regional collaboration. Regional events like this help build relationships, make connections, and foster goodwill between potentially competing communities. It enables these organizations to come together and solve bigger problems that have widespread effects. It encourages coordinated responses and sharing of best practices. All of these perks were apparent to the Government Innovation Summit participants.

If you’re looking to establish a regional group to take on some problems that would benefit from data and analysis, here are four things you can do to ensure your efforts are successful:

Start where the interest is. It’s likely that the host government will be forward thinking about the role of data in government decision making. It can be helpful to focus on inviting participants from other supportive organizations for the first get-together. This event is a great opportunity to feel out the potential for regional collaboration. Having to spend time advocating for the importance of informed decision making could take away from the experience for people who are already convinced. Begin by extending invitations to leaders, managers, and frontline staff members from interested organizations. Bring the naysayers in later down the line when your group has a clear vision for action.

For this event, Salinas thoughtfully invited representatives from 12 local governments who expressed interest in growing their own skills and working regionally. The City of Salinas recognized that this core group would provide the best opportunity to build momentum toward more regular regional collaboration and learning. There were 10 participants serving as city managers or deputy/assistant city managers. Seventeen attendees were either department heads or assistant department heads. Nine of the participants identified as analysts or frontline staff members. The group is considering adding in more members and jurisdictions as the conversation evolves.

Don’t be too specific/restrictive in your first meeting. The motives and interests of the participating organizations might not be clear coming into the first meeting. Choosing session topics and speakers that can speak to a variety of data, analytics, and innovation topics is a great way to gauge interest and define a pathway forward. Ensuring that presenters can share real world, government experience can be a unifying thread for this first meeting.

The City of Salinas curated a list of speakers with a wide variety of backgrounds. Among the speakers were a city councilmember well versed in leading culture change efforts, several nonprofit leaders whose organizations work hand-in-hand with governments to improve their decision-making capabilities, and local government leaders sharing successful community engagement techniques. The presenters spoke on numerous topics, shared government examples, and were able to demonstrate the possibilities in regional collaboration for participants.

Provide lots of opportunities for participants to connect. This is likely to be the first time that many of the participants will be meeting each other. They’ll probably have a lot of similar experiences, challenges, and successes to share. Give them plenty of time to get to know each other and build relationships. Regional collaboration is effective because of productive working relationships. These events are great places to jumpstart opportunities.

At the Government Innovation Summit, Salinas assigned seats to ensure that people from the same organization were spread out and that participants with similar lines of work were grouped together to promote conversation. The City also scheduled four separate times during the day for participants to learn more about each other.

End the event with clear next steps. Regional events can inspire a lot of excitement about the potential of collaborative efforts. However, they can sometimes flounder without active leadership or a strong vision. It’s important to build consensus on actionable next steps. Whether it’s by determining who will host, scheduling the next event, or agreeing on other topics to explore, it’s important to keep the momentum going.

Within two days of the Government Innovation Summit, Salinas event organizers had shared slides from the summit presentation, followed-up with a survey to rate sessions and propose topics for the next event, and posted a press release recapping the event on the City’s website.


Thanks to Salinas for including GovEx in its first regional innovation collaboration! Is your organization looking to connect with other local jurisdictions? Check out GovEx’s blog and podcast for topic and speaker ideas. Connect with us on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook for more inspiration.


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