10,000 Employees & 10,000 Potential Innovators

Eddy Adams

By Eddy Adams, on May 16th, 2014

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“10,000 employees, but also 10,000 potential innovators.” is the slogan adopted by Turin, URBACT city and the first Italian local authority to pilot an innovative ideas call to staff.

Innova.To  was launched in April 2013, with a deadline of 29th May for municipal staff to submit their ideas. The call invites staff to submit proposals for new products, services and solutions to social and economic challenges facing the city. At a time of financial stringency, the authority is looking for ideas that will reduce costs, improve services and minimize waste.

Growing The City’s Intelligent Community

A judging panel of judges will assess the bids and select the winning entries. Criteria for their decisions will include feasibility, cost and timescales. Winners will receive prizes donated by sponsors engaged in supporting Turin’s efforts to improve its urban environment. They include electric bikes, car-sharing subscriptions and smart phones.

The challenge is framed within Turin’s Smarter Cities activity, designed to improve the urban environment as well as to promote culture shift around innovation and entrepreneurship. At the heart of Innova.To is the ambition to encourage all municipal employees to see themselves as potential innovators. Changing mindsets is an important aspect of Innova.To and the founders hope that it will encourage public employees to become active participants in the city’s growing “intelligent community”.

The challenge reflects the growing importance placed on staff and customers in public service redesign. As Enzo Lavolta, Turin’s Councillor for Innovation puts it:

 “We must never forget  that the employee is also a citizen and, in this capacity, a user of municipal services. They also know how things function, are well aware of user expectations and, for this reason, have a wealth of knowledge and experience. If you create the conditions to put this to good use, it can be very useful for the improvement of structures and lead to services of higher quality,  maybe even generating managerial savings. Small or large, the ideas of workers may turn out to be valuable resources, especially in the current context, where we are called to do more with less.”

“We Have To Try New Things, See What Happens”

Michele Fatibene and Fabrizio Barbiero,  two of the founders of Innova.To, explain the background to the initiative:

“Public employees  often say they’d change things if they could: better and more efficient services and so on. Well, why don’t we give them the chance to do that…why don’t we encourage this desire to help our administration to be more productive? Let’s create an easy way to gather ideas, evaluate their effectiveness and offer staff the opportunity to become leaders of the implementation. We have to try new things, so let’s see what happens. In any case it will be a useful learning exeperience.”

And what about expectations? What ideas do they think the city’s staff will come up with?

“We have some ideas of what might emerge… but we want to be surprised”

Under a new Prime Minister, Italian urban policy is surrounded by the language of change. But this is not always easy to achieve, as Italy has found in the past.  Ironically, in a country renowned for its design and creativity, its public sector has long been associated with tradition and conformity. In some Italian cities there are signs that things are changing,  as tighter budgets and rising service pressures impact upon city authorities. More widely, the growth of challenge initiatives – including Bloomberg  , IBM Smart Cities  and the LLGA model – are encouraging city leaders to embrace open innovation principles.

So in the coming weeks eyes will be focused on Turin, eager to see how what emerges from this bold experiment. We’ll have to wait until 29th May to find out.

1c99b3b  By Eddy Adams, URBACT Thematic Pole Manager

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