June 2013
Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovations, John F. Kennedy School of Government

This research paper is one in a series funded by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government (HKS). The views expressed in the Ash Center Occasional Papers Series are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the John F. Kennedy School of Government or of Harvard University. The papers in this series are intended to elicit feedback and to encourage debate on important public policy challenges. The series editor is Ash Center Director Tony Saich.


The work of the Ash Center's Innovations in Government Program has revealed that innovation is evolving in cities across the country from a value-based concept into a concrete goal with specific targets — similar to the way that governments have addressed values such as efficiency and transparency. Indeed, city leaders are increasingly designating “innovation” as an area of direct responsibility under city government. While some cities choose to focus on community and private partnerships to promote innovation, others are looking inward and rethinking policies to create more opportunities to test, develop, and implement innovative ideas.

This paper is the first in a miniseries that explores emerging strategies to strengthen the civic, institutional, and political building blocks that are critical to developing novel solutions to public problems — what the authors call the “innovation landscape.” The miniseries builds on past research addressing social innovation and on The Power of Social Innovation (2010) by HKS Professor Stephen Goldsmith.

In this first paper, the authors introduce readers to the nature of the work by highlighting current efforts to drive innovation in Boston, Denver, and New York City. They also orient the miniseries within the robust discourse on government innovation. In the second paper, the authors introduce a framework for driving local innovation, which includes a set of strategies and practices developed from the Ash Center’s recent work on social innovation, new first-person accounts, in-depth interviews, practitioner surveys, and relevant literature. The authors explore the roots and composition of the core strategies within their framework and provide evidence of its relevance and utility.

In the third and final paper of the miniseries, the authors focus on implementation of their framework’s strategies, primarily through the introduction of a unique assessment tool that includes key objectives and suggested indicators for each component of the framework. This final paper also includes a brief case study on New York City’s Center for Economic Opportunity, an award-winning government innovation team, to demonstrate and test the validity of the assessment tool and framework. The paper addresses some likely challenges to implementation and concludes with an invitation to readers to help further refine the framework and to launch a conversation among cities that will help improve their local landscapes for innovation.

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