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Commentary Article May 26th, 2022
Cities • Delivery • Health • Infrastructure • Innovation

Learning with Cities: Creative strategies to engage residents in problem exploration

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As part of @CPI_foundation 2022 Innovation Training 🧰, 25 cities are finding creative ways to develop more thoughtful research and community engagement. 📖 Read the full article to learn more!

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From Fortaleza changing resident behaviours towards street littering 🗑️, to Orlando working to break the cycle of youth experiencing homelessness 🏠; @CPI_foundation celebrate cities engaged in innovation

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How are cities creatively engaging residents in problem exploration? In this @CPI_foundation article, learn about how cities like Montevideo, Honolulu & Limerick are adopting innovative, human centred design

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Partnering for Learning

We put our vision for government into practice through learning partner projects that align with our values and help reimagine government so that it works for everyone.

Partner with us

From February 2022 to December 2022, the Centre for Public Impact (CPI) has partnered with the Bloomberg Center for Public Innovation at Johns Hopkins University and the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative to deliver innovation training to cities globally.

25 cities engaged in innovation and human centered design capacity building– are finding creative ways to develop more thoughtful research scopes, observations, and community engagement. The cities are doing so through 10.5-month cohort-based training where they learn to adopt an innovative, human centered design approach to solve challenging problems in new ways. Cities apply what they learn in the program to a problem facing residents, working collaboratively with city hall and external community stakeholders to identify and test new ideas that have a lasting impact.

In April, the teams conducted 15+ in-depth interviews with a range of stakeholders and residents, as well as several observations and literature reviews. This work helps cities interrogate their understanding of the problem, ensuring they know its complexities and setting the stage for resident-centered solutions. Along the way, they encountered barriers to engaging in the kinds of thoughtful stakeholder interviews and observations that support deep understanding of problems they want to solve. Below, we celebrate a few examples from the program to learn how cities creatively set up focused research scopes, got the most out of their observations, and did right by residents who contributed to the research dialogue.

Setting up focused research scopes: waste management deep dive

Fortaleza, Brazil

Program/focal area:

Through the 2022 Innovation Training, the Fortaleza team is focusing on curbing waste accumulation and changing resident behaviors towards street littering.

How they focused their research scope:

Fortaleza seeks to build a more comprehensive understanding of how residents with stratified access to trash collection and recyclers manage the waste problem. The team strategically prioritized three city regions of focus by overlaying a density map of garbage receptacles with identified garbage hotspots to pick areas that had obvious challenges with garbage accumulation but different socio-economic levels and health outcomes.

Amarillo, United States

Program/focal area:

Through the Innovation Track, Amarillo is focusing on addressing illegal dumping in San Jacinto, a neighborhood within the city known for having high rates of this activity.

How they focused their research scope:

The Amarillo team began their research by speaking to their city’s current Director of Public Works, the position responsible for cleaning up illegal dumping. By first looking internally to learn more about what the city has done to address illegal dumping, its successes, its failures, and the city’s plans for the future, the Amarillo Innovation Track team learned how they can add differentiated value through their research to avoid duplicate efforts. Based on this conversation, they adjusted their focus on one neighborhood, San Jacinto, where illegal dumping is a consistent problem, versus trying to ‘solve’ illegal dumping as a whole.

Montevideo, Uruguay

Program/focal area:

The team is investigating how to decrease waste in public parks, specifically Rivera Park, by improving the synergy between the stakeholders and changing resident behavior through adopting sustainable consumption practices.

How they focused their research scope:

Ahead of interviewing residents, the team conducted multiple observation sessions to get a clearer idea of the problem they wanted to solve, who they wanted to talk to, and the types of questions they would ask. The team visited the La Planta de Tratamiento de Residuos orgánicos (TRESOR), a waste plant, Planta Géminis, a waste sorting facility, and an additional waste disposal site. Through all of these observations, the team learned that tackling the entire waste crisis was ‘boiling the ocean’ and instead, decided to put their efforts toward a more actionable topic, waste in public parks. This realization then created a more targeted research plan to interview those that use and visit Rivera Park, ultimately resulting in increased quality of data and additional clarity in how the city can plug in.

Getting the most out of observations

Warsaw, Poland

Program/focal area:

Warsaw is participating in Innovation Training to address the city’s concerns with behaviors that exacerbate pollution and reduce air quality.

How they got the most out of observations:

Despite extreme capacity pressures from the current Ukrainian Refugee Crisis, Warsaw shined in their methodical strategy around conducting observations during research. They created an A/B model for exploration by establishing a set of key ‘metrics’ to track at four different observation sites, like the number of residents over the age of 65 or women/children at different public transportation points. In others, they took on a longitudinal approach, conducting multiple observations of specific sites (like homes with chimneys) over the course of a day or in different weather conditions. The team learned of accessibility and equity barriers to available pro-climate solutions through these observations.

Honolulu, United States

Program/focal area:

Honolulu is investigating the current city recruiting and hiring process in order to increase the quality of city service for the most disadvantaged residents.

How they got the most out of observations:

The Honolulu team attended multiple local job fairs to get a well-rounded understanding of the multitude of perspectives surrounding hiring in the city. In particular, the team visited the Hawaii Career Expo and the University of Hawaii at Mānoa Spring Career Fair. During these observation sessions, the team learned about what jobseekers are interested in when finding a job and what the city’s unique advantages and disadvantages are when hiring. While those observing the Mānoa Career Fair noticed that job seekers are looking for opportunities to build their skill sets and resumes, those observing the Hawaii Career Expo reflected on many jobseekers asking about open entry-level positions. These similar, yet distinct, observations taught the team the importance of seeking the same information from a variety of sources to ensure all diverse perspectives are represented and reflected in their research.

Doing right by residents who contribute to the research dialogue

Calgary, Canada

Program/focal area:

The Calgary team is using the Innovation Training program as an opportunity to focus on making Calgary more economically and socially attractive for the city’s young people. 

How they interviewed residents while following rigorous data privacy policies:

When beginning their research, the city needed to find a creative and equitable way to coordinate interviews with a diverse group of youth while honoring the rigorous city-wide resident data privacy policies. The Calgary team navigated this by clearly stating each resident’s privacy rights and consent at the very beginning of outreach, asking potential interviewees to complete a demographics and consent survey before even setting up the interview. They also recorded interview audio on phones to delete after research and scrubbed their notes of identifiable information to protect resident privacy from anyone engaging in research analysis. By being intentional with their privacy approach, those interviewed were supported to be candid, direct and open resulting in deeper understanding. This allowed the team to get an intentional range of interviews while centering the privacy and protections of engaged residents.

Orlando, United States

Program/focal area:

Through Innovation Training, the Orlando team is working to break the cycle of youth experiencing homelessness – particularly among Black, LGBTQ+, and youth aging out of foster care.

How they are doing right by stakeholders involved in research:

The team recognized they lack the lived experience of being homeless youths themselves, and wanted to make sure that their work is advised by people who are closest to the problem. Through partnerships and intentional outreach, the team brought on two formerly homeless youths who serve on the city’s Homeless Youth Advisory Council as long-term project advisors and collaborators. The team has 200 hours of compensated time to work with these advisors, funded through local nonprofits. By integrating compensated experts to help inform public sector work, the team has built in engagement from stakeholders who have been most historically impacted by the problem.

Limerick, Ireland and Pomona, United States

Program/focal area:

Innovation Training’s Limerick team and Innovation Track’s Pomona team are focusing on revitalizing their city center and improving access to the social, emotional, and academic benefits of early childhood support. Both wanted to make sure that residents who were engaged were fairly compensated for their engagement. 

How they interviewed residents while following rigorous data privacy policies:

Both teams compensated interviewees with $50 gift cards from among the city’s local shops and businesses. For Limerick, this had a direct tie with their effort to increase engagement in the city’s downtown. For Pomona, compensating with gift cards to local businesses helps promote economic investment in local store owners and their families. 

Written by:

Carina Gormley Associate, North America
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Lily Payton Associate, North America
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Naja Nelson Associate, North America
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Saumya Shruti Senior Associate, North America
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