The Opportunity Project for Cities
Community tools, powered by local data
A new model for innovation
The Opportunity Project for Cities puts open data to work. We bring together governments, community leaders, and tech volunteers to address local challenges through the power of open data and community engagement.
During the program, cities create a series of customized digital tools that speak to residents’ most pressing needs. The Opportunity Project for Cities builds a culture of government transparency, accessibility, and responsiveness that strengthens trust with residents and lays the foundation for lasting cocreated innovation.
Inspired by the U.S. Census Bureau’s The Opportunity Project (TOP), The Opportunity Project for Cities' methodology is:
Cross-sectoral: Cities face increasingly complex challenges with ever-diminishing resources, and they cannot solve them alone. Our program empowers city governments to partner with community leaders and tech partners to tackle problems and create more effective solutions while simultaneously building trust with residents.
Community-driven: City residents and the local organizations that serve them understand problems best. Our program creates opportunities for communities to take the lead in civic problem-solving and cocreating solutions.
Open-source: Open data has the potential to address residents' pressing challenges, but local governments often need support to turn data into solutions. Our program helps local governments learn to work with technologists to build sustainable products using open and accessible data.
How we work
The Opportunity Project for Cities is executed in a series of 20-week collaborative design sprints that increase community voice in government decision-making and produce valuable tools that address community problems.
During the design sprint, teams:
Understand a problem through community research, interviewing residents and other stakeholders to better define the problem they seek to address
Prototype, test, and build a product that uses open data to solve the problem
Launch the product and ensure that it is widely accessible and able to be sustained long-term
Our work in action
The Opportunity Project for Cities sprint toolkit: a guide for community-driven innovation sprints in cities
The Opportunity Project for Cities: Lessons from Saint Paul and San José
San José (CA) and Saint Paul (MN) set new standard in building data-led housing solutions during COVID-19 pandemic
We are in a housing crisis which demands innovative, data-driven solutions. This collaboration will expand our ability to leverage public data in our ongoing work to connect people experiencing homelessness to support, services, and shelter.
We can better help thousands of our most vulnerable families confronting an ‘eviction cliff’ with data-driven solutions that enable us to focus and maximize our resources to put our community on the path to an equitable recovery. I am grateful to the Centre for Public Impact, the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation, the Knight Foundation, and Google.org for their generosity and commitment to civic innovation.
I knew there was going to be culture change involved in The Opportunity Project for Cities sprint, but I didn’t anticipate such big system changes needing to happen for the longevity of the tool to operate in the way residents and providers want it to operate, like securing their own bed for the night and real-time communication with providers - that’s not only culture change but also systems change.
Originally, our program was focused on how to quantify the eviction cliff. What was helpful with The Opportunity Project for Cities was that it went beyond just a number to consider what solution can be put in place to actually alleviate the problem - what would improve the situation for all these people who are potentially going to be evicted?
By strengthening our partnership with Catholic Charities, we’re starting to build that trust. We have to start understanding that as a city government, there are areas that we do well and there are areas that Catholic Charities does well. By working together in a project like The Opportunity Project for Cities, it shows the community not only can we work together well, we are building up that rapport, building up that trust together.
This process broadened the conversation with the community. I talk to outreach a lot right now, and I was talking to those experiencing homelessness a lot back when we first started in February, but it was really beneficial for our team to hear from service providers and those that are experiencing homelessness.
Data and technology are tools that must be used to strengthen civic engagement and build more engaged communities. The Opportunity Project for Cities is an exciting model to design city services with residents at the center, and provides a model for local governments use that design process to driven innovation within their organizations and improve civic engagement and decision-making!
The Opportunity Project for Cities sprint process really hit the importance of doing the direct interview with the “users”, from both the IT and Services perspectives. Working collaboratively with the people who will utilize that service to define what they need and how this will support them was a very impacting experience, and we’re building a better product and delivering a better service as a result.
We hear from nonprofits & civic entities that they could solve their biggest challenges more effectively by pairing knowledge of local communities with additional resources, specifically technology expertise. Google volunteers collaborated as the technology team alongside St. Paul & San José to build data-led housing solutions that would achieve just that. The solutions & toolkit that emerged from this sprint have the unique power to unlock opportunities nationwide.
Partnering at the intersection of data and government