Policy-Making as a Critical Tool to Support Inclusive Innovation

As cities develop their innovation ecosystems, there are many factors at play - ranging from fostering a robust talent pipeline, to building strong enabling environments buoyed by diverse sources of capital, to enhancing entrepreneurial networks, to cultivating a shared narrative around innovation and entrepreneurship. But often these emerging urban ecosystems are driven by private sector, non-profit, and university leaders with policy-makers lagging behind.

This past December, Forward Cities partnered with Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy to host a half-day retreat focused on the role that municipal policy plays in strengthening inclusive innovation in cities. One featured speaker was the Global Cities Lead from Accenture, Simon Giles, on a diagnostic tool that Accenture developed with Nesta and Catapult Cities called CITIE. Based on extensive research, CITIE offers up a set of policy levers that city governments can use to catalyze local innovation and entrepreneurship. It also includes a comprehensive diagnostic tool that allows policy makers an opportunity to assess the city's efforts on a number of important dimensions including: its current regulatory environment that allows for disruptive innovation; available public and private spaces to help foster high-growth companies; use of publicly available data to optimize services and provide the raw material to help spark private solutions to public challenges; and the strength of a city's strategic vision for its innovative future. In addition to the publicly available framework and diagnostic tool, CITIE's partners have created case studies ranging from Helsinki, to Chicago, to Seoul.

The CITIE resource is something urban policy-maker should become deeply familiar with. As was discussed during the question and answer session with Simon, however, the CITIE framework currently overlooks the importance of equity, access, and inclusion in any of its analysis. For example, a city may have a robust set of incentives for high-tech, high-growth entrepreneurship but may miss the boat entirely on creating a supportive policy environment for emerging "main street" businesses including creating subsidized retail space, encouraging micro-lending, increasing access to affordable and appropriate technical assistance, etc. As Simon acknowledged, this is something that will need to be built into the tool providing an opportunity for the Forward Cities.

Following Simon's presentation, Pittsburgh's Chief Innovation Officer Debra Lam shared their newly released (Sept 2015) Roadmap for Inclusive Innovation. Squarely focused on and inclusion and trying to stimulate Pittsburgh's diverse entrepreneurial ecosystem, the roadmap lays out a set of recommendations for the city such as addressing the digital divide, empowering city-to-citizen engagement, and promoting the local business environment. Informed by local entrepreneurs, the plan has very specific ideas for the city including adapting and testing local business products and services within City Government and subsidizing space in local co-working spaces for applicants who aren't currently able to afford it. ou can read the full report here.

We're thrilled that Debra Lam took some additional time to share her thoughts in an interview for this month's newsletter.

During the December convening we were also able to hear from Steven Bosacker, Living Cities' Director of Public Sector Innovation, on their national work on municipal policy innovation. During his remarks, Steven (the previous City Coordinator of the City of Minneapolis), made very clear how integral local government is to stimulating inclusive economic development in our cities. "Government still remains the entity with the purview and cash to fundamentally change big systems," he said. Speaking from the standpoint of individual entrepreneurs, Andrea Chen of Propeller in New Orleans added, "every entrepreneur at some point bumps into some sort of policy hurdle."

From the much discussed redlining policies that displaced and destroyed minority communities over the last century to the seemingly minor issue of knowing what licensing one needs to open a business, our discussions at Forward Cities have a tendency to go back, one way or another, to policy. Our hope is that as we strive to advance inclusive innovation in our cities that policy-making can go from lagging behind to help leading the charge.