Civic Imagination Workshop

Mayors are often the visionaries of a city and the conduit for citizens’ hopes and fears about the future. The Civic Imagination Workshops at the 2019 Mayors Summit were unique opportunities for mayors to learn innovative techniques for thinking more effectively about the future, and to get hands-on experience applying these techniques to issues relevant to the future of their cities.

The foresight activities that the mayors engaged were challenging, creative, fun, and ultimately productive. They have added new tools to their foresight toolkit, and can leverage these new skills in their strategic processes and citizen engagements.

Service Design Workshop

This year, Civic I/O introduced mayors to service design, an innovation discipline focused on creating shared public value between cities and residents.

We brought in Christian Bason from the Danish Design Center, the leading organization in service design and civic innovation together with our advisers, Angela Hansen and Lincoln Neiger, practitioners at the forefront of this discipline to create a bespoke workshop intended to introduce mayors to the value of service design and help them see their role in supporting this capability in their cities.

Guiding mayors through a role play activity, Lincoln Neiger, Civic I/O adviser and service designer at the City of Austin’s Innovation Office, opened up the space to discuss the very role of public services in cities. How is a city meant to support its residents? How do we go about administering and prioritizing help in a resource-strapped environment? What, ultimately, is the value we bring to our residents? Mayors assumed the role of Doris Leonard, a 71-year-old senior in their city, as she struggles to pay an unexpected utility balance before her household’s electricity is disconnected.

The resulting discussion revealed the types of opportunities and ideas that service design fosters. When discussing solutions, mayors balanced the political complications of simply paying Doris’ utility balance with a more nuanced approach of providing her with digital literacy opportunities to help her keep up to speed with her online billing. One might assume the best way to solve Doris’ problems would be to address them as they happen, but further investigation may reveal opportunities to resolve these issues farther upstream, before Doris ever feels the anxiety and stress of a disconnection notice. For instance: could the utility company send a courtesy notice sooner? Could they keep an eye on at-risk populations to ensure they are connected to resources that will help them before they are in crisis?

After his comprehensive introduction to the value and impact of service design and civic innovation in the public sector, Christian Bason shared a few case studies of his work as CEO of the Danish Design Center. Ranging from public housing to food security, he highlighted both the quantitative and qualitative gains service design can bring to cities.

This discussion brought mayors to an important question: How might they, as leaders, support and nurture service design capabilities in their cities? Angela Hansen, Civic I/O adviser and Innovation Lead at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), crafted a tool to help mayors identify answers to this question. Mayors discussed their roles in supporting feedback loops between design and community, paving the way for innovative, sometimes controversial working styles, and how to support the development of their frontline and management staff. Many mayors were able to identify existing efforts that already support a service design capability in their cities.

In the end, mayors played back their learnings and perspectives to the larger Civic I/O group. They highlights the potential service design has to bring change to their organizations, and the existing habits they employ that already support an environment for service design.

Mayors Summit Foresight

Newscasts From The Future

In the first session on Friday March 9th, after presentations from leading thinkers in ethical technologies and tech policy, mayors were introduced to several frameworks for effective futures thinking. In a series of provocative exercises, mayors flexed their creative muscles to uncover and examine their own assumptions about the future. Together they collectively created a baseline of major trends along three distinct time horizons, and then generated artifacts from the future. These artifacts took the form of “newscasts from the future” where the stories presented reflected aspirational visions for the future.

Tim Keller

Mayor of Albuquerque, NM

Nan Whaley

Mayor of Dayton, OH

Bryan Barnett

Mayor of Columbia, SC

Social Inventor's Toolkit

In the second session, on Saturday March 10th, mayors engaged in a workshop to imagine and prototype political systems for an imagined society in 2040. Working with the Social Inventor’s Toolkit created by the Governance Futures Lab, mayors expressed and interrogated their own foundational value systems and their beliefs about human behavior, and then imagined new ways of organizing society to reflect those beliefs. These activities helped mayors and their staffs think critically about the principles of our governing systems and to improve their capacity for social invention for the 21st century.

Special Thanks

Special thanks to Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation for their support of Civic I/O and the Civic Imagination program at the 2019 Civic I/O Mayors Summit at SXSW. We are grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with the Kauffman Foundation to engage mayors and entrepreneurs on the most difficult problems of our day using the best aspects of both public and private innovation.

Do you want to get involved?

Interested in innovative techniques for thinking more effectively about the future like these? Looking for ways to get hands-on experience applying these techniques to issues relevant to the future of your city? Interested in being a part of our 2020 Mayors Summit? Let’s chat.

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