Call for Innovation

Call for Innovations (or Ideas) is a new procurement tool in which cities/towns issue first a problem statement rather than specifications. 

Benefits & Problems Addressed

Out of the box thinking: A Call for Innovations/Ideas opens opportunities that might not otherwise be possible through traditional Requests for Proposals (RfPs) & procurement processes.

Start with the problem: A call for ideas begins by correctly identifying & articulating the problem to be addressed.  Traditional RfPs require a city/town to state the problems and specify the solution in the same document. Many solutions, however, are difficult to forecast until later in the research and implementation phases.

Infusing multiple avenues of public services: A traditional RfP typically solicits services/products for a single use.  A Call for Innovation/Ideas can gather ideas that get fed into multiple policies, manuals, and programs.

Tips & Techniques

Getting started: Begin by brainstorming various community challenges. Choose topics that align across several Departments and with the community (residents, non-profits, the business community, schools & Universities). Establish a pilot with a first challenge with a Request for Innovation (RfI).

Types of Challenges: Solutions for (1) reducing energy costs in public buildings, (2) crime prevention via technology, (3) increasing digital inclusion, (4) reducing food waste, (5)

Problem Definition: Develop a list of challenges.  Through interviews with on-the-ground leaders, compare and rank based on the potential for scale and innovation. In this phase, disaggregate the components related to the community challenge sector to identify research, data sets and leverage points for innovative solutions. Reconvene stakeholders to verify the challenge and its components to be tackled.

Call for Innovators: Develop and issue the open call widely. Frame the challenge in the language of market-based opportunities.  At this stage, the city will want to decide (1) whether to supply grants for the idea stage, (2) how to link competing teams with the city officials who will be ultimately implementing solutions, (3) funding & implementation partners.

Selection criteria: Because public resources are at stake, cities/towns need a fair, transparent process. Common criteria include: implementation potential, impact, civic engagement planning & types of entrepreneur.  Cities typically seek cost savings, but can also use these competitions to test new revenue streams and/or long term program & maintenance gains. Think about ways to engage teams that are not chosen yet have interesting, valuable ideas.

Program Testing & Development: Cities/towns will need a program in place for winning team(s) that will develop program ideas.  The teams will need access to (1) work spaces, (2) financial support, (3) stakeholders, (4) data & information.  At this stage, teams will also need to work closely with staff to create implementable pilot programs and success benchmarks. Once the ideas are formed, showcase (e.g., events, websites) widely; even if the city does not use an idea, another entity may find the ideas useful. 

Pilot Programs: Cities can choose one or more ideas for implementation. Engage Departments to secure permits/waivers to test pilot ideas. If working with the public & research Universities, make sure to follow research protocol.  Once launched, carefully monitor and report the innovation.  Carefully report when a pivot is needed where the original pilot planning is not successful. If successful at a pilot scale, replicate the results on a wider basis (e.g., in additional neighborhoods). 

Hot Buttons: Procurement rules can be difficult to modify and innovate.  Managing public expectations for pilot projects that do not work. 


CityMart Challenges page 

New York City Call for Innovations 

Philadelphia Fast-Fwd Program