Archive for the ‘Innovation’ category

Making Crime Pay As A Prison Consultant

April 19, 2012

Just about anything that one has experience at can be turned into a consulting business. I never heard of a prison consultant until I read a New York Times article titled Making Crime Pay

If you are heading to prison for the first time and are looking for advice on how to survive such an ordeal, you can actually hire a prison consultant to assist you. With names like Jail Time Consulting, Executive Prison Consultants and the Prison Coach, you have quite a few options. There is even a National Registry of Prison Consultants.

Well entrepreneurs certainly know how to recognize customer needs and provide a product to fill such needs. With public corruption cases existing every where, there is probably a consultant targeting the politician prison market.

If you have come across other interesting consulting fields or services, please share them.

Love The “Just Give It A Shot” Mentality!

April 8, 2012

Detroit is dealing with a host of financial issues as the city struggles to survive and reinvent itself. As a recent article pointed out:

“The city’s badly strapped bus system recently halted late-night service (between 1 and 4 a.m.) and even cut off some routes at 8 p.m. Those buses that do run rarely show up on schedule, and 20 to 50 percent never show at all, according to a recent report. In one horror story, riders waited three hours for a bus to arrive, only to find it too packed to board. Detroit riders, understandably, are furious.”

Twenty-five year old Andy Didorosi, a young entrepreneur and lifetime Detroiter, decided to do something about the lack of quality bus service by buying three buses and starting a private transit company, which is expected to start operating in late April.

“The whole thing was born out of listening to all these solutions we had for Detroit’s transit woes come and go, you hear about these over and over and over again and your thought is: why doesn’t someone just give it a shot?”

“If people can’t get anywhere, the city doesn’t work,” Didorosi says. “As Detroiters we’re just frustrated as hell. This is my small effort to put something back together. Maybe we’ll bring some innovation to the market and move forward as a city.”

We need more people like Andy Didorosi. Twenty-five years old and starting a bus company. Why not just give it a shot!

Empowering Residents Through Participatory Budgeting

April 3, 2012

Kudos to four New York City Councilmembers who are letting residents of their districts have a say in how some discretionary funds are being spent. Joe Moore an Alderman from Chicago has also utilized Participatory Budgeting, which I discussed in a previous blog post.

An article in the New York Times highlights how Participatory Budgeting works. There is even a non-profit organization devoted to assisting communities with implementing Participatory Budgeting.

People are so cynical and distrusting about how government operates, so I support any process that encourages and engages the public in government decisions. One of the quotes highlighted in the Times article says it all: “So far, I love feeling like we have some say in what is done,” said Maggie Tobin, a participant from Kensington, Brooklyn, in Council District 39.

The ability to dole out government money is power that all elected officials relish and are reluctant to share. When I served as Chief of Staff to the Buffalo Common Council the big question that every councilmember wanted to know when the Mayor’s budget was released was how much discretionary funding were they going to have access to. Very little discussion or debate took place regarding budget priorities or policies proposed by the Mayor. The only fighting or negotiating that took place primarily involved how much money Councilmembers could control.

Turning the power of determining funding priorities over to citizens is a great way to encourage and increase public participation in government. Very few elected officials have been willing to empower community residents to have a direct say regarding budget decisions. I applaud the four New York City Councilmembers and Alderman Moore in Chicago for empowering community residents and hope that this idea spreads to other local governments.

What do you think about the concept of Participatory Budgeting?

Ordering A Pizza With A Fridge Magnet!

March 29, 2012

The VIP fridge magnet, standing for Very Important Pizza, can be synced to smartphones so customers can complete their order through bluetooth.

Once your preferred type of pizza is set up, by simply pushing the magnet your order will be electronically submitted and delivered. Only one pizzeria in Dubai is set up to do this currently, but you can expect that other restaurants will follow.

See how the magnet works in the clip below:

How can we utilize this push of a button technology in government?

7 Antidotes To Public Apathy

March 21, 2012

Dave Meslin is an interesting activist from Toronto Canada who describes himself as a “professional rable-rouser”. I love the title as we truly need more folks like Dave questioning how government operates.

A common thought given the few number of people that attend public meetings or even bother to vote is that members of the public are simply lazy and not interested in public affairs.

Meslin disagrees with the view point that people are not interested in government or elections. Meslin’s position is that too many obstacles exist making it difficult for people to actively participate in public affairs. In a great 7 minute Ted Talk, Meslin highlights seven obstacles that make it difficult for citizens to participate in government and elections.

If you can’t check out the full video, in the first two minutes Meslin makes a great point as to how dense and unispiring public meeting notices are typically drafted and buried in the legal section of local newspapers. Not a great way to educate and encourage public participation in government.

Some how government officials have to get more creative with public notices and move beyond legal postings only, which in addition to not being very effective are also pretty expensive.

What do you think about Meslin’s 7 antidote’s to public apathy?

A Toilet That Symbolizes Intelligent Municipal Government

March 18, 2012

The City of Portland has designed a public toilet that it has patented and is selling to other municipalities. The public restroom contains the following features:

  • Stainless steel anti-graffiti wall panels mounted on a slim-profile steel structure, that weighs a fraction of a typical restroom, making it easier to install in high traffic locations.
  • It is lit by 100 percent solar-powered LED lights equipped with motion sensors for energy conservation.
  • The stainless steel panels are louvered and allow for surveillance by the community (without sacrificing privacy).
  •  The restroom has an exterior handwashing station that helps to deter illicit activity.

Portland has sold one of their restrooms to the British Columbia City of Victoria for $40,000.

“The Portland Loo symbolizes intelligent municipal government,” said Barry Greenfield, editor and publisher of EfficientGov. “The city created a patentable product solving a problem for all municipalities, and similarly, their sales initiative to other cities is an important innovation in government. Generating new revenue helps to alleviate taxpayer reliance. The Loo shows how government can become a profitable resource rather than a net spender.”

Portland officials have taken a very creative and entrepreneurial approach. Should municipal officials be in the business of creating and selling patented products?

5 Obstacles To Making Your Local Government Innovative

March 5, 2012

In these difficult economic times local governments need to be more innovative in how they operate. Local governments will not be able to cut their way out of their current budget crisis, instead they will have to find ways of delivering services that are smarter, faster and cheaper.

Creativity and innovation are needed in local governments today. Holly G. Green wrote a great blog post recently where she listed ten items that make innovation in any organization difficult. Below I highlight five  items from Holly’s list, which based on my 17 years of experience in government certainly fit and apply to local governments as well.

Here is a modified version of Holly’s list, with comments from me in italics:

1. We’ve always done it that way. When the organizational focus shifts to protecting the status quo, people stop looking for new processes or solutions. When problems arise, people tend to default to the solution that looks most like what has worked in the past rather than exploring new ideas or different ways of doing things. I cannot tell you how many times when I have asked why certain things are done in government the final answer becomes “we’ve always done it that way.”

2. The lone ranger approach. In many companies, one team or small department gets tasked with innovation. That’s like asking a single NASA engineer to develop a new rocket ship to take us to Mars. Innovation requires a combination of skills and talents from all areas of the organization. It does not flourish in isolated silos or hidden corners of the organization. Government offices operate very much as their own silos in many instances. One innovative agency is a great start but an innovative local government it does not make.

3. Failure not an option. Most organizations don’t tolerate failure very well to begin with. And once the mindset shifts to protecting the golden goose, failure becomes anathema to the organization. But failure goes hand-in-hand with innovation. If you’re not failing to some degree, you’re not trying or pushing hard enough. Failure in the public sector needs greater acceptance. Political opponents and the news media make failure tough to bear but I believe the public is more accepting of trying new ideas more than people realize.

4. Weak hires. Hiring people based on politics and not qualifications which is a common occurrence in many local government weakens the overall morale and talent level. As the talent level begins to decline, so do new ideas, new thinking, and successful innovation.

5. Lack of know-how. Employees need to have the appropriate skills and abilities to discover, evaluate, and execute on the best ideas. If you don’t invest the time and money to constantly develop those skills, don’t expect people to innovate on a consistent basis. People need innovation training and they need permission and support from their leaders to be innovative. Most local governments do not provide such training nor do they have a process for obtaining or implementing new ideas.

What do you think of this list? What other items would you add.

Keys To A Successful Recycling Program

February 29, 2012

In addition to being good for the environement recycling can save a municipality signficant sums of money by reducing the amount spent on landfilling garbage.

For years city officials in Buffalo have debated how to improve its dismal recycling rate. Penalties have been discussed offering incentives has been discussed, yet Buffalo has a dismal rate of recycling 8% of all of its curbside garbage. Baltimore County Maryland has experienced record breaking recycling numbers by changing two simple items:

1) Residents are not required to sort their recycables before putting it out to the street.

2) Recycables are picked up every week. No need for residents to figure out whether this week or next is a recycling pick up and no need to have items stored for up to two weeks before a pick up. Baltimore used to do a paper pick up one week and a bottle pick up another week.

Buffalo is trying a new recycling effort by providing residents with carts to put all materials in without sorting but with a biweekly pickup. Hopefully this new effort will improve recycling.

As the success with recycling in Baltimore shows, the public wants government programs to be simple and consistent.

Encouraging Innovation In Your Local Government

February 26, 2012

Boston Massachusetts Mayor Thomas Menino has led the charge among urban Mayors for a “new era of shared innovation,”. To back up his push for more innovation in government, Menino in 2010 created the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, to focus on exploring and implementing innovations that enhance City services and operations.

“The Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics will help secure Boston’s role as the hub of municipal innovation,” said Mayor Menino. “Boston must find new ways to push the envelope in how we offer services to our various constituents and to make our City and its neighborhoods work better for the families that live here.”

As reported by Nick Judd from TechPresident :

“… Mayor Thomas Menino took two of his most technology-minded staffers — both of whom had years of experience in his five-term administration to match their understanding of new tools and practices — and gave them a mandate to reinvent service delivery in his city. With limited financial resources, the help of a few graduate students, and unfettered access to the rest of the mayor’s cabinet, city advisors Nigel Jacob, a former software developer, and Chris Osgood, a longtime city official, have been given broad ability to pluck innovative ideas from the primordial soup of Boston’s tech, government and entrepreneur communities. Part of their agenda is to open government data, especially if someone needs help extracting a specific dataset from City Hall, but it’s just a small part. When they see an idea they like, they can throw a small amount of city resources behind it and use their positions inside City Hall to get answers and make introductions. And they can form partnerships with outside groups to make ideas into reality.”

“The value that we add is we aggregate risk,” Jacob explained recently. “Our approach has been, if you, Public Works, have something you want to try, but you don’t want it to show up as a crazy Public Works project, you can present it as a New Urban Mechanics project.”

This is as much about communications as it is about results. If a city agency works the way they usually do, issuing a request for proposals that results in a contract with a major firm for a product that has a mammoth price tag, failure is not an option; it’s a potentially career-ending misuse of public money.

The New Urban Mechanics model, on the other hand, is to pick projects with potential, reduce risk by working through partnerships and limited grants, and do as much with connections and savvy as with money. While nobody is expecting any individual product to revolutionize the way the city works, many lightweight projects focused on the same problems just might get more people engaged with city government, and move Boston towards a future where more residents are directly involved in the way the city is run.”

Projects that the Office of New Urban Mechanics has help develop include:

  • Citizens Connect –  A mobile application that allows users to submit service requests for problems like graffiti or potholes directly into the work queue of the Department of Public Works.
  • Street Bump – Drivers can set their mobile phones to automatically detect potholes and transmit location information to the city.
  • Community Plan It- An interactive online game to create engagement around public planning .

The key points to encouraging innovation in your local government:

1) Having a leader who is committed to a new era of innovation

2) Employees and graduate students with permission to be creative and unfettered access to key officials

3) Some financial resources

4) The ability to Form partnerships with organizations outside of government

5) The ability to fail

What do you think about Boston’s approach of creating a New Urban Office of Mechanics to encourage innovation?

Medical Idol, Bartering Talent For Health Care

February 9, 2012

Affording health insurance is tough for many people. Lincoln Hospital located in Bronx, New York lets uninsured New York City artists exchange their art for medical services.

Under the program, artists will earn “health credits” for every creative service they perform. In exchange they’ll be able to obtain doctor’s visits, laboratory tests, hospitalization, emergency care, dental care and prescriptions at Lincoln.

The Lincoln Art Exchange allows artists to barter their talent for care by providing $40 in health care credits for every hour of work that they do. “For example, an actor could read a passage from Romeo and Juliet for an hour on an in-patient unit and in return that person would get $40 in health care credits,” according to Renata Marinaro of the Eastern Region for the Actor’s Fund. “Most artists make roughly maybe $24,000 a year on average … and they need to get their health care and this is an excellent way for them to get that health care and contribute to the community,” Marinaro said.

Applicants will go through an interview process to demonstrate their work that is designed to assess what area of the hospital would be best suited for their artistic abilities.

The Lincoln program is modeled after the Artist Access program at Brooklyn’s Woodhull Medical Center that started in 2005 and now helps more than 400 artists.

What do you think about allowing artists to barter for medical services?