NYU's 'People-Led Innovation' project launches new website

NYU Jacobs Academic Building (GK Tramrunner / Wikimedia)

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Building on the success of its previous government innovation projects in Chile, Ecuador and Mexico, a governance thought lab at New York University is launching a new tool for local government officials in the U.S. to more quickly and efficiently get the expert insight they need — from their constituents, subject-matter experts and anchor institutions in their communities.

The project — called “People-Led Innovation: Toward a Methodology for Solving Urban Problems in the 21st Century” — is a collaborative effort between NYU’s GovLab at the Tandon School of Engineering and the Bertelsmann Foundation, an independent D.C.-based think tank that has previously studied localized policy solutions in Boston and Athens, Greece.

The People-Led Innovation project, which went live Tuesday at Peopleledinnovation.org, is an attempt from both organizations at establishing a methodology that empowers local and regional government officials to use the knowledge of community institutions and individuals to solve government’s challenges — in other words, “to engage the right people for the right task at the right time,” according to a statement from GovLab’s co-founder and chief R&D officer, Stefaan Verhulst.

The new website offers a full download of the methodology and the associated worksheets for local leaders to use themselves, as well as examples of different people-focused government innovation efforts both inside and outside the U.S.

Tuesday’s announcement of the new website comes nearly a year after the release of the methodology, which can be broken down into four steps: Defining a problem, curating a solution through engagement, leveraging data and human outreach, experimenting with solutions, and ultimately lesson-sharing and feedback gathering.

“The People-Led Innovation initiative is built on the idea that, as governments increasingly experiment with new means for drawing on the public’s knowledge and skills to address common challenges, one-size-fits-all citizen engagement efforts are often too broad and unwieldy to surface useful insights for city governments,” Verhulst said.

The methodology also directs government leaders to carefully consider who they turn to when looking for an innovative solution. A series of worksheets for officials to fill out are designed to distinguish the roles that residents play when compared to subject-matter experts, or how non-governmental organizations can engage in a problem differently than local business owners or anchor institutions would. 

“In the modern era of governance where municipalities increasingly face incredibly complex challenges, the need for innovation is clear,” said Jeffrey Brown, manager of future of work & artificial intelligence at the Bertelsmann Foundation, in a statement. “Cities need to go beyond providing innovative solutions – they also need to transform and modernize the way those solutions are developed.”

GovLab is now seeking cities and communities to work with to refine and assess the effectiveness of the people-led approach.

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