In a national expansion slated for 2018, San Francisco’s Startup in Residence program (STiR) is attempting to diversify its lineup of civic tech solutions while providing startups a national network for research and development insights.
San Francisco Chief Innovation Officer Jay Nath said the program — which pairs startups with city departments on digital innovation projects — is evolving into a national platform to generate a wider variety of tools. For technology startups, the national scope will provide a larger network for feedback on development.
“There’s something very powerful about putting a network of cities together, and you see that obviously in other organizations that have done great work, and we see the same thing around technology,” Nath told StateScoop. “You could imagine that people are sharing some of the successes that have occurred in their city and being able to really import or take those successes into other cities.”
San Francisco started STiR in 2014 after receiving a federal grant to establish the program. After a hiatus in 2015, STiR grew into a regional program for the Bay Area in 2016 and included the California cities of San Francisco, Oakland, San Leandro and West Sacramento.
Results have proven the program successful thus far, with cities furthering projects through official contracts and continued collaboration. The work has created tools to help fire departments manage volunteers, assisted prospective foster care parents in the application process, matched homeless people with social service resources and designed analytics platforms to track engagement activity and revenue for city facilities.
Nath said he expects joining cities will have challenges that call for new solutions, digital tools and processes that can possibly be applied to other cities. One past example is STiR’s RFP Bus, a way for cities to quickly contract services from startups by bundling multiple requests for proposal (RFPs) with common traits into a single contract. The policy innovation, which shrinks a potentially multi-year process into two weeks, began in San Francisco, but is now available to all STiR participants.
“There’s just a huge amount of learning opportunities, best practice sharing and sharing of solutions across cities that can emerge when you’ve got a really diverse and closely knit network.”
In the program’s expansion, San Francisco will turn over its leadership role to the City Innovate Foundation (CIF), a nonprofit specializing in digital innovation for government. The group partnered with the city in 2016 to launch Superpublic, an innovation lab that aims to increase collaboration between government, private technology firms, nonprofits and universities. The city will assume a supporting role going forward, offering guidance and financial support through its remaining federal grant funding.
“The Mayor’s Office has a number of strengths but it also has some drawbacks in working across a number of different cities,” Nath said. “So we feel that having a partner like CIF is really important for us and for the mission of this program to make as much impact as possible.”
The city has received more than two dozen applications from interested cities so far, Nath reported. STiR extended its application deadline to Sept. 15 to give cities more time to apply. The total number to be selected, Nath said, will depend on the interest level and support available. That criteria, he said, calls on strong executive sponsorship from the mayor or city manager and it requires a point person to handle program management and communication.
“For us it’s really about the right set of partners, and so that means making sure that the cities that join meet the criteria we’re looking for,” Nath said. “If that number leaves us at 10 or seven or maybe up to 12, we’re happy about that. We want to continue growing the network, but we want to do it in a way that’s responsible and sustainable.”