PURSUING INNOVATION IN Local Government: Survey Results and Interviews of Thought Leaders Highlight Organizational Changes, Use of Performance Measures, and Infrastructure Financing Trends That Suggest Lessons for Creating Innovative Organizations

By Swindell, David; Selby, John David | Public Management, December 2017 | Go to article overview

PURSUING INNOVATION IN Local Government: Survey Results and Interviews of Thought Leaders Highlight Organizational Changes, Use of Performance Measures, and Infrastructure Financing Trends That Suggest Lessons for Creating Innovative Organizations


Swindell, David, Selby, John David, Public Management


Organizational and service delivery improvements are perpetual goals of local government officials. The common phenomenon of organizational inertia, on the other hand, is a perpetual impediment to achieving these goals. With more than 22,000 municipal and county governments in the U.S., opportunities abound to learn from the successes and failures of those organizations experimenting with innovations.

One challenge to sharing this kind of learning is that there is no clear and shared definition of "innovation." The focus has tended to be on the technological aspects of innovation, particularly in terms of telecommunications, big data, social media, and "smart" technologies. Furthermore, interesting cases of innovation are rarely linked to major themes in the management, public administration, or organizational psychology literature regarding how to encourage innovation in an organization.

This article embraces a broader concept of innovation that includes not only new technologies but also organizational changes and other modifications that may not be new to the profession but are new to a specific jurisdiction. Instead of relying only on case studies, we use data from a new survey of local governments on a range of innovations they have undertaken in recent years along with follow-up interviews of officials in the most innovative organizations, all informed by broader academic research.

We seek to identify specific practices these organizations embrace (e.g., internal consolidation and process changes) that encourage experimentation and a culture of innovation by focusing on general findings from the survey in three areas: organizational changes, performance measurement, and infrastructure financing. The results suggest opportunities and challenges for any local governments interested in changing their organizations.

METHODOLOGY

As part of the Enhanced Research Partnership with Arizona State University's Center for Urban Innovation and the Alliance for Innovation, ICMA implemented the 2016 Innovations and Emerging Practices Survey. The survey went to 5,004 chief administrative officers of general-purpose local governments in the United States. The survey garnered a data set of 599 responses (an 11 percent response rate with a +/-3.9 percentage point margin of error). The results yielded a representative sample in terms of region of the country, size of jurisdiction, and type of local government (appointed CAO or elected).

The survey focused on five initial areas of inquiry: organizational change, performance data analytics, public engagement, regulating the shared economy, and infrastructure financing. Future iterations of the survey will repeat selected questions for tracking over time, while others will be replaced with questions on additional areas of innovative practices.

Given the array of questions, we were able to construct a simple scale of innovativeness and rank the responding jurisdictions. We combined nine indicator questions (e.g., does your organization collect performance data) into an adjusted score. The more innovative practices a jurisdiction adopts (as measured by the indicator questions in the survey) relative to other jurisdictions that are not adopting them, then the more innovative it is. This captures both dimensions of innovation (new ideas to the field as well as new ideas in a given jurisdiction), regardless of the success or failure of the innovation(s). Thus, we ranked the jurisdictions and interviewed members of select jurisdictions' leadership to understand their innovations, how they encourage a culture of innovation, and what they perceive as the challenges to pursuing innovations. Highlights of our findings and observations about innovation follow.

ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGE

One of the most striking findings from the survey is the extent of changes occurring across the nation's communities. Almost one-third of all responding jurisdictions reported that they had undertaken at least one change in their organizational design or operations in the year prior to the survey, with several reporting more than one change. …

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PURSUING INNOVATION IN Local Government: Survey Results and Interviews of Thought Leaders Highlight Organizational Changes, Use of Performance Measures, and Infrastructure Financing Trends That Suggest Lessons for Creating Innovative Organizations
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