Calgary’s secret to scaling up innovation: training city employees

Name: Lisa Sierra

Title: Manager of Innovation, Data, and External Access

City: Calgary, Canada

When Lisa Sierra started pushing Calgary city employees to solve problems in new ways, “innovation was happening in pockets all over the organization, but it was isolated,” she said. That was three years ago. Since then, the civic innovation lab she launched has trained more than 5,000 city employees in techniques for redesigning city services around resident needs. Now, alumni of those trainings are putting their knowledge to work as part of something called “Tiger Teams” — cross-departmental groups created to tackle especially tricky challenges. For example, when utility work threatened to close the roadway through a major business district for up to two years, a Tiger Team held a series of design sessions with concerned citizens and business owners. Together they arrived at the clever solution to convert the alleyway behind the businesses into a temporary main street — businesses have even hosted alley parties there. The idea required moving trash and recycling out of the alley, changing street signs, and other forms of municipal flexibility that would have been hard to achieve otherwise. “We’re listening to citizens in a different way than we ever have before,” Sierra said, “and that’s a good thing.”

“Focus on the people in your organization. Cheer them on from the sidelines, give them a kick in the pants when they need it, be an advocate for them, and provide them tactical cover. Always focus on the people.”

Celebrating public sector progress and innovation in cities around the world. Run by @BloombergDotOrg’s Government Innovation program.

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