Driving innovation forward in a small city with a big reputation
Name: Denise Linn Riedl
Title: Chief Innovation Officer
City: South Bend, Ind.
For a small city, South Bend, Ind., is gaining a big reputation for innovation. And Denise Linn Riedl, who joined City Hall in February, is helping lead the charge. As head of the city’s Innovation and Technology Department, she oversees the South Bend Academy. It’s an employee upskilling program, modeled on Denver’s Peak Academy, that has delivered more than 200 trainings on topics such as ways to cut waste out of internal processes and how to apply the principles of human-centered design to city services. Now, Riedl is taking this effort a step further by working directly with departments to become more focused on the needs of people using key city services. First up is the Fire Department, which is partnering with Riedl’s team to make fire inspections more user-friendly for both small business and the inspectors. Next up: Digging into South Bend’s idea for providing people with low incomes new options to get to work in a city where transit service can be spotty. While Riedl wasn’t on board yet when the idea developed through last year’s Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge, she can see why South Bend was among the nine winners. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the willingness to innovate and try new things,” Riedl said. “If someone has an idea, everyone tries to drive to yes.”
“When you’re changing government systems from the inside out, you have to do it slowly on the front end to make it sustainable. You have to work at the pace of trust.”