What the Mayors Challenge team learned after offering training to 4,000 city employees in 308 U.S. cities | Bloomberg Philanthropies

By Anne Emig

The Mayor’s Challenge has been an integral part of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ strategy to help city leaders generate innovative solutions since 2013. But we’ve never attempted a competition on the scale of what we’re doing right now.

After successful runs in the U.S. (2013), Europe (2014), and Latin America and the Caribbean (2016), we brought the Mayors Challenge back to the United States this year as the first investment in Michael Bloomberg’s $200-million American Cities Initiative, a recently announced suite of new and expanded offerings that will strengthen U.S. cities through bold leadership.

With 555 cities entered, this year’s Challenge is the biggest ever. It also includes an unprecedented amount of training for leaders in these cities. Over the past two months, the Mayors Challenge team has conducted full-day “Idea Accelerator” workshops in 308 city halls to nearly 4,000 city employees.

Our primary goal for offering over 2,000 hours of skill-building workshops was to empower city leaders to tackle their toughest challenges. But as it turns out, we’ve learned quite a bit ourselves by engaging at the grassroots with the men and women working on the front lines.

So what did we learn? Here are seven highlights from our full report:

Cities big and small face similar problems.

In surveys conducted at the workshops, there were large areas of overlap on top-level priorities. For example 30 percent cited economic challenges such as workforce development; and 26 percent identified income inequality and social inclusion. Similarly, when asked to identify specific problem areas, nearly a quarter — 22 percent — cited affordable housing and 20 percent said traffic congestion.

  • At the same time, there is a wide variety in the types of problems cities face, from broadband access to opioids, public safety to climate change, increasing government efficiency to citizen engagement. The survey also found cities contending with two fundamentally different trends: The benefits and challenges that come with rapid population growth (affordable housing, traffic, economic equity) and the opposite range of problems that come as the population core dwindles (lack of resources, crime, and drug addiction).

The next milestone for the Mayors Challenge is October 20, when initial applications are due. From there, we’ll announce 35 “Champion Cities” in January, awarding each city up to $100,000 to test and refine their ideas, creating a coast-to-coast innovation laboratory. Winners of the Mayors Challenge will be announced in October 2018, with the grand prize winner awarded $5 million and four finalists winning $1 million to bring their ideas to life.

Originally published at www.bloomberg.org.

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

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