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article imageToronto to use innovative tech solutions to handle city problems

By Karen Graham     Jul 18, 2017 in Technology
Toronto - In finding solutions to a number of city challenges, Toronto has formed a Civic Innovations Office. The office will work with City Divisions and agencies in identifying major challenges that can be solved using innovative partnerships with outside teams.
City governments and front-line agencies are thinking more and more about how to create innovative solutions to their most pressing problems. And when you think about it, many problems, like dwindling budgets, changing needs and expectations from the public, as well as a need to update and streamline services are common issues with most cities, and Toronto is no exception.
The Toronto Metro last month took a close look at a few of the challenges facing the city, including an outdated technology infrastructure that dates back to the 1990s and the lack of a centralized computer database. Toronto's current database setup doesn't even allow many of the systems to communicate with each other.
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Toronto's initiative was made possible by a grant of $500,000 from Bloomberg Philanthropies, as part of its Innovation Teams program. Toronto is also the first Canadian city to receive a grant through the Bloomberg program.
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“Toronto is home to a large population of innovators, startups and tech companies who can help the City deliver better services to the public while promoting a new approach to problem-solving within government,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory in March. “I look forward to working with Bloomberg Philanthropies, City divisions, and our civic technology community to launch this exciting new Civic Innovation Office.”
The Innovation Team approach
Toronto's office will be housed within the City Manager's Office. The CIO will also work closely with other Innovation Team grantee cities, including Anchorage, Alaska; Durham, North Carolina; Austin, Texas; Baltimore, Maryland; and Detroit, Michigan. All the Innovation Teams are data-driven, meaning they conduct both qualitative and quantitative research and analyses to assess local conditions before developing responsible solutions.
Here is a brief description of how the Innovation Team initiative will work — external teams will work through 16-week stints to create solutions to challenges faced by Toronto residents, which can be procured by the city. The teams will focus on four categories:
1. Creating solutions to solve specific challenges. Basically, the I-Teams are the developers and creators of innovation based on collaboration with colleagues in other government agencies. It's sort of like getting together and exchanging ideas.
2. Engaging citizens, nonprofits, and businesses to find new ideas. In this case, I-teams are enablers, focusing on making government more receptive to ideas from outside the system. This often results in using innovative and proven approaches to challenges already used in the private sector. This is also where strong communication and engagement skills come into play.
3. Transforming the processes, skills and culture of government. I-Teams are also educators, and this is an important function in order to get people inside government to accept changing technology and innovation. Not only is acceptance of new technology needed, but being able to provide training is needed.
4. Achieving wider policy and systems change. And lastly, I-Team's are architects, bringing about transformation of the workplace by using creative design and blueprints that others can follow.
The whole idea is very exciting and from the success stories of other cities who have gone through the Innovation Team program, Toronto will surely see a great deal of improvement, especially in dragging itself into the 21st century and the world of sustainable technology.
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