Putting ideas into action to build better cities

communities / Article

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Photo credit: Flickr user Christopher Dandrow.

What happens when, in a single day, you engage a stellar group of researchers and practitioners across the nation to answer one of the toughest questions facing cities?

We found out recently when we staged three Civic Innovation in Action Learning Labs.  

Related Links

"Learning Lab gathers ideas on promoting community engagement" by Carol Coletta on KnightBlog

"Learning Lab gathers ideas on making the most of talent in our cities" by Carol Coletta on KnightBlog

"Boston adopts new tools to engage residents in civic life" by Nigel Jacob on KnightBlog.org

"Scaling an Etsy Economy for a changing workforce" by Dana Mauriello

"Harriet Tregoning, identifying ideas to expand opportunities in cities" by Carol Coletta on KnightBlog

"Studio developing ideas on advancing to harness talent of a changing workforce" by Anusha Alikhan on KnightBlog

"Innovators embrace broad themes of robust engagement" by Andrew Sherry on KnightBlog

"Innovators develop ideas on advancing opportunity" by Michael Bolden on KnightBlog

We asked our experts to address these questions: 

  • How can the design and programming of places accelerate economic opportunity? What are the best policies, practices and projects to do this in a one- to three-year timeframe?
  • What are the programs, platforms and policies needed to harness talent and expand opportunity in an economy with a workforce that is increasingly fluid and independent?
  • How can robust acts of citizenship be made “general”? How can these acts become the default behavior, rather than the exception?

Each lab, structured as a Web conference with Knight Foundation staff, featured experts presenting their best thinking in 15-minute segments and answering questions for another 15 minutes, producing a sort of “Cliffs Notes” on each topic. It was a tsunami of learning that we are summarizing and will make available online.  Throughout, we asked our experts what bet they would make to act on their knowledge. Their answers will inform the work we will do in a Civic Innovation in Action Studio, set for May 12-14 in Miami, where we’re convening more than 70 people from across the country to combine the research insights with their own experience and develop new ideas to respond to these thorny questions. We expect the studio to produce a set of experiments to test in Knight communities and beyond that we hope will then lead to prototypes and eventually to civic innovations, new ideas that improve the places where we live.

The process has been enlightening and highlights one of the powerful tools we have at Knight Foundation in our pursuit of social change. We can ask the questions, tap into a network of experts and convene a diverse mix of people to consider the implications and propose next steps that we can share with city leaders, civic innovators and all of us invested in the success of cities.

In the two weeks leading up to the studio, we have asked several participants and our studio facilitators to provide their perspectives on what might come out of our three days together in Miami. They’ll share their ideas here on Knight Blog in the coming days.

From our work, we hope to produce a set of ideas that will get cities talking about programming places to take advantage of talent, opportunity and engagement to produce successful cities. We know that the labs and the studio will by no means produce all of the answers. At minimum, we hope to put a new set of questions on the civic agenda. At best, we will produce some concrete ideas for beginning to answer them.

Carol Coletta, vice president of community and national initiatives

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