Improving the Way City Governments Work

Government Innovation

Across a broad portfolio of initiatives and investments, the Government Innovation program helps city halls build the teams and develop the skills needed to creatively tackle their most urgent challenges. By expanding local government’s creative capacity, Bloomberg Philanthropies bolsters the ability of mayors and other city leaders to set bold agendas, bring the experiences of residents into their work, and partner with the private and nonprofit sectors from a position of strength. Each is an essential step in pushing the boundaries of civic innovation in the United States and abroad.

Watch: Improving Lives Through Government Innovation

“You can’t have the right strategy, much less implement it, unless you know what the facts are. When you’re a mayor, you actually have to generate a real understanding of what the problem is and you have to formulate real solutions that really matter.”
Ethan Berkowitz
Anchorage, Alaska

Volunteers in Anchorage, Alaska, plant trees at the Fairview Park Fix-It as part of the Cities of Service Resilience AmeriCorps program.

The Mayors Challenge

Spurring Innovation Through Competition

Mayors and representatives of the winning cities in the 2018 Mayors Challenge join Mike Bloomberg onstage at CityLab 2018 in Detroit, Michigan.

Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge is a competition that helps city leaders think big, be bold, and uncover inventive – and, ultimately, replicable – ideas that tackle cities’ toughest problems. Bloomberg Philanthropies has run competitions engaging hundreds of cities in the United States (2013), Europe (2014), and Latin America and the Caribbean (2016).

As part of the Bloomberg American Cities Initiative, the 2018 Mayors Challenge returned to the United States, awarding nine cities $1 million each to bring their ideas to life. The winning cities were chosen from a record 324 applications. The winners include Denver, Colorado; Durham, North Carolina; Fort Collins, Colorado; Georgetown, Texas; Huntington, West Virginia; Los Angeles, California; New Rochelle, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and South Bend, Indiana. These cities will address a range of challenges, from reducing carbon emissions and confronting the opioid crisis to making the justice system less traumatic for young people. Prior to selecting the winners, 35 finalist cities each received $100,000 to test and refine their ideas. This new test-and-learn phase incorporated some of the most crucial elements of innovation that Bloomberg Philanthropies promotes to cities through its work, including understanding the problem from residents’ points of view before developing ideas, and quickly testing ideas on a small scale to learn how to strengthen them and improve the likelihood of a new policy’s success. Over six months, finalist cities conducted more than 100 tests, engaged more than 19,000 residents, and raised nearly $15 million from local partners to support their efforts.

A distinguished committee, co-chaired by former U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy and former Xerox Chairman and CEO Ursula Burns, reviewed the final proposals and selected the nine winning ideas, which were announced at CityLab 2018 in Detroit.

Watch: Nine U.S. Cities Announced as Winners in 2018 Mayors Challenge

Bloomberg Philanthropies Approach

Focus on Cities to Drive Progress.

Local government can be the site of innovation and problem-solving that improve residents’ lives. Read how one local government is taking on a major challenge.

Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative

Investing in Mayors and City Leaders

Jorrit de Jong, Faculty Director of the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, introduces the 2018 cohort of mayors to a series of intensive classroom training sessions in New York City taught using the case method.

“It is rare for a mayor to have access to inspirational leadership and management training. The Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative goes even further by supporting mayors to advance organizational and innovative change to make each of our cities even better.”
Naheed Nenshi
Calgary, Canada
Class of 2018-19

Running a city is one of the world’s most complex and demanding jobs. And, as more of the world’s population moves to cities, it becomes increasingly important to help mayors accomplish their goals and make their local governments smarter and more effective.

Now in its third year, Bloomberg Philanthropies’ unique collaboration with Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government equips city leaders with the management tools needed to tackle their toughest challenges and develop a culture of innovation, data use, and collaboration inside city hall.

120 mayors and 240 senior staff members engaged over the course of three cohorts

The Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative begins with training sessions in New York City, where mayors and senior staff each spend several days learning from their peers, Harvard professors, and experts from the Bloomberg Philanthropies network. Following the in-person training, each city also receives a customized, yearlong program of support that includes assistance from graduate student fellows, executive training courses, special opportunities, and tailored research, all created to help mayors run their cities most efficiently.

“The Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative not only gave us access to the brightest minds in government, business and academia, but provided us with peer-to-peer exchanges with other city leaders with firsthand knowledge of the challenges we all face.”
William Peduto
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Class of 2017-18

Senior city hall staff members convene in New York City to learn leadership and management strategies from leading experts and from one another.

Hear from Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi as he discusses the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative and the impact it has had on the city.

Innovation Teams

Transforming Cities with Creativity

Young police trainees in Los Angeles, California, learn through a program created by the city’s innovation team to keep them engaged in the recruitment process until they can become sworn officers at age 21.

Inspired by the Bloomberg Administration’s success in creating cross-departmental solutions to tackling challenges in New York City, Bloomberg Philanthropies has led a movement to help other cities develop the skills needed for innovative problem-solving. In 2012, the foundation began funding innovation teams – or “i-teams” – in city halls around the world. These i-teams, which are composed of highly skilled individuals with expertise in topics like data analysis, design, and project management, help mayors work across sectors and silos and with citizens to creatively tackle each city’s top priorities. When that work began, just five U.S. cities had Chief Innovation Officers. Now, more than 70 U.S. cities have adopted the position.

“Our innovation team has allowed Durham to completely rethink how the city supports our justice-involved community members, who often face formidably high barriers to finding a job or securing housing. The i-team has allowed us to find creative and powerful new solutions and to work together in new ways to help more residents share in Durham’s prosperity.”
Steve Schewel
Durham, North Carolina

The i-teams program has supported staff in 30 cities, enabling them to achieve remarkable progress for their communities. In Syracuse, New York, for example, the i-team helped the city recover an extra $1.5 million in delinquent taxes by redesigning tax collection notices to make them easier to read and understand. Mayors in cities across the country and the world have effectively used i-teams to improve public safety, support small businesses, and make government more responsive to residents’ evolving needs.

Members of the Durham, North Carolina, innovation team meeting with (left to right) James Anderson, Patricia Harris, and Allison Jaffin from Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Watch: Creating Better City Governments through Data

What Works Cities

Using Data to Improve Lives

Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, California, unveils a city website with detailed information on street repairs, ambulance response times, and other city services.

The What Works Cities program is the nation’s most comprehensive effort to enhance cities’ use of data and evidence to make better policy decisions, improve services, evaluate progress, and find “what works.” Starting in 100 mid-sized cities from 39 states and growing from there, the program continues to help cities improve the way they use data to identify and respond effectively to their residents’ needs.

“Numbers tell compelling stories, and they help us find answers that make a real difference in people’s lives. We’re grateful for what the partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies has helped us accomplish for communities across our city.”
Eric Garcetti
Los Angeles, California

The What Works Cities program is run in collaboration with five partners: Results for America; the Behavioral Insights Team; Harvard Kennedy School’s Government Performance Lab; Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Government Excellence; and the Sunlight Foundation.

In 2017, the program created What Works Cities Certification, a standard that measures the extent to which cities have the right people, policies, and practices in place to use data for decision-making, and inspires many more cities to improve their practices. Over its first two years, 13 U.S. cities have received official What Works Cities Certification, including four (Kansas City, Missouri; Los Angeles, California; Louisville, Kentucky; and Washington, D.C.) that have achieved certification at the gold level.

Trained more than 5,800 civil servants in data skills

In November 2018, Bloomberg Philanthropies expanded the What Works Cities program in collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Ballmer Group. The joint effort will help a group of ten cities use data and test new ways to improve opportunity, particularly in neighborhoods where children lack access to good schools or face systemic barriers to economic mobility.

Helped more than 150 cities use data to improve local government performance

City government workers and community members listen to a presentation in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on the Urban Data Pioneers program, which recruits volunteers to analyze city data to help understand and solve local problems.


Bringing Together the Best and Brightest to Make Cities More Livable

Mayors come together at the Mayors Innovation Studio at CityLab 2018 to discuss solutions to the challenges their cities face.

For the sixth year, Bloomberg Philanthropies joined with the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic to host CityLab, a three-day conference of leaders from across the globe and from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.

“As mayor, it’s so easy to feel like you’re on an island, to feel like you’re alone. And then you come to CityLab, you interact with other mayors, and you see and hear what they’re doing and it’s like an adrenaline shot. It gives you the energy to go back home and try something different or new.”
Randall Woodfin
Birmingham, Alabama

CityLab gathers the world’s most creative mayors and urban innovators with artists, academics, funders, and other public- and private-sector leaders focused on improving cities and spreading strategies that work. Hosted in Detroit, CityLab 2018 brought together more than 600 attendees who hailed from more than 156 cities and 27 countries. At the start of the conference, Bloomberg Philanthropies hosted a special session for mayors to connect and share lessons with peers from around the world and, for the first time, a gathering for city hall innovation officers from cities across the U.S. and the world.

Past CityLabs have been held in London, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and Paris. CityLab 2019 will be held in Washington, D.C.

(Right to left) Daniel Porterfield, President and CEO of the Aspen Institute, moderates a panel discussion on college access with Spelman College President Mary Schmidt Campbell, University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel, and University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce.

Cities of Service

Mobilizing Volunteers to Create Vibrant Cities

In April 2009, Mike Bloomberg became the first U.S. mayor to create the position of Chief Service Officer, a position dedicated solely to engaging citizens as volunteers. This became the model for Cities of Service, which was formed later that year by Mayor Bloomberg and 16 other mayors.

Now with a network of more than 260 cities across the Americas and Europe, Cities of Service helps mayors build stronger cities by changing the way local government and citizens work together. City leaders around the world seek guidance from Cities of Service to help them tap into the knowledge, creativity, and service of their citizens to identify and solve pressing local challenges.

In 2018, Cities of Service launched the Engaged Cities Award to recognize and promote outstanding city-led strategies that engage citizens to solve problems. The inaugural winners – Bologna, Italy; Santiago de Cali, Colombia; and Tulsa, Oklahoma – brought people together to transform urban spaces, reduce violence, and analyze data to inform policy. Cities of Service has also created multiple resources – including blueprints, case studies, and videos – to help other cities replicate successful strategies in their own communities.