Social Innovation in Memphis

Innovation techniques influence how companies launch new products and new lines of business; however, innovation can also have a transformative, positive impact when applied to the social sector.

We have asked Memphis’ Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team a series of questions about their innovation efforts.

Q: How do you define Innovation?

A: Our Team defines innovation as new ways of thinking about and addressing systemic challenges facing the city. We are using data-driven approaches and making connections across the city to improve outcomes.

Q: What does the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team do?

A: The Innovation Delivery Team is charged with two things. The first is empowering city employees with tools and processes to generate innovative approaches to service delivery in the course of their day-to-day work. Second is helping Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. solve tough urban challenges. We are focused on two priority areas: 1) Reducing gun violence among young people; and 2) Generating economic vitality in core city neighborhoods. As part of the mayor’s office we are able to reach across multiple divisions to solve complex issues.

Q: What types of innovation processes does your team use?

A: A key part of the innovation of our team is in our structure. We provide the additional capacity needed to draw out and highlight bright spots in how the city delivers services as well as to understand where we can do better and help develop more effective systems. We are funded through a grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies, which allows us the flexibility to try new approaches to solving problems – this means that some things might work and some things might not work, but we are given the latitude to test the efficacy of new ideas before making large investments of taxpayer dollars.

Specific innovation processes that we have used include: co-creation workshops where small groups break down complex problems and help to design solutions, point-of-view analysis to understand the challenges facing business owners, and youth listening sessions with gang affected youth and youth workers who are living these issues every day.

Q: Name the one thing you would like to see the city of Memphis innovate.

A: Easy, adding value and becoming less silo-ed. City divisions excel at delivering the services within their purview – engineering is very efficient at designing roads, public works is very good at repairing sewer lines and police are exceptional at suppressing crime. Innovation comes in how we maximize the return on investment of these activities and work collectively. To do this, the city must add value at every step of the process so that over the life cycle of a project or service the system is more valuable while spending less.