How to future-proof Toronto with innovative thinking from startups

Sponsored feature: presented by StartUp HERE Toronto

Toronto’s future as one of the country’s most important economic engines depends on fostering a more innovation-friendly landscape. That means providing the necessary resources and support to an ever-growing pool of talented entrepreneurs who have the skills and savvy to recognize the gaps between what people need versus what the market currently provides.

“It sounds obvious, but people often make assumptions about what they think others need, and then go ahead and implement their solutions,” says Paula Kwan, the director of the City’s new Civic Innovation Office. “They focus on the shiny new product or app, instead of the person who will be using that service or software. This approach can lead to the wrong solutions moving forward, things that just don’t work and high opportunity costs.”

Funded by a multi-year grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Civic Innovation Office was launched to introduce new approaches to problem solving, accelerate innovation across City divisions and bridge the gap between innovators inside and outside government.

Each year, projects led by the office will be focused on a central theme determined through consultations with City staff, who provide first-hand feedback on their most pressing challenges. For this inaugural year, the theme is creating a more responsive government and the project at hand is improving the City’s 311 services. Municipal staff have learned that residents have difficulty easily accessing crucial information and services because data is often siloed between various divisions.

For Mayor John Tory, this is exactly the kind of challenge the office was designed to tackle.

“We created the Civic Innovation Office as a bridge between City Hall and the incredible community of innovators who live and work in Toronto,” he says. “Creating a more responsive government means providing the information and services people need, using data to identify emerging issues and understand our City and developing solutions that will have a tangible positive impact on residents’ lives. I can’t wait to see what they do.”

Teams looking to participate in addressing this challenge can download the “Invitation to Partner” document at the Civic Innovation Office website, which details the annual core challenge, the process for collaborating with the City and applicant requirements.

Kwan’s skills from working in the tech sector will come in handy for her role as director. The added challenge for her and all staff in this office will be to make the quick thinking and implementation of the private sector work for a municipal service like 311.

Part of the Civic Innovation Office website features a direct way to connect with teams working on these projects. “As we develop and prototype solutions, we’ll be working closely with residents. Our work is successful only when we build solutions focused on the interests of the public.”

On a large scale, this new office will be assume a four-fold mission: improve city services for residents collaborate more broadly with internal and external partners become more agile prototyping solutions and learning from failure and measure the impact of these solutions. The most successful projects will be considered for expanding across city divisions in order to improve city services.

Kwan is optimistic on the pending outcomes from this new City initiative, as Toronto takes on rapidly developing economic, demographic and institutional challenges. “With the thought leaders, disruptors, and diversity here in this city, I believe we’re well positioned to succeed.”

Visit the Civic Tech digital residency to find out more about local innovators and the Civic Innovation Office. 

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