What We Do
Local governments’ inability to innovate often comes not from a lack of knowledge about better solutions to pressing problems, but in limited capacity to put knowledge into practice effectively and efficiently. There are three causes for this gap: 1) local government staff and leadership lack access to the latest examples of best practice; 2) administrative silos prevent creative approaches to fixing pressing social issues that span departments; and 3) cultures of risk aversion internally and externally prevent creative problem solving and implementation.
Universities generally have the exact opposite qualities: 1) faculty have access to and are often the creators of the latest evidence from their field of expertise; 2) through applied coursework, students can translate and apply that knowledge to community-identified quality of life issues; and 3) students are both capable of and encouraged to be riskier and more innovative in their thinking than local government staff or local consultants typically can be.
Most sustainability and quality of life issues play out for people at the community or local government level, so overcoming the gap between knowledge and practice is key for effective and innovative city operation that meets community quality of life goals. Issues of sustainability, resiliency, affordable housing, access to social services, building supportive social networks, integrating historically disenfranchised voices into public decision making, sustaining a viable local economy, providing clean air and water, maintaining public safety, and pursuing a series of other livability goals are all within the domain of local government. The trick has been in finding a way to systematically match city needs with university capacity in ways that benefit all parties, work within administrative structures, and at a scale that can have lasting and sustainable impacts for all involved.