Skip to content

Calgary is digging in – Cultivating a culture of innovation

by City of Calgary
in Communication, Innovation, ONLINE FEATURE, Technology

In a world that is increasingly complex, volatile, and networked, the City of Calgary is building teams of people who know that, while we can’t predict the future, we can invent it together.

At the Transforming Local Government conference, the City of Calgary’s Civic Innovation YYC initiative showcased what was encountered while building a risk embracing culture. Other municipalities can learn from this innovative project by crafting the unique culture they need to build networks of future thinkers.

Civic Innovation YYC is a corporate-wide initiative of the Analytics Calgary program which promotes the sharing of data, research, and expertise across the City and facilitates, using collaboration to find innovative ways to serve citizens.

Welcome to the Hall Banner Ad 2

Unique program brings tech and people together

The initiative works to realize elements of the city’s E-Government & Digital Strategy, and to operationalize the Cut Red Tape program that concluded in July 2015. Civic Innovation YYC builds upon those successes and enables increased corporate focus on innovation. It was created in 2016 and is led by the Deputy City Manager’s Office.

This is unique because of the tight integration of design mindsets with technology, learning projects, and the cultural transformation necessary to sustain and operationalize them. Civic Innovation YYC brings people and technology together to design the next generation of civic services and “work to close the gap between the future and now.” It champions the citizen perspective in projects at every scale, explores emerging technology, trends, and issues with a foresight lens, and it brings design expertise into the early stages of projects.

In addition to the project based and data analytics work, it was found necessary to use both formal and informal channels to develop the people connected to great opportunities. Professional designations and business hierarchies are not designed to operate in an adaptive context. The traditional silos and mindsets slow our progress. So, internal and external innovation advisories, a staff learning and development stream, and boundary pushing workshops that bring together networks of staff and external partners from multiple different backgrounds and disciplines were built and sustained. The cultivation of this network has allowed for identification of key participants for projects, intensive residencies, and experimentation with the public.

Engaging the people

To date, there are more than 3,600 staff and citizens participating in the online communities and physical lab. There have been more than 60 learning opportunities for staff integrated with project work to a total of 180 events. This allowed strategic reports about five major residencies on topics like open business information modeling, a civic accelerator, blockchain technology, resiliency & environmental wellbeing to be delivered. These residencies have led to concrete learning projects with lean budgets and an agile learning approach.

Strategic team building and networks are foundational pillars to the program. There are stories about how several unconventional business units such as the Calgary Fire Department have utilized the approaches developed in our program to unlock their staff and embrace innovation opportunities in their service areas. There are broad learnings around the value of crowd-sourcing in civic engagement.

New government approaches

The work has also led to developing new-to-government approaches for collaboration with external networks. These include the not-for profit sectors, post-secondary institutions, and individual citizens. There are many learnings around intellectual property and open data, research agreements, and living learning lab residencies that involve industry.

Guide to Good Municipal Governance SE Web banner

Context is deeply important because every city operates within a unique environment that should affect the structure and direction of their innovation work. However, Civic Innovation YYC is providing access to as much of their data, tools, approaches, and methods as possible.

This work has contributed to the emerging ecosystem of civic innovation initiatives across Canada. It has also been the recipient of wisdom from others.

Read more about “Smart Cities Made Human” at

Next Story
See All Feature Stories

Request for what? Re-thinking the RFP process