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Rob Adams: Creating the culture for innovative municipal solutions

Rob Adams already believed in creating safe spaces for failure within the municipal sector when he traveled to Calgary for the 2018 Municipal Innovators Community (MIC) conference – an event that inspired him to take his efforts to the next level.

Adams was CAO for the Municipality of Grey Highlands back then, but as he recalls to Municipal World CEO Susan Gardner during an interview at the 2019 MIC conference, the Calgary trip helped push his team’s creativity forward.

Innovation Isn’t Just About Technology

The result was an award-winning app that allowed Grey Highlands residents to do everything from pay their taxes online to report a particularly problematic pothole.

That all stems, he attests, to the culture of innovation that he encouraged within the municipality.

“Innovation doesn’t have to be technology; it can be as simple as finding a better method to do things, a more efficient way to do things. And maybe, providing a better service to our customers – the residents,” Adams said. “When you create that environment, that empowering culture, people really start to eventually buy into it and start to take risks – believe it or not – they start to try new ways of doing things.”

Fostering Innovative Local Government Culture

Now the CAO in Whitchurch-Stouffville, Adams said he understands municipal employees are under “so much pressure to deliver” to the public and their councils. And so, municipal leadership needs to “work hard” at creating they right kind of culture to support innovative ideas.

Public sector workers, Adams said, need to be encouraged and shown that it is okay to take risks. And even if they fail, they need to be part of a conversation on how things can be done differently. The end result, he added, is that even a negative can end up meaning positive results.

“You need communicate how you’re feeling about the things they are trying. That builds trust,” Adams explained in the video. “When you have a good relationship of trust in the organization, then people feel empowered to take some risks, to try some things.”  MW

✯ Municipal World Insider and Executive Members: You might also be interested in Ashleigh Weeden’s article: Innovation is a four-letter word. Note that you can now access the complete collection of past articles (and more) from your membership dashboard.

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