Thinking Differently About the Accessibility of “Innovation”

Rethinking Our Thinking Blog Series

By Alana Keegan

Innovation is the buzzword these days. No matter where you work, new ideas and methodologies are zooming into your inbox each morning encouraging you to be more innovative, more disruptive, and more collaborative. Often, these ideas are unique and impressive with big numbers behind them reflecting the type of change or impact that any worker would be proud to catalyze. Yet for employees in local government, innovation can seem like an overwhelming undertaking when the communities most lauded for their successes are those with a lot of staff, Bloomberg grants, or dedicated “Innovation Teams”.

At TJCOG, we are beginning to find new avenues into the field of innovation for communities who want to be involved but don’t know where to start or feel burned out, and we are pursuing some exciting efforts to give all local governments interested in innovation the opportunity to get involved.

“This isn’t our work. This is everyone’s work and it can be your work. You don’t have to be a Steve Jobs figure in a black turtleneck to do innovation in government, you just have to have the guts to apply a different playbook.”

Jen Pahlka, Executive Director, Code for America

From the report: “Getting the Work Done: What Government Innovation Really Looks Like” by Hana Schank

One of the most underrated tools of innovation is a strong network of peers – peers who are already way ahead in the field, but also peers who are just beginning. Making these connections for local governments in our region is one of our top goals. Through two initiatives, a TJCOG-led team within ELGL’s Small Places, Big Ideas Innovation Cohort and the Strategy and Innovation Regional Network, local governments of all sizes have the opportunity to meet other staff working on innovation; learn from one another and share best practices; and successfully test and implement projects as a group.

Beginning in July 2019, four communities from the TJCOG region – Hillsborough, Morrisville, Rolesville, and Sanford- signed on to collectively create a TJCOG team on the Emerging Local Government Leaders (ELGL) Small Places, Big Ideas Innovation Cohort. This year-long effort with 11 mid-sized communities across the country provides a virtual “I-Team” for local governments with limited resources dedicated to innovation. As the TJCOG team within the cohort, the four communities will leverage ELGL’s network, TJCOG’s resources, and each other’s support locally to pilot a project(s) within their organizations aimed at improving two-way citizen engagement and dialogue, a challenge identified by all four communities as a priority.

Staff from Hillsborough, Morrisville, Rolesville, and Sanford at a Cohort meeting

“The Town of Morrisville is excited to participate in this Innovation Cohort and collaborate with municipalities around the country. We hope to innovatively address challenges around engagement and rethink our current processes. “ – Rick Ralph, Morrisville Cohort Rep

“What we find as a small, growing suburb of Raleigh, is that we are interested in organizational and community governance best practices, but due to size and staffing, we are challenged to lead on innovation.  By participating in ELGL Cohort we have the opportunity to participate and grow as an organization and community now and into the future.” – Kelly Arnold, Rolesville Cohort Rep.

The Strategy and Innovation Regional Network, chaired by Monica Chapparo from the City of Raleigh and staffed by TJCOG’s own Jenny Halsey, serves as a community of idea-sharing and peer learning for staff working in their respective organizations to drive change, empower employees and measure effectiveness, and for fresh faces in innovation looking for mentorship.

As the communities in the TJCOG region continue to grow, face more demand for services from citizens, and adapt to rapidly changing technology, the ability to be innovative and responsive is critical. What is not critical is a million dollar budget and a staff of 50. Through current and future programs, TJCOG hopes to help local governments of all sizes gain access to innovation resources and a strong network of support.


Want to think differently about our region’s challenges with a diverse group of community leaders and advocates? Join TJCOG at our 2019 Regional Summit, Rethinking Our Thinking, on October 10th in Pittsboro, NC.

Early bird registration is open through September 1st. Register now.

About the ELGL Small Places, Big Ideas Innovation Cohort

This project brings together innovators from smaller cities, counties, and towns to utilize the technological resources of UrbanLeap. Together, the group will identify a common local government issue to address, discover potential solutions, select a subset to pilot, and then share results, learning and best practices garnered from the development, implementation and evaluation of these pilot programs. The Innovation Cohort is an opportunity to tap into the collective energy and intelligence of the ELGL network with the assistance of the UrbanLeap experience.

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