Written by Elena Yunusov

Challenge: Building a more responsive government with the Civic Innovation Office

Toronto’s new Civic Innovation Office was created to introduce new approaches to problem solving, accelerate innovation across City divisions, and bridge the gap between innovators inside and outside government.

To identify their focus, the Civic Innovation Office asked City staff to identify their most pressing challenges first-hand. They learned that residents have difficulty easily accessing crucial information and services. Data is siloed between divisions, preventing responsiveness to existing and emerging needs.

As a result, in 2017, the Civic Innovation Office will focus on developing solutions to pressing urban challenges under the theme, ‘Building a more responsive government,’ with a mission to:

  1. Improve public-facing city services using technology, data analysis, and design thinking.
  2. Collaborate with the civic tech community, city divisions, external partners, and the public to develop new problem-solving approaches.
  3. Learn from failure, prototype solutions, and develop processes and tools to build the city’s capacity for innovation.
  4. Measure the impact of these solutions.

The Office will undertake projects large and small that will fall under this umbrella; the most successful will be positioned to scale across city divisions and produce measurable improvements in city services — ultimately creating a better Toronto for everyone.

“We created the Civic Innovation Office as a bridge between City Hall and the incredible community of innovators who live and work in Toronto,” said Mayor John Tory. “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.”

Who is in charge: Meet the Innovation Team
The Mayor’s Office and City Manager’s Office worked together to create this initiative, bringing together a strong core team under the leadership of city manager Peter Wallace.

Director Paula Kwan is former head of Global Expansion at Pivotal Labs, with a background in agile product development, design thinking, and problem-solving at scale.

Todd Orvitz, who will manage policy and operations, previously worked as Director of Corporate Policy in the City Manager’s office, bringing a deep understanding of operations within City Hall.

Jay Vidharthi is an award-winning design strategist best known for his work at Toronto startup Interaxon; his human-centred design expertise will help keep the focus on Torontonians’ needs and input.

The Civic Innovation Office also includes an internal advisory committee comprised of the Mayor’s Office, Chief Information Officer, Chief Corporate Officer, and Head of Purchasing for the City.

Did you know? Toronto is the first Canadian city to join the Bloomberg Philanthropies global innovation team network.
Bloomberg Philanthropies funds innovation teams that help city leaders drive bold innovation, change culture, and tackle big problems to deliver better results for residents.

In 2017, Toronto became the first Canadian city to join Bloomberg’s global innovation team network, receiving three years of funding for the Office of Civic Innovation. This funding creates a unique opportunity for innovation that will impact technology, policy, and community partnerships, positioning Toronto for success for years to come.