The Florida League of Cities is holding its annual conference this week in Hollywood, Florida. On the front end of that event is a research symposium on innovation and technology transfer put on by the League’s Center for Municipal Research and Innovation.
The roster of speakers is impressive. They are providing attendees with insight into possibilities and best practices for government/university/private sector collaboration to create new solutions to current problems and scale them for economic viability. Through such efforts, we hope to produce both better ways of meeting community needs and better ways to generate job growth.
As a natural introduction to the professional presentations, John Dailey presented the center’s ongoing collaboration with the colleges and universities in Tallahassee, called MuniMod. In this next year, the MuniMod initiative goes statewide.
MuniMod is a program designed to invite the best and brightest students from institutions of higher learning to learn about municipal government, to dive deep into the challenges and opportunities facing our communities, and to create the “next big thing” to help meet those challenges and engage those opportunities. The results of these students’ efforts are exciting.
For example, there is Muni-Comp. This innovation allows cities to efficiently compare their charter provisions with those of other cities around the state. Want to know how other cities address the hiring and firing of city managers? Muni-Comp can search city charters and deliver the answer. Want to know how many cities elect their mayors in popular elections and how many have their councils elect their mayors? Muni-Comp can tell you.
Then there is Aerial Relief.
When someone is lost in the countryside, when disaster isolates homes and individuals, we send up the choppers and seek them out. What if we could search larger areas simultaneously without dramatically increasing our fleet of helicopters? What if we could get down below the treetop level to find trapped or lost individuals?
The team that developed Aerial Relief built its own drone and developed supportive technologies to aid in search and rescue missions. This included the ability to do many things that are difficult, expensive or impossible with helicopters alone. Not least of these: the ability to hover at a location for extended periods of time and at very low cost, sending out GPS coordinates to search and rescue teams.
Greenscore, another MuniMod winner, provides ways for cities to track their carbon footprint. Reflecting our cultural passion for competition, Greenscore has a competitive game component, allowing city departments, or rival cities, to go head-to-head in their environmental campaigns. Competition, in turn, is likely to breed greater innovation and greater commitment to the task.
And there’s Genie. Genie creates an online bidding environment for pre-approved contractors to meet immediate needs for services for amounts under the municipally identified threshold of cost. Instead of just picking a contractor from a list, or using a simple (and not necessarily economical) rotation system, Genie invites vendors to bid on the project. Like Greenscore, it harnesses the power of competition, giving our communities better prices and better service. And all of it is entirely transparent, online, for each contractor to see.
Whether any of these innovations strike you as important or even desirable, I hope something else does strike you. These are young adults, college students, part of the very demographic research tells us is most disengaged from an understanding of and interest in public service. Through MuniMod, they have been drawn into serious conversations about the needs of their communities. They’ve been asked to take those needs seriously and to consider what it is they can contribute to meeting those needs. Most importantly, they’ve embraced that challenge.
They didn’t simply complain. And they didn’t simply wish someone would do something. They’ve done it.
Whether or not any of these innovations scale up to meet the needs of cities around Florida and across the country, something else has been accomplished. These young men and women have discovered that their communities need them and that they have something to offer. They can make a difference.
They’ll take that understanding with them wherever they go. And they’ll share it with their peers, with their generation.
It’s just a ripple, perhaps, in the overall conversation. But it could be the start of a wave.