We launched the Civic Accelerator in June, 2016 as a new way to do public sector procurement. This is a new collaborative approach to identifying what the city needs and working with businesses to create goods and services that meet those needs.
We’ve worked with three City of Guelph departments so far on three very different purchasing decisions. What we’ve learned is that cities who want to use technology to solve problems and generate positive outcomes need to:
Start with as many different ideas as possible
Create incentives for cross-sector collaboration
Encourage learning-by-doing (and decision-making-by-doing)
In 2018 we secured provincial funding to further develop the program.
We’ve run two rounds of the Civic Accelerator. The first – in which the city wanted to reduce water use - wrapped up in 2017 and included work with the Kitchener-based company Alert Labs. Preliminary data indicated an 18 per cent reduction in water use per household using the Alert Labs solution. A city-sponsored $100 rebate program is now offered to citizens who install smart water meters, and Alert Labs reports that participation in the program accelerated the growth of their company by one to two years.
Read more about the successes and hard-won lessons learned in this evaluation.
The Civic Accelerator pilot showed a lot of promise, and we received additional provincial funding in 2018 to continue our work. A second round of the Civic Accelerator in Guelph started in May, 2019 with a challenge to improve the condition of the City's roads. We’re also working with the cities of London and Barrie to adapt the program to their needs.
Civic Accelerator represents the hard work and bright ideas of:
City of Guelph: Water Services, Planning, Engineering, Communications and the CAO’s office
Canada’s Open Data Exchange
John F. Wood Centre for Business and Student Enterprise, University of Guelph
When cities buy goods and services, the process they use is known as procurement, and it assumes that cities know exactly what they need and can describe it in detail. The problem is that not all purchases fit this model.
Take the Engineering Department for example. They need to know which roads to repair and when but there's hundreds of kilometres of roads to keep track of and some roads need to be repaired sooner than others. The Engineering team understand the challenge they're facing, but they're unsure about the best way to solve it. They're fairly sure there are some good ideas (and companies) that could solve his challenge, but these ideas are new so there isn’t a lot of evidence to judge them on yet. These kinds of problems are “complex” and in situations like this, traditional procurement processes just don’t work as well.
What We DiD
The development of the Civic Accelerator owes a lot to a series of workshops we held in 2016 with city staff, local small- and medium-sized businesses and Innovation Guelph. We mapped the existing procurement process from these various perspectives, building a comprehensive picture of how procurement works, identifying pain points and the key policies that shape the process.
Did you know? The clauses in municipal procurement by-laws that don’t allow cities to favour local companies are actually based on provincial, federal and even international trade laws.
Tensions and Trade-offs
In-depth interviews helped shine a light on some of the key tensions that play out in these processes. For example, we want procurement processes that are open to small and medium-sized enterprises, but aren’t discriminatory to other, more established businesses. We used tensions as design criteria – an effective solution would have to grapple with and reconcile these tensions. Read more about the tensions in the procurement process here.
The Civic Accelerator has four phases as shown in this graphic and in text below.
City departments define the problem, identify the good or service needed, issue a request for proposal, a company is chosen from the proposals that have been soliticited, a commitment to purchase is made and the company delivers the solution.
City departments collaborate with Civic Accelerator staff to scope out the problem and frame the challenge statement(s). A request for proposals is issued and a company is selected to be embedded with the relevant department for a period of time. The company and the city co-develop the solution over that period, during which the company has access to mentorship and funding opportunities, government resources and the marketing benefits of working with the city. At the end of the embed, the city can choose to make the purchase, extend the ember period or decide not to purchase the solution.