By: Rob Hoehn
If you look up Westminster, Colorado, you’ll find a university that looks like a castle, a bell tower intentionally made to look like Big Ben, and pictures of smart and cozy suburban homes sitting at the feet of the Rocky Mountains.
The City of Westminster is the seventh most populous city in Colorado and Downtown Westminster is almost equidistant between downtown Denver and Boulder. In the 2000s, Westminster was ranked as one of the Top 50 Cities to live. Westminster is also a city that prioritizes innovation: it has invested in Smart City initiatives like autonomous food delivery and is formulating sustainability initiatives—and one of the unique things about their approach is that they are bringing their entire body of employees and their public community of citizens into the innovation process.
These different audiences don’t always gravitate towards the same things. For example, when Westminster first began crowdsourcing ideas with their employee ideas community, Westminster staff generated 250 ideas about new revenues and process improvement opportunities. However, when the innovation team began opening up their challenge to citizens, their focus was on city enhancements, views, and open space, which differed from the staff. In this way, innovation is not just a technology or strategy challenge, but a communication and mentoring challenge.
In an age where government is not always thought to be the risk-taking innovator, it is notable the cities like Westminster are making their planning efforts, both transparent and collaborative. And that’s why the City of Westminster, Colorado established an innovation practice where the goal is to align efforts, catalyze innovation and provide support of community-driven innovation projects. There are over 100 volunteers that are part of innovation teams in Westminster (aka iTeams) that organize projects and concepts over six focus areas. But how do you get them all to be empathic with community needs and rowing in the same direction?
The key here is communication, and that’s perhaps one reason why the Innovation Manager, Ryan Hegreness, is also titled as a Communications Manager, too. His work is to coordinate messages from disparate groups and connect them to learning and resources that can bring about positive change.
Westminster has already applied new technology to meet the needs of their residents by launching projects that partner with local food banks to provide autonomous food delivery services for residents in need (especially during the age of COVID-19). More future looking projects include improvements to aging infrastructure, small business advocacy, and sustainability initiatives, all under the “Westminster Forward” initiative.
After all, a lot is going to change in the next 10-20 years, we need to make sure our cities understand what the public wants and that city staff know how to efficiently deliver on their promises.
About the Author
Rob Hoehn is the co-founder and CEO of IdeaScale: the largest open innovation software platform in the world. Hoehn launched crowdsourcing software as part of the open government initiative and IdeaScale’s robust portfolio now includes many other industry notables, such as EA Sports, NBC, NASA, Xerox and many others. Prior to IdeaScale, Hoehn was Vice President of Client Services at Survey Analytics.