Conversations in Civic Innovation: Innovating Our Neighborhoods

| Cathy Wissink

Photos via Nicole Fichera, District Hall

Civic - InnovationWe spend a lot of time talking about innovation in Boston today. But what does innovation mean when you step outside of Kendall Square, or the Innovation District? What will it mean when places like the new Roxbury Innovation Center opens? How can the city foster an inclusive and productive approach to innovation in all neighborhoods, such that the benefits of innovation are available to a broader swath of the community? What is the role of technology in neighborhood innovation, and how can it be meaningfully applied?

This topic—and those subsequent questions—will be examined by Microsoft New England and the Venture Café Foundation in our second year of the event series Conversations in Civic Innovation.

We kicked off this topic last Wednesday at District Hall, with a compelling set of speakers representing a range of neighborhood constituents, including: Damon Cox (Boston Foundation), Vicky Wu Davis (Youth Cities), Milton Irving (Timothy Smith Network), Malia Lazu (Future Boston), and Gillian Pressman (Generation Citizen). Kevin Wiant of the Venture Café Foundation moderated the event and kept the pace lively.

In a series of five-minute lighting talks, our speakers introduced the following topics:

  • How do we create a more inclusive environment for Civic Innovation, particularly for inner city communities.
  • Getting enough stakeholder engagement to sufficiently execute innovation
  • Importance of developing technical Infrastructure that supports business growth
  • Innovation that makes it easier to galvanize social movements and have them organize more effectively
  • Importance of getting youth more engaged in civic policies

Civic Inno 2Inspired by these topics, the audience then broke up into groups to discuss the above and come back to the group with their thoughts and potential actions.

It was a lively and thoughtful conversation, going long into the night, covering the above topics and inspiring new questions and ideas like: how can the innovation community plug into the community? How do we ensure the approach around innovation is conversational and not transactional? In this increasingly data-driven society, how do we ensure neighborhood data is handled with care and respect? I was inspired by the thoughtfulness of the conversation, as well as the participants’ desire to move beyond just talk, and do something useful.

At the end of the evening, people lingered with newly-made acquaintances, still discussing the night’s topic. It was clear that we had just scratched the surface of neighborhood innovation, and that there were many other conversations and engagements to be had. We look forward to digging deeper, continuing the conversation, and thoughtfully contributing to the city’s discourse on neighborhood innovation.

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Cathy Wissink

Cathy embraces what others may tend to avoid. Kale? Loves it. Bugs? Enthralled by them. A cross country bike ride? No problem for Cathy. Solving some of society’s most critical issues by working with everyone from tech leaders to politicians to community leaders? Bring it on.