Embedding your Alliance Membership and Inspiring the Masses!
Interview with Nijah Fudge, West Regional Director, Alliance for Innovation, Michael Davis, Strategic Initiatives Manager, County of Durham, NC, Shari Metcalfe, Corporate Budget Analyst, City of Durham, NC on their event called the "Innovation Blitz."
5 September 2017
Both the City and County of Durham, North Carolina are members of the Alliance and recent graduates of the Alliance Innovation Academy. We were excited to learn about an event called the “Innovation Blitz” that these organizations co-hosted in June to both spread membership resources and inspire innovation in one energetic afternoon. For a copy of their full program please email Nijah Fudge.
Shari: The City and County of Durham have a unique relationship and over the last few years, intentional efforts have been made to plan often with each other in a way where we now consider County Strategic Initiatives staff an extension of our own resources and vice versa. Building off this collaboration, we decided to take it to the next level and jointly hosted an event called the “Innovation Blitz” with the main goal of helping our organizations become more familiar with the Alliance. As a part of the work plan with the City we host three events annually. The County had similar interests, and we leveraged this relationship to gain a wider audience.
Michael: I agree with Shari’s comments: the City and County have an excellent partnership. We often collaborate on events, trainings and other opportunities. The County rejoined the Alliance about three years ago. Besides Innovation Academy, we were seeking ways to expose our employees to the Alliance’s resources. This event was a cool opportunity to get Alliance resources in front of employees and also a way for us to tell stories about our ongoing innovation work at the City and the County, including highlighting our internal consulting work and our regular IdeaLab skill building sessions.
Shari: We hosted the meeting at the County Human Services Building. This location is walkable for most City and County employees, is located off a main bus stop and also has available parking for off-site employees.
To begin, we built sufficient time to allow the entire room to participate in a few ice breakers. Afterwards, the City and County Innovation Academy graduates gave summaries of their work and then sat down for a facilitated Q&A panel conversation. This was important because it also helped introduce employees to various Alliance opportunities throughout the organization, regardless of job location or title.
Michael: The event was casual and informational. After presentations and the Q&A panel, we had attendees brainstorm on sticky notes as many ideas as they could on how they could support innovation back in their departments. Then we had them fill out an “Innovation Action Card,” with a commitment of a specific behavior that they would pledge to try out to help spur innovation in their department.
Shari: Our primary concern was about turn out but we ended up with a great crowd!
Michael: Our organizations may look at innovation slightly differently, but by and large we approach it in many of the same ways, and we learn a lot sharing information with each other. City and County leadership is very supportive, and we think that forums like these encourage intermingling between employees who otherwise probably would not interact. Forums with a topic like innovation help each of us collaborate on common ground, which only strengthens future partnership opportunities.
Feedback from attendees on quality of information and logistics.
Michael: What we’ve generally found is that setting – the physical space where you hold these types of forums – matters quite a bit. We held this “Innovation Blitz” at one of our newer local government buildings, in a large, bright room that has a lot of natural light. When we wrapped the official session, we invited attendees to join us afterward at a local brewery that was within walking distance. We were pleased to have about 12 takers! In the future we look to keep finding compelling places for these types of forums, including non-traditional settings.
Shari: From the feedback on this event, we know that our folks like to talk to each other and share ideas. We have learned that it is important to build an agenda that provides networking and table talk time for participants.
Shari: Our City Manager came to the event, and his appearance demonstrated to attendees that innovation is important to our organization and that we mean it – that our actions are authentic and not just lip service and that we want people to come up with ideas and carry them out.
Michael: This event was a nice reminder for us as staff that we have the good fortune to innovate. We have the power to create innovative goals and to work through how to achieve them. During this event we weren’t boxed in with “outline” as to “how you innovate.” Instead, it was open and fun and hosting it was important to the culture of each organization.
Michael: No one’s attendance was required for our “Innovation Blitz,” yet we still yielded a great crowd. Your innovators will self-select. They’ll show up – sometimes all they need is for you to tell them when and where.
Shari: We used some of the time to highlight other innovation-related activities and programs at the City and the County. With captive audiences like these, we try not to miss opportunities to publicize other ways for our employees to get plugged in as we collectively build a culture of innovation.
Michael: We think there is huge value in hosting these occasional forums for local government at large. They require minimal investment and planning and yield great success. Timing is important in that organizations should simply just make the time. We hosted our event at the end of the workday and during a busy season as budgets were being adopted, and we still got it done. We hope folks experienced this as inspiration to grow community and as a great way to jumpstart the growth of an innovative culture.
Shari: With this event we ultimately took away the fear of failure. It was open and welcoming to new ideas from staff. This was just one more event to help inspire staff to contribute to growing our culture of innovation, which is a great addition to both organizations.
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