BIG Ideas Meeting



Transportation & tours



  Past Big IDeas

Save the Date: BIG Ideas 2018 will be held in Austin, TX from October 26-28. Each BIG Ideas meeting addresses a different topic. Stay tuned for more information about the next BIG Ideas.

The Alliance for Innovation hosted the 9th annual BIG Ideas meeting in Raleigh, North Carolina on  October 6-8, 2017. Attendees joined Provocateurs in large and small group conversations to discuss, “The Emerging and Uncertain Role of Local Governments in Social Minefields.” Roughly 100 leaders from across North America will join together and think through the question, "What should guide local government as it treads upon disputed social territory?"

  • How much authority does and should local government have in these issues?
  • What should guide local government administrators: their personal core values, or the majority values in their communities, or minority values in their communities, or the values of their elected body?
  • How should local government act in these issues? Do they choose regulation, educate/legislate/advocacy? Or, is the best path to take a support role to other community players?
  • Is this an issue that local government ought to be able to act on behalf of their community, or should the state act on it?
  • What are the places where local governments can be effective?

Hosted by the Alliance for Innovation, BIG Ideas is an invitation-only event that gathers progressive leaders to explore critical issues for the future of communities. The Alliance for Innovation is inspiring innovation to advance communities. As the premier resource for emerging practices in local government, the Alliance is building cultures of innovation and connecting thought leaders in the profession.

White Papers

Program Schedule

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Robert J. O’Neill, Jr. Scholarship

Robert J. O’Neill Jr. was Executive Director of the International City/County Management

Association (ICMA) from 2002 – 2016 and Alliance for Innovation Board of Director’s member from 2006 - 2016. As a founding board member of the Alliance for Innovation, he played an instrumental role in the creation of the partnership of the Alliance, ICMA and ASU. He was among the visionary Board of Director members that saw a need to create a safe place for local government leaders to come together and discuss the larger issues impacting local governments – and thus BIG Ideas was created.

Prior to joining ICMA, O’Neill served as president of the National Academy of Public Administration from 2000 to 2002. He was elected as a NAPA Fellow in 1997.

From 1997 to 2000, O’Neill served as Fairfax County, Va., executive, where he was credited with developing a series of strategies aimed at revitalizing older residential communities and commercial areas as well as launching a series of initiatives focused on performance and results management.

O’Neill’s “reinvention” of the government of Hampton, Va., as city manager from 1984 to 1997 was widely recognized; his many accomplishments include downtown- and waterfront-revitalization initiatives as well as development of a nationally recognized youth-at-risk program.

Upon retirement from ICMA and the Alliance Board, the Robert J. O’Neill, Jr. Scholarship to the BIG Ideas seminar was created. It will be awarded to one early to mid-career local government professional. The scholarship, partially underwritten by SAFEbuilt, will be $1,000 to cover event registration and assist with travel expenses. To apply, write an essay answering the below questions and submit to by Friday, August 4.

  1. How does attending BIG Ideas fit into your career development?
  2. How would you use the experience of attending BIG Ideas in your home organization?


BIG Ideas: The Future of Local Government is generously sponsored by HR Green, SAFEbuilt and Siemens.


Past Big Ideas Conferences

BIG IDEAs 2016 - Dublin, Ohio


Just as water is the driving force of all life, access to technology is quickly becoming the driving force of our local, national and global landscape. Without access, our community services and economies will struggle to be sustainable into the future.

Attendees will join provocateurs in large and small group conversations to discuss, “Reframing Digital Disruption.” Provocateurs spoke on trends around topics such as fiber as the 4th utility, communities modifying policies, and what governance and philosophical issues does this bring up. Over the weekend attendees evaluated their greatest opportunities and vulnerabilities in the rapidly changing digital age.

Some of the discussed include: 

  • How do we plan, fund and deploy these services to meet the existing and future needs of our communities?
  • How do we educate our communities about this imperative to make technologies deployment and equitable access a priority?
  • How do we change the political landscape to address the industries and regulations standing in our way?

The following White Papers helped to frame the discussion:

2015 BIG Ideas - Milwuakee, WI

Community Trust: The BIG Conversation

Last year's discussions lead attendees through the timely topic of Community Trust: The BIG Conversation, taking our gaze forward to the future of our communities. As current headlines continue highlighting the polarization among the governing and the governed, BIG Ideas attendees will dive into the future of collaborative, transformative leadership. Thought leaders from across the US will facilitate provocative conversation on polarization, civility, and trust in the future of our communities.

2014 BIG IDEAS - Fort Lauderdale, Fl


This is perhaps the most important takeaway from the provocative discussion on building resilient communities at 2014 BIG Ideas. Resiliency is the ability to bounce back from adversity. It is more than recovering; adapting better for future challenges. Acknowledging the bleak reality often facing communities across the globe, leaders convened in beautiful Fort Lauderdale, FL for three days and focused their discussion on how to prepare and bounce forward stronger no matter the circumstances.

Several key themes emerged through the various discussions from the weekend:

Prepare and Plan Today: Conduct a risk and impact assessment, acknowledge your vulnerabilities and prioritize and integrate strategies.

Institutionalize Resiliency: It is a continuous process and it should be integrated into the day to day.

Collaborative Process: Connect with others. Empower, engage and build relationships with staff, citizens, nonprofits, business leaders and the region.

Communication is Critical: Establish trust and transparency.

This document is filled with information that can help jump-start your discussion. Seize the opportunity today to become a resilient community that isn’t defined by adversity, but by your response when faced with challenges and your ability to rebuild better and stronger.

2013 BIG IDEAS - Santa Monica & West Hollywood, CA

BIG Ideas 2013 looked at the future of local government, assessing the impact our decisions now will have on the landscape of local government tomorrow. 

2012 BIG IDEAS - Williamsburg, VA

BIG Ideas 2013 offers a timely contrast to the 2012 BIG Ideas: Revolutionary Ideas, held in Williamsburg.  This year’s discussions will take the lead from our historical setting. Attendees had conversations around the theme -- “BIG Ideas, Revolutionary Ideas”: A New Founding for Local Government within the American Commonwealth. BIG Ideas 2012 discussed the future of local government as seen through the lens of the ideas which gave birth to the American experiment in republican and democratic self-government; the ideas which continue to inspire and to challenge as “we the people” struggle to achieve a free, just and inclusive society.View the BIG Ideas 2012 Conference Materials

2011 BIG Ideas - Fort Collins, CO

The 2011 BIG Ideas Conference was held in Fort Collins, CO. The format was highly interactive, with attendees bridging the roles of provocateurs and being a participant.  Participants left Colorado feeling energized and inspired by the conversation that took place.

Over the course of two and a half days, attendees discussed

  1. What will the future of local government look like?
  2. Who should work there? 
  3. What work will they be doing?
  4. How will they do their work? and
  5. How will we create a place for community?

You will find below the links to the white papers that were generated to help participants prepare for the conversation:

During these events, sessions are live scribed. Below is the link to the 2011 BIG Ideas Notes that were taken during the event:

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