On July 20, 1979, Harold Farmer, Bob Havlick, Picot Floyd, and 10 Florida local government managers gathered in the Library of the National Study Center for Continuing Medical Education in Tampa, Florida and formed the first steering committee of the Florida Innovation Group (FIG). Four days later, articles of incorporation were filed and a great adventure began.
Fueled by a $39,975 grant from the National Science Foundation, FIG was the fruition of Bob Havlick’s dream to form a “hands-on” organization that would work closely with local governments to stimulate innovation. While other innovation groups existed at the time, Havlick’s vision was for one that did not depend on federal funds to survive and could successfully interact with the private sector.
From the beginning, this organization was forward thinking, realizing the rapidly changing political and economic environment. With 13 charter member organizations, FIG marched forward collectively to explore and adopt innovative solutions to a wide array of challenges facing local governments. In 1984 FIG legally changed its name to the Southeast Innovation Group (SIG) to reflect the addition of local government members from the Carolinas and Virginia. By 1986, there were 150 members as the organization began to jointly operate with the California-Colorado-Arizona-Nevada (CCAN) Innovation Group. Texas, Ohio, and Michigan were added in 1988 and the following year the organization officially changed its name to The Innovation Groups (IG). By 1990, IG legally merged with CCAN and officially became a coast-to-coast network of cutting-edge local governments.
Long-time managers fondly recall the early days when Bob Havlick would show up at meetings with a box of “widgets,” aka “innovative products” for them to evaluate. This led to a Product Network, where local governments tested and evaluated such products and technologies as ethanol fuel, instant road repair, graffiti removal, portable parking ticket systems, and a zero-maintenance exit light that has since become a standard throughout the nation. Many of these products and technologies led to significant cost reductions and efficiency improvements by their users.
Other networks quickly formed, including the Information Network which featured newsletters, an Inquiry Service, and a variety of networking meetings and workshops. The Microcomputer Network focused on new emerging technologies and software associated with computers, which quickly began to replace the old typewriters and various manually kept record books. Other networks included the Training and Human Resource Development Network and the Public/Private Network. The latter included public/private meetings where representatives from the two exchanged knowledge and explored common interests. The first of these meetings was held at EPCOT in 1986 and was co-sponsored by the Sperry Corporation.
As IG continued to expand its network, more and more local governments came together through the IG community to share and learn from one another on a variety of “hot topics” such as TQM, Rightsizing, Recycling, Performance Measures, and the Internet. As early as 1992, before many of us knew the meaning of “web browser,” “chat room,” “search engine,” and “online community,” IG developed an Internet bulletin board for its membership. In 1999, IG introduced The Knowledge Center, an online tool that brought numerous new benefits. Instead of waiting two weeks for a desired document, members could attain it instantly through the document library; instead of waiting two weeks for contact names and information for an inquiry, members could receive replies to their questions within minutes.
In 1994, IG West (formerly CCAN) began preparations to develop a national conference centered on innovations and change management. IG kicked off the first Transforming Local Government Conference on April 30, 1995 in Long Beach, California. Since its inception, TLG has become a dynamic event where organizational and personal transformation along with the “calling” of public service have been explored and celebrated. Renowned speakers and authors such as Peter Block, Jim Collins, Joel Henning, Peter Koestenbaum, and many others have stirred our hearts and souls. For many, this annual gathering renews the excitement of being change agents in a difficult and too often unappreciated environment; for some it even rekindles the spirit.
In late 2002, earnest talks of forming an alliance between The Innovation Groups and The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) began. IG and ICMA initiated co-sponsored workshops to test the waters of this new relationship. With the retirement of founder Bob Havlick in June, 2003, a new era began when former Texas City Manager Bob Hart became the IG President in December, 2003. Hart worked with the IG Board and ICMA Executive Director Bob O’Neill to find a key third partner. All parties agreed that a university partner was essential to forge an alliance that would bring cutting-edge ideas and applied research to local governments. IG issued a request for interest among universities and with ICMA began the search for the last peg of the alliance.
On June 2, 2006, The Innovation Groups Board unanimously voted to choose Arizona State University as the university partner for the alliance. The ICMA Board also approved ASU as the alliance. In Yuma, AZ on October 13th and 14th, three representatives of ASU and three representatives of ICMA joined the IG board for the first alliance board meeting. The group amended the IG bylaws to incorporate the new board structure and decided that IG would become the “Alliance for Innovation.” This new name was put to a vote of the IG membership in May, 2007 and passed with 179 “Yes” votes, 4 “No” votes, and 161 with no response. On June 1, 2007, the organization legally became the “Alliance for Innovation, Inc.”
James R. Keene, Jr., former City Manager of Berkeley, CA and Tucson, AZ, took the reins of the organization in February, 2007 and guided it through the unveiling of the new name and logo at the 2007 Transforming Local Government Conference in Bellevue, WA. The unveiling took place on June 6, 2007. Another big step occurred in August, 2007 as AFI moved into its new offices at the Arizona State University Downtown Center in Phoenix, AZ.
In the summer of 2008, Keene left to take on the City Manager position in Palo Alto, CA. COO Karen Thoreson assumed management duties under board supervision and was officially appointed Alliance for Innovation President in May, 2009.
2010 witnessed a year of changes for the Alliance. The Florida business office closed on December 31, 2009; administrative and financial functions went virtual in Florida with the latter being conducted in collaboration with ICMA. This achieved significant cost-savings for the organization. By June, 2010, a new web-site and Knowledge Center was launched in partnership with ICMA. Subsequent years saw increases in membership numbers and revenue, increased net income, and a growing cash reserve. Two new initiatives commenced in 2013: the Local Government Research Collaborative (LGRC) and the Innovation Academy. These recent moves have heralded the start of a new and promising future for the Alliance and the local governments they serve.