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From the Mayor: Innovation in Government

From the Mayor: Innovation in Government

  • This story originally appeared in the March 2024 innovation and technology issue of COMO Magazine.
The Shops at Sharp End ribbon cutting

When people think about innovation in government, they often think about new technologies that automate previously manual processes — innovations like laser sensors to sort recycling or software programs that plan out efficient bus routes. These things do exist, and I am thankful that we’re evaluating their use in Columbia. But before the city government can adopt new technology, the community needs to allow it to try new things — or better yet, encourage it. 

Last October, I wrote in this publication about “possibility government.” Instead of a probability government that does what will probably work because it’s been done before, a possibility government pursues efforts that only might work — but offer great possibilities for success. A possibility government is one where innovation is fostered and encouraged. 

Innovation is not just a buzzword; it’s a mindset — a commitment to exploring new horizons, challenging the status quo, and finding creative solutions to complex problems. As stewards of Columbia, it is incumbent upon us to embrace this spirit of innovation wholeheartedly.

Recently, the city has undertaken a few projects that are innovative (or at least innovative in Columbia). First, we recently purchased a program called SeeClickFix that will serve as a virtual forum for reporting issues needing repair. Currently, if you contact the city to report a pothole that needs to be filled or a streetlight that needs to be replaced, you don’t know what happens next. With the SeeClickFix, you can see where the report goes, how staff responds, and when the issue is resolved. You can also see other reported issues and how those are being addressed. It’s an innovative way to invite community members to be involved and informed when it comes to fixing the city. My hope is that this new program will show how responsive staff is to our residents’ concerns, and will continue building trust in our neighborhoods.

A second innovative project is the new Shops at Sharp End. As we all know, the Sharp End is a historic African American district that thrived during the mid-20th century but was displaced by urban renewal projects in the 1950s and 1960s. The city partnered with The District and Central Missouri Community Action to create a minority-focused retail incubator hub with supportive services — like workshops, training, coaching, etc. — for entrepreneurs who want to scale up their start ups. The Shops at Sharp End is an innovative way to create the supportive environment needed to develop new and exciting businesses.

The third innovation (for Columbia) is the transition to automated trash collection — yes, roll carts (or as my friend from New Zealand called them, “wheelie bins!”). When the city was facing unsustainable turnover, high rates of worker injury, and low rates of recycling, they knew that changes to our waste collection system were needed. Cities across the country and world have transitioned from manual to automated collection, as it improves worker safety and retention. As we finally transition to this safer system in Columbia, I am hopeful that it means resuming curbside recycling as well.   

These are just a few examples of what can happen when we embrace possibility in local government. Innovation is the heartbeat of progress, and it can propel our beloved city forward into a future defined by possibilities. With Missouri’s flagship university, a vibrant arts community, and a thriving business sector, Columbia can be at the forefront of change. Moreover, with a rapidly expanding population, we have to innovate to meet new challenges. It means we need to foster an environment where creativity is celebrated, failure is seen as a stepping stone to success, and every voice is heard. It means empowering our employees to think outside of the box, take calculated risks, and pioneer bold new initiatives that benefit our community. 

I hope you will join me on this journey to make Columbia a “possibility government” that supports innovation and the people who make it possible. 

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