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Next for city innovation: creating backbones for enabling multi-stakeholder solutions

Published on the Social Innovation Exchange Blog
Written by Tim Draimin, Senior Advisor at the McConnell Foundation in Canada.

This essay is one in a series on future trends for innovative cities, written by the leading thinkers of the Mayor of Seoul’s Social Innovation Global Advisory Committee. 

The 21st century heralds the arrival of cities. For the first time they are home to over half the world’s population. By 2050 it is estimated that 70% of the world’s population will be city- dwellers. Cities are where it is at.

The good news is that cities unlock the ability to deploy human and physical capital in ways in which a city’s positive attributes scale superlinearly, according to Geoffrey West.

The bad news is that urban ills also scale; think persistent inequality, mental illness, unsustainable consumption patterns or social isolation.

Since cities are now home to the bulk of the planet’s wicked problems, we need to dramatically grow their social innovation prowess. In my view, the biggest gap on cities’ innovation horizon is the lack of dedicated on- ramps for multi-stakeholder solutions platforms.


Where cities have stalled is with the creation and support for dedicated on-ramps for convening key actors together from civil society, business, universities and the public sector to enable the startup of new collaborations collectively addressing complex local challenges.


It is tough to knit these collaborations together and dedicated on-ramps doing the convening and incubation are essential ecosystem assets.

Our goal over the next decade is to ensure that every city boasts an ecosystem of solutions curators and backbones that enable multi-sector, multi-stakeholder collaborations deploying targeted problem solving initiatives.

This shift is part of a larger change in local and national innovation systems ensuring societal resources are aligned around solving big societal challenges.

Toronto, my hometown, is privileged to have had local civic leaders identify this need nearly two decades ago. This led to the creation of a solutions incubator, CivicAction.

With a small staff of about 15 people and an annual budget of C$1.7 million, CivicAction runs a series of programs supporting a four-year cycle running from challenge identification through to building scaled solutions. Every four years CivicAction re- loads the process by convening a major summit with about 1,000 city builders, drawn from across all sectors: community, business, academic, local-regional-national government, the arts, etc.


Since its inception CivicAction has incubated numerous successful initiatives[.]


As well as its many discrete projects, programs and spun-out organisations, CivicAction strengthens a social impact solutions culture in Toronto, harkening back to a frontier “barn- raising” spirit that relies on cross-sector collaboration.


CivicAction is but one of many successful models for growing the global solutions ecosystem. Many such platforms are codifying and open-source-sharing their “social technology” for building high impact collaborations.

See other examples of successful models across the world in the full article. 

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