Opening up the doors of city hall, everywhere

Governments have to innovate to meet the growing and complex demands of its constituents, but how? And with who?

National, state, city and local governments are facing an ever-changing world with more complex problems than ever. It is incredibly important for governments to respond to a rapidly growing and interconnected population in its urban cities and to provide services in a sustainable and innovative way. As the World Bank supports its mission of ending poverty, it is crucial that it receives the input of the various stakeholders that are affected by the projects and policies in tries to implement around the world. The World Bank Group has embraced the idea of open innovation as a strategic way forward for itself as an institution, and more largely, the governments it serves and its stakeholders to address these dynamic problems in a systematic way. [1] This is a revolutionary and disruptive step in the decision-making process of traditionally bureaucratic and closed government entities. Government research and innovation institutions are generally more sources of knowledge transfer rather than in-house R&D, which is left mostly to the private sector. [2] There are now innovative challenges held for entrepreneurs in cities like New York, Barcelona and Amsterdam to solve issues such as optimizing public transportation systems, better delivering government services and leveraging new technologies to digitize away red tape. Reykjavik has created a novel grassroots-created digital initiative that illustrates how a fast-moving technology can productively stimulate slower-moving democratic governance. [1] [3] Collaboration through the use of public and private partnerships (PPPs) is more common, but still underutilized outside of Europe. [2]


In the short term, the World Bank has begun to introduce the idea of open innovation to cities and governments for the past three years in Chile, Colombia, Egypt and Mozambique through a systematic methodology designed to engage stakeholders from the top-down as well as bottom- up. [4] They have done this by first identifying “internal champions,” who are government officials that advocate the new technology, as well as external stakeholders organized in an “innovation hub” to create a feedback loop that will eventually lead the way for long-term sustainability and scalability. This innovation hub can be categorized in Zone 4, as for a heterogeneous ecosystem with incremental innovation that typifies governments. [5] This innovation hub is then provided with a methodology to catalyze open innovation, taught through co-design workshops, diagnoses, competitions and co-creation workshops, all of which are iterative. An example can be found in Chile, in the city area of Gran Concepcion where it catalyzed the adoption of the bottom-up smart city model. [4]

The logical next step for the World Bank in supporting these processes in the short to medium-term are to continue to socialize this idea and garner political buy-in from the government officials that will be implementing the eventual solutions. The “internal champions” and external stakeholders will accomplish little if there is lack of political will from the ultimate authority. [6] A challenge facing this type of process improvement is when there needs to be an alignment of incentives and priorities over a diverse set of stakeholders. There is also a need for the World Bank to create regulatory systems that support the entrepreneurial environment and to make the regulatory adjustments that government must make to foster innovation. [5] Challenges also lie within trying to solve problems that have been persistent over time and where no traditional solution has worked. To find solutions you must allow entrepreneurs and non-traditional actors to be included in the process. Good ideas cannot be developed from the bottom-up if there is not a “culture of innovation” that is fostered from the top-down. [5] The World Bank must also continue to adopt this methodology within its own processes. Currently, the World Bank has few opportunities to crowd-source ideas for different development problems, such as gathering youth from around the world to the World Bank Group Youth Summit and engaging in an ideas competition for topics such as education, climate change and technology. This, along with the Ideas for Action, a joint program between the World Bank Group and the Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research at the Wharton School, Ideas for Action is a knowledge platform and competition for design ideas for financing the UN’s  Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). [7] [8] However, it is unclear how the translation of these ideas to practical policy recommendations and projects has truly affected the decision-making process.


To this end, how effective can the World Bank be at influencing other governments to adopt open innovation practices if they cannot fully utilize the process themselves? Beyond implementation, the World Bank must also guide governments in the monitoring and evaluation systems for such innovation policies, once the process is opened to more and more actors, is it possible to measure its efficacy? (783 words)


  1. Mulas, V. (2018). How to implement “open innovation” in city government. [online] Sustainable Cities. Available at: [Accessed 13 Nov. 2018].
  2. OECD (2008), “Open Innovation in Global Networks”, in Open Innovation in Global Networks, OECD Publishing, Paris.
  3. Lackaff, D. (2015). Escaping the Middleman Paradox: Better Reykjavik and Open Policy Innovation. JeDEM – eJournal of eDemocracy and Open Government, [online] 7(2), pp.137-161. Available at:
  4. World Bank Group (2015). INTRODUCING SUSTAINABLE OPEN INNOVATION IN GOVERNMENT. Applied Methodology for Cities. [online] World Bank Group. Available at: [Accessed 13 Nov. 2018].
  5. Open Innovation in a Global Perspective. (2008). OECD Science, Technology and Industry Working Papers.
  6. Park, E. and Lee, J. (2015). A study on policy literacy and public attitudes toward government innovation-focusing on Government 3.0 in South Korea. Journal of Open Innovation: Technology, Market, and Complexity, [online] 1(1). [Accessed 13 Nov. 2018].
  7. Ideas for Action. (2018). Ideas for Action at the 2018 IMF-WBG Annual Meetings. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Nov. 2018].
  8. Voices. (2018). World Bank Group Youth Summit 2016: Rethinking education for the new millennium. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Nov. 2018].
  9. OECD (2008), “Empirical Measures of Open Innovation”, in Open Innovation in Global Networks, OECD Publishing, Paris.
  10. Innovation Policy Platform. (2018). Open innovation. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Nov. 2018].


Ripple: Leveraging Distributed Ledger Technology to create a single International Remittance Network


Toronto Raptors: Machine Learning as a Method for Improving the Roster Decision Process

Student comments on Opening up the doors of city hall, everywhere

  1. This is a very interesting use of crowdsourcing that I wouldn’t have thought of–great find! To your question around “how effective can the World Bank be at influencing other governments to adopt open innovation practices if they cannot fully utilize the process themselves?”, I don’t believe they will until they themselves embrace the practice more fully. Government organizations are by nature highly risk-averse, so seeing this model work in another highly reputable public institution would likely be a requirement for them to gain confidence that it can be done successfully. I also believe other governments would need to see more specific examples of the types of issues and questions they can raise to the public and to other stakeholders. In a world that has historically been slow to adopt change, leading by example will be key if the World Bank wants to influence other government parties to follow suit.

  2. This is a very interesting concept! Loved how the benefits and potential issues were clearly articulated. I was wondering if the World Bank could potentially go straight to the private sector without dealing with champions in the government? For example, World Bank could create and implement “open innovation” hubs in countries that were only open to the private sector. The World Bank could then use the best ideas to influence government policies and initiatives. After all, a lot developing countries do rely on World Bank funds. This may give the bank some leeway to actively propose (and maybe enforce) ideas on governments. I realize other institutions like the IMF have been criticized for enforcing policies on nations. However, the difference with “private section open innovation” would be that the ideas come directly from a nation’s citizens.

  3. Vanessa, great article about a very important and complex challenge! As a former member of a large bureaucratic organization that was resistant to change, it is exciting to see how others have attempted to tackle this problem through open innovation. Harnessing the power of open innovation in government sounds like the next level of democracy! I agree with the comment above that governments will be much more inclined to adopt strategies if they are formulated and embraced by their populace. For that reason, regional partnerships must be embraced and reinforced if this is to catch on globally. I also think that starting at a local level with smaller governments (town or small city) can serve as proof of concepts with both new ideas and the entire open innovation process. The consequences are smaller and the lead time before seeing results are typically quicker depending on the type of change implemented. Growing this in an incremental way from the bottom up seems more promising than an institutional top down approach.

  4. A truly insightful piece, I wasn’t aware of World Bank activities in this area. One hesitation that I have, though, relates to your question about how effective World Bank could be if they themselves cannot fully utilize the process. A question in my mind is whether they are the right organization to promote this. Wouldn’t sector-focused expert bodies (e.g. WHO for health, ILO for labor) be more suited to tackle this so that to bring the clarity of challenges and potential solutions that local governments can bring to financiers like World Bank as they propose their projects? World Bank could potentially incentivize this collaboration by encouraging more project proposal to have come from open innovation sources.

  5. What an amazing article. Its great to see how the power of technology is giving an avenue for the average citizen to raise their concerns and help shape the decisions in their countries that will ultimately affect the way they live. I believe however, that challenges may arise if we give people, that don’t necessarily have the credentials or expertise, the power to make decisions. This tool should be used only as a feedback source but with limits to the actual decision making should remain at the government level.

  6. Convincing governments to use open innovation is an excellent idea. Citizens have the opportunity to be involved in the political process, to state their opinion, and to have an impact on others. At the same time, open innovation generates a natural buy-in and makes it easier to implement changes. I heard, for example, of some infrastructure projects in Germany which involved a very early and extensive idea generation process with citizens who were directly affected by these projects. The result was that these people were much more likely i) to understand the necessity of the projects, (ii) to appreciate that everything has been done to reduce any negative consequences, and (iii) to be an amplifier of these perspectives in their communities. Additionally, I believe that promoting open innovation to governments means promoting democracy. Open innovation could be a tool to reverse the general trend of decreasing interest in political decisions in many countries.

  7. Very interesting read, especially as I am new to this field and am discovering about the efforts made in the field of open innovation by The World Bank.

    As I’m new to the field, your questions posed me some further questions I wanted to explore. As for the ability of The World Bank to be able to demonstrate what it preaches, how active is The World Bank in hiring/inviting people who are experienced in the field of open innovation to join its leadership ranks? If it is difficult currently, is there a way it would become possible? I felt that acquiring experienced talent would be one of most straightforward ways to acquire capabilities an organization is working to strengthen.
    I was also curious to learn what are some examples of specific success cases (of even pilot-stage projects). The more early wins and success cases The World Bank can provide, the more it would be able to provide convincing argument for government of other countries to join its efforts.

Leave a comment