Atlanta’s Civic Innovation Community: From Buzz to Action

By Jon Keen • May 12, 2014

There is a buzz around the City of Atlanta these days, and not just the Georgia Tech mascot. It stems from the energy within a community of civic innovators – technologists, data scientists, and designers – that is starting to form organizations and create events around the city. These innovators are seeking to bring positive change to Atlanta and use their skills in the process. As with many cities across the country, the challenge now is how to turn this energy and buzz into action and sustainable results.

In many ways, Atlanta has had a tough start to the year. Everyone remembers the snowstorm in January, and in February, the Brookings Institute released a report highlighting Atlanta’s inequality as the highest in the nation. While challenges such as this are going to take many years and lots of hard work to correct, we have reasons to be optimistic. Our residents are getting more involved and our city is getting more innovative.

In the last year, talented civic leaders have formed organizations such as Code For Atlanta, Data Science For Social Good – Atlanta, and City Pioneers. Well-established organizations such as Leadership Atlanta hosted amazing events like (co)lab, with inspiring speakers and labs tailored to civic challenges within Atlanta. The City of Atlanta has gotten involved and hosted two Govathons, with a third in the works. There is growing demand for these types of organizations and events, and Atlanta’s civic leaders are stepping up.

Our city has also been blessed with some great opportunities. Bloomberg Philanthropies invested in an Innovation Delivery Team and Code For America selected Atlanta as a 2014 partner city. These investments combined with the energy of talented residents have the potential to bring about significant positive change. For example, the City of Atlanta recently released an Innovation Report, which highlights some of the great work that has taken place over the last few years. It is exciting to think what this report may look like two years from now, if the city can sustain investment in this area and residents continue to become more involved.

Currently, Atlanta and many other cities face the challenge of how to harness the ongoing investment and interest in civic innovation. We must create a sustainable structure upon which residents can engage with their community and city, adding value and building knowledge as civic leaders. LEAD Atlanta, a program of Leadership Atlanta, develops young civic leaders and has them implement projects within the Atlanta community during their 8-month program. More organizations should follow this model. A model of action and follow through that leads to sustainable results. This is the only way the current energy around civic innovation will continue, because investors want results and residents want to see results from their efforts.

I can see the buzz around the city and feel the momentum building among the civic innovation community. Just attend one of the many great events happening each week and you will too. Now together we must find ways to ensure the buzz turns into action.

About the Author

Jon Keen

Jon Keen is a co-founder of City Pioneers, a non-profit social enterprise that is launching an Atlanta Center for Civic Innovation.  He is a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School and focuses on performance improvement in non-profits and government.