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The i-team: Turning Local Governments into Innovation Powerhouses
Julia Levitt, 3 Mar 09

The lines between business and government have been growing increasingly blurry in the face of the global economic downturn. But in the UK, a group of innovators is working to blend the two in a very positive way. A new initiative known as the i-team is teaching county governments to apply creative tools and processes that are common in the business world, with impressive results.

The i-team is a combined effort on behalf of non-profit sustainable development org Forum for the Future, design consulting firm IDEO, and the UK's Local Government Association. After soliciting applications from all interested UK county governments, the i-team selected its first three partners: Kirklees, Suffolk and St. Helens counties.

Expert staff from both IDEO and Forum for the Future led the government groups in a collaborative creative process that involved in-person community research to determine how individuals around the county really behaved, what they needed and what they wanted in relation to public services. The teams then further developed and prototyped their leading ideas, until each was able to select one program, campaign or service to implement in their community. Kirklees county officials are transforming a busy child and family care center into a low carbon showcase. Suffolk County is reducing emissions by giving staff incentives for low-carbon travel. St. Helens has launched a viral climate change campaign empowering 12- to 14-year-olds to lead in their communities.

Watch the project unfold in this video from the i-team:

I think the i-team is on to something. Though it's easy to dismiss process-oriented initiatives as "feel-good" projects or worse, it's important to recognize that for many people, an inspiring work environment makes all the difference. When it comes time to assign leaders in the fight against climate change, I've often heard the argument that while governments are the parties directly responsible to people and planet, businesses are the entities with the greatest capacity and freedom to innovate. A marriage of the two seems like just the kind of open-minded thinking we'll need to solve the complex problems of the future.

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