Municipal governments are leading the public sector in the development of innovative models for civic engagement, service delivery, and transparent systems. Learn how Fort Collins has expanded that premise to re-envision the central role of the City as a Platform to support innovation and co-creation with the community and business partners.

Key Takeaways

Ways that local governments can stimulate innovation and embrace the City as a Platform:

  • Reliable infrastructure, including multi-modal transportation, energy distribution, fiber broadband, and more all play a role in establishing the physical environment for communities (and innovation) to thrive.
  • Support for Startups and Technology: Local government can support this through technology incubators, targeted small business support, and demonstration projects with innovative startups and/or research university staff.
  • Regional Strategies: Mobility and connectivity are competitive advantages in the business world, and are often driven by regional strategies and collaborative approaches to infrastructure, transportation, and land-use development patterns.
  • Natural Resource Stewardship: Municipal policy and strategy around energy production and distribution, water treatment, and storm water retention are prime areas for sustainable policy enhancements that drive new technology solutions and lay the groundwork for climate resiliency.
  • Municipal Policy/Procedures/Procurement: How does the municipal organization incubate creative or innovative ideas?  What entry points exist for unique projects and/or community involvement in project development? Do policies/processes stifle new or innovative proposals? 

Foundation for Success

In 2015, Fort Collins was featured at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History exhibit on Places of Invention and Innovation. Using six cities to showcase innovation throughout American history, the exhibit examined the “people, places, and circumstances that came together in the pursuit of something new.” What kind of place stimulates creative minds and sparks a surge of invention and innovation? Following the emergence of technicolor in Hollywood in the 1930s, the birth of hip-hop in the Bronx in the 1970s, and the rise of the personal computer in Silicon Valley in the 1980s, Fort Collins was named the City of the 2010s and beyond for breakthrough inventions and collaboration in clean energy and sustainability.

To build on that success, and collectively pose the question, What’s Next?, the Fort Collins City Council identified ‘Innovation Community’ as a priority at its annual retreat in 2015. City staff was directed to assess the community’s innovation landscape, and develop recommendations to enhance innovation. “Innovation” often refers to technology and ways of making things relevant and useful, but it can also include process improvements and new problem-solving frameworks. The City has historically supported triple bottom line orientated innovation as a convener and catalyst through triple-helix partnerships and the budgeting for outcomes process.

How has Fort Collins been an Innovation Community leader?

As a National Leader in Municipal Sustainability. With the City’s Climate Action Plan and the Plan’s implementation, called the Road to 2020 – Forging Our Efficient Future, City leadership has set aspirational carbon reduction goals, making Fort Collins a national leader in the transition to the new energy economy. The CAP includes goals of a 20% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020 and 100% (carbon neutrality) by 2050 (over 2005 levels). Area’s prime for innovative technology solutions to lowering carbon emissions include: building efficiency, multi-modal transportation, renewable energy use and distribution, and waste reduction.

Through Forward Thinking Utility & Resource Management. In 1935, citizens voted to create a municipal-owned electric utility, which has enabled the community to chart its own energy future through strategic investments. The City also placed 99% of that distribution network underground between the 1950s and 1970s, a decision that has led to high reliability and quality of life. The Utility has a long history of innovative solutions in storm water retention, water storage and distribution, energy efficiency, and more.

By Fostering a Vibrant Startup Ecosystem. The City launched the Fort Collins Technology Incubator Program in 1998, now known as the Innosphere. In 2015 alone, 42 Innosphere startup companies created 300 jobs and raised $31.8 million dollars in capital.

Moving Forward: The City as a Platform

A strategy to push local governments to a position of active leadership in innovation is what Fort Collins refers to as the City as a Platform. Open platforms use networks to catalyze bottom-up participation and shared governance. Platforms regard rigid bureaucracy, strict control, and lack of transparency as impediments. Platforms allow you to plug in-and-out and view infrastructure through a participatory lens. As we transition our systems and structures to embrace platform strategy, there will be institutional and cultural challenges. But change is already coming; it’s no coincidence that the biggest disruptors and fastest growing companies of the last decade have been platforms (Facebook, YouTube, Uber, and more). 

The City as a Platform includes the critical assets of people, data, infrastructure, and technology. Here are examples of how the City of Fort Collins is actively engaged in efforts in all four areas.

  • People: FC Innovates. FC Innovates is a multi-department grassroots working group tasked with developing educational opportunities and internal processes to evaluate, test, and operationalize staff proposed improvements.
  • Data: Open Data Initiative. CityStaff have worked for over a year at developing policies and a platform to present and share community data in a broad and customer friendly way. This will be going to City Council for consideration in 2017.
  • Infrastructure: Broadband. The City is currently considering numerous options in support of improved broadband services, including options such as leasing fiber to private entities, creating a public-private partnership to provide services, or directly providing services. Through 2016, the City will be conducting feasibility and market studies and will be engaging the public to determine what role they would like to see the City play in providing broadband to Fort Collins residents and businesses.
  • Technology: Innovate Fort Collins Challenge. The City, Colorado State University, and Innosphere have collaborated on a unique technology competition that focuses on solving challenges related to electric vehicle charging. An emerging technology was competively selected and will be able to demonstrate their system using the City of Fort Collins Utilities as a testing site and platform.

In Fort Collins, the next step is to create a task force to examine and identify policies, procedures, and procurement standards that are enhancing and/or holding the City back from pursuing acts of co-creation, new technology and process solutions, and demonstration projects that have potential to scale. Local government organizations don’t always dedicate time or resources to research and development activities, unlike our private sector counterparts. But time and resources are critical to fostering innovation and creative thinking. What we do have are dedicated and talented staff and community members. And we must aspire to build systems to harness that collective power. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you would like to share your experience(s), work together, or hear updates about our journey of self-discovery and improvement.

Contact Information:

Sam Houghteling, Economic Health Office, Sustainability Services Area, 


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