Powering Local Change through Global Collaboration at SXSW

ICMA showcased the future of local government at SXSW by sharing innovative, collaborative approaches to governance and sustainability.

Mar 28, 2019 | BLOG POST

by Abbas Sabur, digital marketing coordinator, ICMA

Established in 1987 and billed as the “premier destination for discovery,” the annual SXSW (South by Southwest) Conference took place March 8-17 in Austin, Texas, and offered attendees an array of mind-blowing technological innovations and creative, often unexpected ideas. One message came through loud and clear during the 2019 conference: Local governments are poised to play a major role in ensuring the safety and prosperity of future generations.

For the second year in a row, ICMA established a SXSW presence through a series of educational sessions and informative “coffee breaks” included as part of the Cities, Government & Politics track. Session topics included: Advanced data gathering and performance management, inclusive service delivery, resilience planning, and citizen engagement.

Using TED-Talk-inspired “deep dive” approach, seven speakers—including ICMA members from across the globe, staff, and Strategic Partners—shared their thoughts about the innovative programs they’re developed within their communities and explored how local governments can step up to the challenge of finding creative, strategic solutions to service delivery challenges. In exchange, participants and attendees heard thought-provoking ideas from futurists and influencers with an interest in building better communities.  

Session Highlights


Carlos Loria Chaves, ICMA economic and local governance advisor for the Latin and Central America Region whose career experience includes 20 years in political reform and municipal development, discussed the state of local government in Central America and the Dominican Republic. Dominated by political instability, this region was challenged by serious strife and a maelstrom of inefficiencies that would eventually come to a head in the 1990s, when democratic stability re-introduced a focus on local government management. Carlos’ session provided a detailed look into how municipalities can develop their capacity to prioritize, plan for, and implement investments that lead to job growth.

View Carlos' session on Facebook Live.

Watch Session



Of course, not all collaboration has to be regional. Having hosted fellows from the YSEALI program for several years, Mark Watson, city manager, Oak Ridge, Tennessee; and Christian Doolin, strategic innovation manager, Tallahassee, Florida, discussed the value that the YSEALI program has brought to their communities and how the exchange program has affected them personally.

Learn how your local government can host a YSEALI Fellow by visiting our YSEALI page.



David Johnstone, ICMA past president and former city manager, Candiac, Quebec, examined sustainability through community design and the important role of the chief appointed manager in preparing cities for the future by helping them make spaces that fit existing and future needs.

The advent of the automobile allowed the population to migrate and has been the stable of urban design. Advocating for a change in design thinking, Johnstone discussed how a design model focused on the automobile is unsustainable. Comparing examples of mass auto production with walkable urban centers, he expressed that the best way to build sustainable communities is by focusing mobility on what matters most- the people living in them.

View David's session on Facebook Live.

Watch Session


SXSW 2019 offered ICMA an incredible opportunity to reach new audiences with the message about how local government innovation can help shape our future. Don’t let your voice (and stories) go unheard! Help us elevate the role of professional local government managers by reserving a spot for SXSW 2020 now. Tell us a little about yourself and whether you’d be willing to volunteer as a speaker or presenter at the SXSW 2020.


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