But it's not a food type or a TV show, so this time it's a good thing.
Earlier this Summer, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable operation of New York City major Michael Bloomberg, launched his Mayors Challenge (their punctuation choice) – a competition to stimulate innovative approaches to impervious public problems. The challenge is being put to City Halls across the nation, and 394 have signed up to submit an idea. 20 finalist teams will gain entry to a Bloomberg Ideas Camp in November, where they will work with each other and innovation experts to develop their plans. Refined proposals will be submitted and five winning ideas will be announced next Spring, each of which will receive $1 million for development with $5 million going to the overall winner.
If you’re a close follower of Innovation Unit’s work (a worthy pastime), this may all sound a little familiar. Last year, Innovation Unit were a supporting partner on Creative Councils, a programme held by NESTA and the Local Government Group. Creative Councils was a similar innovation challenge to which 137 different councils applied, which were gradually whittled down to 20, and then six. NESTA is now working with these six councils to realise their winning ideas. Bloomberg (or rather, his programme leader James Anderson) caught the whiff of a great idea from across the pond, and visited NESTA before developing the Mayors Challenge. Here you can here Geoff Mulgan, Director of NESTA, talk to Bloomberg Philanthropies about the Challenge.
Creative Councils was a great example of a programme with multiple layers of impact. Ultimately, it will result in five thoroughly-developed solutions that will improve lives in their local community, and may be adapted elsewhere. Along the way, it has demonstrated a model of how combined teams of government workers and innovation experts can make cross-service transformations, and the process as a whole can inspire all local governments to rise to the challenge of tackling their acute and long-term difficulties in ambitious ways. U.S. cities, like ours, face the prospect of having to do more with less, as populations with more complex problems have less money to solve them. Innovation Unit is all about sharing expertise so that local teams can be supported to shape their own solutions, so we are delighted that a model we helped develop is now being shared so far afield and on such a scale.
I will be following how the American teams are getting on, and will update on the finalist ideas in November. Bloomberg Philanthropies (despite their odd grammar – what is a Philanthropy that it can be plural?) are likely to assemble a crack team for the Ideas Camp, so I am looking forward to follow some of their process. Key to the wider impact of competition-based programmes is that they surface principles which can go on to help others. Innovation Unit takes great effort to gather and share our learning about how transformation happens effectively, so fingers crossed James Anderson and co. will be doing the same.