John Keisler, Innovation Team Director for the City of Long Beach, on leveraging private-public partnerships
Having worked in government for around a decade, John Keisler — selected last year to be the director of the City of Long Beach’s Innovation Team — feels he has been most successful when using private-public partnerships to “leverage relationships, partnerships, and perspectives from lots of different departments and sectors.”
“City Hall might not always be the best to deal with,” Keisler said. “We engage people outside City Hall, through new methodologies in design thinking.”
He focuses on developing a “collaborative, creative approach to changing behaviors” by working across different sectors.
The Long Beach Innovation Team was launched in mid-2015, funded by a grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies, in an effort to improve the capacity of City Hall to effectively design and implement new approaches that improve citizens’ lives — relying on data, open innovation, and strong project and performance management to help mayors address urban challenges.
Its first focus is economic development: advising the city on how best to stimulate growth, create jobs, and leverage city resources —including through the online delivery of city services.
“By focusing on the user, we can push government programs to be more successful and resilient,” Keisler explained. “Hopefully, by working collaboratively with the private sector, using a user-centered design focus, the government will no longer just be in the role of regulator, but can actually strengthen the competitiveness and long-term success of the small businessperson.”
In particular, Keisler is accomplishing this through a partnerships with the User Experience Lab at the CSULB Design School, with the international Citymart, to design open procurement challenges, and through the first-ever City Hall fellowship with the Pasadena Art Center, the Designmatters program.
Automating bureaucratic processes and putting services online, Keisler says, “makes processes more open, more mapped, more organized and accurate, saving users tons of time and frustration” — as well as cutting hours of staff time that could be better used elsewhere.
Keisler and the Long Beach innovation team are working on a variety of projects, including the production of brief video clips to explain city processes and make government projects more accessible; the creation of innovation hubs and spaces for entrepreneurs; and the building of a public plaza through design competitions and innovation challenges.
Keisler emphasized strong the value of cross-sector collaboration in the public space moving forward: “Resources of government are going to continue to be constrained; we should be utilizing all the great resources available through other sectors and through the city’s residents.”
Prior to his leading the innovation team for the City of Long Beach, Keisler was the Chief Financial Officer for its police department; for two years, he managed the department’s $211 million annual operating budget. Before this he served as a business operations manager for the Long Beach Parks, Recreation & Marine Department, and as the Director of Long Beach Animal Care Services.
The Bloomberg Foundation first tested the project through a multi-year investment in innovation teams for five cities: Atlanta, Chicago, Louisville, Memphis, and New Orleans. The mayors of all five pioneer cities are investing public dollars to sustain their i-teams when their grants end.
Fourteen additional cities joined the program in 2014: Albuquerque, NM; Boston, MA; Centennial, CO; Jersey City, NJ; Long Beach and Los Angeles, CA; Mobile, AL; Minneapolis, MN; Peoria, IL; Rochester and Syracuse, NY; Seattle, WA; and Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Israel.