The city of Toronto is putting its money where Mayor John Tory’s mouth is by launching a Civic Innovation Office.

Tory himself announced the new division Tuesday during Elevate Toronto, a new conference organized by Achievers founder Razor Suleman aimed at bringing the city’s tech industry together.

The office will be led by Paula Kwan, a young startup executive who ran corporate strategic projects and later served as the head of global expansion for Toronto-based Pivotal Labs between 2015 and 2017 while also serving as an advisor with the City of Toronto.

In a Sept. 12 statement, Kwan said that she was thrilled to be taking on what she called an “exciting challenge.”

“Having the opportunity to work with the dedicated staff of the city I love is very meaningful to me,” she said. “I am confident that the work done by the Civic Innovation Office… will make a real difference in the lives of Toronto residents.”

In the same statement, Tory said the office was a response to the many people of Toronto who want their city to address “the very real needs, questions and challenges they face every day.”

The three-person Innovation Office includes not only Kwan, but design strategist Jay Vidyarthi, who according to his LinkedIn profile has four years of experience as an independent consultant; and Todd Orvitz, a longtime City of Toronto employee who will be responsible for policy and operations. The trio’s jobs will involve working with city divisions, residents, and companies to, in the city’s words, “create a more responsive government” by:

  • Providing Toronto residents with better information about city services, programs and resources;
  • Delivering city services based on resident’s needs; and
  • Using data and public engagement to learn from and respond to complex and emerging issues.
Toronto Civic Innovation Officers (from left) Jay Vidyarthi, Paula Kwan, and Todd Orvitz, who have been tasked with improving city services in innovative ways. (Photo courtesy Civic Innovation Office website)

The Innovation Office was created in partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies, which is funding the office through its Innovation Teams Program, dedicated to helping cities across the world solve problems in new, innovative ways. The funding Bloomberg is providing for the city is worth up to $500,000 USD annually for up to three years.

As part of its mandate to develop innovative solutions, the innovation office will be using a new approach to procurement – a challenge-based “invitation to partner,” which invites participating companies to co-create solutions with a focus on resident experience and rapid prototyping.

The Civic Innovation Office’s first project, “Answering the Call,” will focus on Toronto’s 311 service, which receives more than 1.5 million calls each year, 70 per cent of which are questions rather than requests for service. The office is consequently looking for a partner who can work with the city and its residents to design, build and pilot a more responsive model for 311 information requests.

More information on “Answering the Call” and its accompanying “invitation to partner” can be found here.



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