How do you transform a city? Try asking some mayors.

That’s exactly what Council member IBM did in conjunction with its Smarter Cities Challenge grant program, a multi-year, 100- plus city initiative designed to get them started on ambitious projects. IBM has donated millions of dollars in employees’ time to work with city leaders.

As part of that effort, IBM harvested insights from participating mayors and put them in a report – How to Reinvent a City. Among the lessons for leaders from leaders:

Think like a CEO. When city leaders are trying to overcome inertia, it helps to radically rethink what a city is and does. Traditionally, mayors have defined their cities and their leadership roles within the parameters of politics and traditional public services. That’s too narrow a view. Today, some of the more innovative leaders see their cities as businesses and themselves as chief executives.

Engage citizens and businesses on their terms. City leaders understand that citizen engagement is essential to understanding the wishes of their constituents – not to mention getting re-elected. But some of the typical methods yield unsatisfactory results. The public needs easy, open and continuous access to a wide variety of data and planning information, and people must be brought into a project early so they can participate in designing it.

Be bold and brave. Access to an abundance of data helps city leaders understand how things work and how they might work better, but unless mayors are bold they won’t get big things done. Politics will get in the way. So it’s essential for mayors to not only propose bold plans but to make it clear to those around them that they are deeply committed to making them work.

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