Let us start with buying a lamppost. Or, more accurately, with the light it emits. Each global city operates tens of thousands of streetlights at significant cost, since illuminating our streets, squares, and sidewalks also consumes a lot of energy. How cities procure can deliver dramatically different results.

Source: Ausgrid Photos on Flickr, creative commons 2.0 license

After 20 years of travelling the world, telling people how to fix problems faster, I invite you to The Slow Lane, my small publishing experiment. Each week, The Slow Lane will give you a bite-sized story about truly transformative change.

Let me take a moment to explain.

In February 2018, Knowsley Council in the UK published a public procurement notice. In it, they introduced a 15-year-old girl, a single child in need of complex care support services. This tender stood from the hundreds of contract opportunities released by cities in the UK every week that are largely incomprehensible, written in the kind of bureaucratic English that is a short-hand among officials, lawyers and corporate service providers. This tender was written with love.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Procurement innovation helped Chile’s Carabineros break out of a cycle of buying the same shoes for its entire police force after 90 years, invigorating not just the feet of officers, but the shoe industry along the way.

source: Laboratorio de Gobierno, Chile

Nine years ago, when austerity measures in the U.K. forced the city of Sefton to slash its budget by 50 percent, a community meals program for vulnerable, mostly elderly, residents was on the chopping block. But then Peter Moore, who led social services for the city, started talking with residents about how — and why — they used the program. That helped him find a way to both keep it and make it better. Gradually it changed the way the whole city worked with lessons that might help budget-strapped cities everywhere.

(Shutterstock/Elena Abrazhevich)

It may seem like technology will speed processes and improve outcomes, but that isn’t always the case. Here’s why.

City leaders face unprecedented challenges today. They have to lead in utter uncertainty during times of a pandemic coinciding with economic collapse and an urgent call for civil rights. They have to implement budget and service cuts, tackle a rapidly growing demand for social care and justice and somehow restart their local economy. The good news is that in today’s world, there are many who can lend a helping hand to not just maintain service levels but help rebuild our systems to be more resilient.

Budget cuts are coming, but they don’t have to be painful. In my last of three posts I propose that asking the right questions and working in concert can help cities and towns avoid cuts that will cause suffering for years to come.

Image source: ABCD Institute

Austerity all too often results in loss: of services, care, and hope. In this second of three posts, we will discuss that austerity can also be a good thing if it’s used as a springboard to community projects that create a more resilient future, fundamentally transforming the relationship between local government and people.

Sascha Haselmayer

Passionate about social + city innovation, delightful procurement, connecting social entrepreneurs and governments. Fellow @ New America | Founder/CEO Citymart

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