Forget Technology; Denver Turns to Its Employees to Fix Problems

Source: J.B. Wogan, Governing, February 2014

Instead of looking for better results through data analytics, new technology or paid consultants, Denver looks to its own employees for simple, straightforward reforms. …

…In Denver city government, this is what an innovator looks like: White-haired, dressed in light blue scrubs and wearing a pair of sneakers, Tara Morse works as an animal care supervisor. Each day, she conducts about a dozen examinations of new dogs and cats that arrive at the Denver Animal Shelter. Not long ago, Morse came up with a simple idea to save her agency about $75,000 a year.

When pets get reclaimed by their owners, they’re usually collected in fewer than 15 days. After that, the owners rarely turn up. Yet city and county policy dictated that the agency hold animals for 30 days before trying to place them in another home. The longer they stayed, the more their health deteriorated. And as their health worsened, their chances of being adopted dropped as well. Morse recommended a new policy of 15 days. The result was just what Morse had predicted: cheaper, more effective care.

Morse was putting to use skills she learned at the Denver Peak Academy, a city-run training program, housed within the mayor’s budget office, that teaches municipal employees analytical methods to improve their daily work. Graduates apply those lessons toward improvements within their home agencies….

Cities throughout the country are creating offices tasked with spurring innovation. But the Peak Academy represents a different strain. Instead of looking for better results through data analytics, new technology or paid consultants, Denver is turning to its ground-level employees for simple, straightforward reforms. More than a suggestion box, the academy provides a structured ongoing process for soliciting new ideas and making sure they happen….