Conventional wisdom holds that governments are not particularly good at innovating.

And while there are plenty of examples to support that notion, there is also a growing and global portfolio of examples that suggest quite the contrary.

A few examples:
Providence, Rhode Island, USA: Children from lower-income families weren’t being exposed to enough spoken words during critical periods of brain development – this creates a so-called “brain gap.” In response, the city deployed new technology to help close the chasm; the result was a 52% spike in the number of words heard by at-risk children enrolled in a special program there.

Barcelona, Spain: An app was developed that coordinates social interactions and medical care for the city’s growing – and increasingly isolated – elderly community.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA: Eager to see more of a mix in its vendor pipeline, the city created a new role: social impact coordinator, tasked specifically with helping small companies pilot their solutions. As a result, smaller companies are increasingly becoming a part of Philadelphia’s procurement mix.

None of these examples show government innovating on its own – strategic partnering was the key to success.

This has been the case for decades. NASA gets major credit for opening the door to space exploration in the 1960s, to be sure. But without the participation of aerospace contractors – from mammoth icons to smaller shops, the industry fully embraced the cause – it’s a good bet that America’s space programs never would have launched, quite literally. And while cities have done much on their own to tackle a host of social problems, charitable groups like Bloomberg Philanthropies, the philanthropic giving arm of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, are giving those efforts a substantial boost.

The big takeaway from all of this: when it comes to city-sponsored innovation, disruption alone doesn’t get the job done. It’s all about collaboration.

Helping governments partner and innovate was the inspiration behind H+K’s recent decision to establish its new Government + Public Sector Practice. By combining H+K’s public and private sector know-how under one roof, our aim is to help governments come up with new solutions to modern challenges. Ultimately, the goal is purpose-driven collaboration, explains George Tagg Jr., who heads the new practice.

“H+K is finding an increasing appetite for trying new things in the public sphere by working with the private sector,” says Tagg, who spent nearly a decade working for the State and Defense Department and NATO prior to joining H+K.

The key to successful innovation in government and industry is remarkably similar, he also notes – “far more than people might think.”

The common ingredient?

“In both cases,” Tagg says, “you have to put your customers first.”