Category Archives: Blog

Citymart helps U.S. cities rethink public procurement to unlock civic innovation and citizen engagement

Public procurement by local governments accounts for the world’s single largest budget dedicated to improving our communities – roughly $1 trillion annually in the U.S. alone. Despite this staggering potential, public procurement the world over is plagued by an opaque, confusing, and often impenetrable process.

In traditional procurement, companies bid to develop solutions prescribed by the city using requests for proposals (RFPs). Often, RFPs are loaded with specifications, terms and conditions, and legal clauses that make it almost impossible for small businesses or entrepreneurs to participate. As a result, most contracts are awarded to only a handful of large vendors who are well-versed in navigating a complex system. In Barcelona, for example a traditional $1.5 million procurement budget attracts interest from only 20 vendors. This leaves out a wide swath of potential sources of innovation and holds governments back from delivering services most effectively to citizens.

Citymart, a global organization focused on civic innovation has found a way to open up the government procurement process. They set out to replace the hundreds of pages of detailed specifications in RFPs with a simple problem statement and explanation of the desired result. With this problem-based approach, Citymart is able to help cities identify and frame community needs in a user-friendly RFP process. The bidding is then uploaded to the CItymart online collaborative open-source platform for anyone to access.

Citymart’s RFP process levels the playing field in public contracts for everyone from global vendors to social entrepreneurs, designers, and even residents. In Barcelona, a recent $1.5 million RFP published with Citymart attracted 55,000 citizens and entrepreneurs to deliver solutions to combat bicycle theft. The process not only helps cities deliver better quality services at lower costs, it also accomplishes this without increasing risks for the administration. Most importantly, it gets more citizens to engage directly with everyday acts of city governance, reinforcing transparency and accountability in the public sphere.

To date, more than 50 cities have adopted Citymart, including London, Paris, Barcelona, San Francisco, Fukuoka and Mexico City. Organized in a #citiesshare alliance, these partner cities work together with the aim to open at least 1 percent of their annual procurement through Citymart. By actively engaging vendors, communities, organizations and experts, Citymart’s innovation network creates an open knowledge resource for sharing across cities around the world, promising efficiencies by learning from the experiences in other cities.

The platform was recent awarded funding from the Knight Foundation, which will help Citymart expand its operations to the U.S. later this year. They plan to partner with four U.S. cities in adopting their problem-based and collaborative online procurement approach.

Watch Citymart founder, Sascha Haselmayer ‘s inspiring talk at on “Open, Agile, and Empathic Cities” on to learn more about their approach.

-Posted by Maren Maier, Founder of

Economist Ed McMahon on the value of preserving community uniqueness

Ed McMahon, who holds the Charles E. Fraser Chair on Sustainable Development at the Urban Land Institute in Washington, DC believes ‘place’ is more than a spot on a map. Place is “the unique collection of qualities and characteristics–visual, cultural, social, environmental–that provide meaning to a location.” And it is the uniqueness that makes a place worth caring about.

Yet all too often American developers forego this notion, favoring uniform sprawl and cookie-cutter developments in their plans for growth. We are now suffering the social, economic, and environmental consequences of those choices. Even with all of the technological improvements of faster computers, bigger cars, more choices, people still ask is this all there is? As America amassed enormous wealth and power, we are plagued with vanishing beauty, meaning, and sense of place.

In his talk at TEDxJacksonville, McMahon makes a compelling case for the economic, psychological, and social value of ‘uniqueness’ in our communities. He explains that this “community distinctiveness” is a critical component for economic success, equal to world-class infrastructure and a well-educated workforce. And this is especially critical as the shape of the world economy rapidly changes.

Wheareas the old economy was about making things, the new economy is about designing things. Markets and cost-sensitivity drove the 20th Century, but today place and values-sensitivity matter most. If “communities cannot differentiate themselves in a world where capital is footloose,” McMahon observes, “they have no competitive advantage.” He challenges us to consider how we might design our communities to be more distinctive, more livable, more beautiful, more connected for truly sustainable growth.

Check out Ed Mcmahon’s TEDx talk “Where Am I? The Power of Uniqueness” on

– Posted by Maren Maier, Founder of

How Design Policy Benefits Public Policy

What can a design policy approach bring to the table that doesn’t already exist?

Many design driven projects, including those combined with research and development, result in commercialization and technology transfer of innovative technologies, products and services. This transfer provides a longer arc of economic growth within the State. Examples of design driven tech transfer include…

Can you provide examples of design policy in other States?Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, California have recognized the value of design driven businesses to produce products and services in transportation, technology and the built environment in their State.

The European Union recently incorporated design as a key component of its EU innovation policy.

—Maren Maier, Design Strategist

Design Districts Develop Creative Economies

Many cities around the world have recognized the value of design policies that encourage development of design districts. Design districts are an interdisciplinary mix of design practitioners from various disciplines, related manufacturing, retail and distribution. The interaction between the participants of the design district foster creativity and attract a diverse audience of
visitors to the area.

The Annapolis Design District is
one example right here in Maryland.

Congressional Caucus Unveils new STEM to STEAM Policy Map



Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) launched a new STEAM Map on Capitol Hill in collaboration with US House STEAM Caucus Chair Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) ). This innovative mapping tool visualizes STEAM activity to enable advocates and practitioners to connect with each other, share best practices and show decision makers the impact and relevancy of art and design. The STEAM Map can be found at The list of STEAM members can be found here.