São Paulo Public Innovation Labs

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São Paulo

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Main actors

City Government, Supranational / Intergovernmental Institutions, Private Sector, Community / Citizen Group, NGO / Philanthropy, Public Utility, Research Institutes / Universities

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Project area

Metropolitan Area

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Ongoing since 2014/03

São Paulo’s municipal government has created Public Innovation Labs to address complex policy and service issues through collaborative approaches and innovative methodologies.

The city of São Paulo, like many cities, faces complex technological, economic and social challenges. Simultaneously there is and increasing demand from citizens for social participation, greater transparency, less bureaucratic governing and better public services.

To create new ways of solving recurrent complex public issues, the municipal government has implemented two Public Innovation Labs, (011).lab and MobiLab, to help build an innovation ecosystem and promote an innovation culture within the municipality.

São Paulo’s Innovation Ecosystem provides a framework for piloting new solutions, systematizing knowledge, increasing citizen participation and encouraging collaboration between actors inside and outside government to achieve improved integrated urban governance.

Sustainable Development Goals

Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

Sustainable Transport Award

This project was awarded the 'Sustainable Transport Award' in 2015.

São Paulo, Brazil

Size and population development
São Paulo has one of the world’s fastest-growing metropolitan populations. It is the most populous city in Brazil and the Southern Hemisphere. In 2017 population was estimated at 12,106,920.

Population composition
São Paulo is a multicultural city with approximately 2.3 million immigrants who arrived in the state between 1870 to 2010. Brazil has the largest Italian population outside Italy, with São Paulo being the most populous city with Italian ancestry in the world

Main functions
São Paulo city is the capital of São Paulo state, located in southeastern Brazil. It is an industrial center in Latin America. It exerts strong international influences in commerce, finance, arts and entertainment.

Main industries / business
São Paulo is the biggest financial center in Brazil and one of the biggest financial centers in the world

Political structure
The Executive Branch of the municipality of São Paulo is represented by the mayor and his cabinet of secretaries, following the model proposed by the Federal Constitution. The Legislative Power is represented by the Municipal Chamber, composed of 55 aldermen elected to four-year posts.

Administrative structure
The city is divided into into 32 subprefectures, sub-divided into 96 disctrics.

São Paulo is South America’s most populated city and the municipal government’s main challenge has always been finding effective ways to communicate and engage with citizens.  Currently, participation opportunities are few and resentment toward the city administration is high, the citizen’s trust rate of the administration plummeting from 49% in 2008 to 19% in 2017 (according to queries made by Rede Nossa São Paulo and the IBOPE). Such disapproval takes root in ill-designed public services, short-term vision in public management and disconnected communication between government officials and citizens.

Meanwhile, the current municipal government actively tries to replicate good practices from abroad. However, the necessity of defining our own priorities and solutions - within the framework of the city’s complex urban systems - is hampered by an historically fragmented and rigidly hierarchical municipal administration that lacks transparency, social participation, and the integration of different stakeholders’ perspective.

To address these complex issues, the implementation of public innovation labs as platforms of communication between municipal administrations, the private sector and civil society ha been developed. They strive to tackle the city’s serious issues through public engagement and innovative problem-solving methodologies (design thinking, ethnographies, design sprints, practice-checking, teoria da mudança, etc.) in collaboration with citizens and social entrepreneurs. The collaborative actions of the labs creates an ecosystem for innovation. The ecosystem will enable the systematization of capacities for innovation throughout São Paulo that is less bureaucratic, with more citizen participation and is less costly and more impactful.

São Paulo’s city government has made significant steps in strengthening its innovation culture. In January 2017, the Municipal Secretary of Innovation and Technology was created, reflecting the government’s concern in fortifying innovation and technology initiatives in municipal management. Following the development of innovation promotion guidelines and a leadership mandate for modernization projects, (011).lab - Government Innovation Lab, and MobiLab - Laboratory of Innovation in Mobility were established and now form the new Innovation Ecosystem of São Paulo.

  • The MobiLab, Laboratory of Innovation in Mobility was created by the Municipal Secretary of Mobility and Transport, focusing on changing the city administrations’ relationship with technology, by introducing innovation, transparency, startups and citizen engagement as priorities. MobiLab was created in March 2014, however, its format was significantly changed and in the second half of 2015 the lab commenced operating as a platform for public innovation in urban mobility. In partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Road Safety Program, MobiLab benefitted from data usage for the production of data based public policies. In 2017, a partnership was established between the Municipal Secretary of Innovation and Technology and the Municipal Secretary of Mobility and Transport for innovative management, and the lab was now managed through an arrangement of shared governance. The MobiLab has two main focus areas:

(1) bringing technological solutions to challenges identified by municipal bodies in charge of transport management. In November 2017, a public call for startups and small companies to present projects was announced.

(2) offering a program of mentorship and residence to startups that work in the urban mobility field. After a selection process in June 2016, selected startups now have access to the MobiLab coworking space and benefit from training and mentoring activities and have the opportunity to prototype their solutions with the City government of São Paulo.

  • The (011).lab was created in August 2017, by the Department of Innovation and Technology, aiming to provide an open space for testing innovative methodologies and to prototype creative solutions to address public issues. By connecting people from inside and outside the public sector, the lab intends to generate positive impacts in municipal management and for citizen’s quality of life. A study of 57 public innovation labs around the world was carried out, as well as interviews to exchange experiences and learnings with 15 of them. Mentoring and training activities with other public innovation labs such as GNova, from the Brazilian federal government and MindLab, from Denmark were carried out aiming at consolidating visions, values and missions and guidelines for action. Each project developed by the (011).lab involves:

- collaboration between stakeholders inside and outside the municipal government;

- collaborative development and implementation of the project shared responsibility for eventual risks;

- experimentation of innovative tools and methods;

- innovation skills’ development of the members involved;

- and the promotion of an innovation culture via the creation of new processes and unconventional tools.

Other initiatives in innovation have been created. The Pátio Digital, an open government initiative, was launched in April 2017 by the Department of Education in partnership with UNESCO. The project seeks to strengthen transparency, social participation, and promotes the development of innovative technological solutions with the goal of improving education in the city.

The Innovation Ecosystem is managed within São Paulo’s administrative structure and financed by the municipal budget.

The (011).lab and Mobilab are managed by the Municipal Secretary of Technology and Information and receive funding directly from this department.

Research for funding opportunities of non-funded activities has been conducted and projects that can be externally funded have been identified - either through national agencies or through foreign agencies promoting research and development. Both labs also benefit from donated resources to enable some of the activities, for example Mobilab received a donation from the Bloomberg Philanthropies for all filming and sound equipment.

The development and implementation of São Paul’s Innovation Ecosystem has had four areas of impact.

Firstly, the promotion and systematization of an innovation culture within the public sector. The construction of an innovation mindset, can be related to the development of (011).lab and MobiLab as instruments for consolidating and systematizing the design and implementation of innovation in São Paulo’s public spaces.

Furthermore, the opportunity to pilot ideas before implementing them and upscaling them allows for better analysis of their potential results and the identification and correction of possible errors at a reduced cost. For example, the Hackathon promoted by MobiLab was built as a space to prototype and develop innovative tools, such as apps, to make using municipal bus system easier.

Actions to increase citizen participation in decision-making processes were also implemented by both labs. One specific result was the project led by (011).lab, SP156, where proposals were made to improve the city administration’s approach to customer service channels of complaints and suggestions.

Encouraging collaboration between actors inside and outside government has also met expectation. Projects such as SMIT Dialogues (monthly meeting to discuss public innovation in government) have been implemented. In 2017, there were 8 meetings, attended by representatives of the public administration, private sector, civil society and academia.

Sustaining an innovation lab is a complex and continuous process of gaining legitimacy and visibility for the stakeholders involved. Therefore, the initial projects should guarantee small yet concrete results on which to base proof of the lab’s efficiency and capacity for greater projects.

Moreover, innovation labs often lack internal budget funding - heavily relying on private partners to fund – which makes project management challenging but not impossible thanks to low-cost innovative methods.

The Innovation labs’ teams also find it difficult not to reproduce problems common to public administrations, such as taking stock on a project to think and revise the methodology (complementary to learn-by-doing experiences). 

Despite challenges, the project has  succeed and has demonstrated concrete outcomes, such as international merits awarded to Mobilab and other successful projects developed by the labs, for example the Health Hackathon, Residence Maker Challenge and #SP2020 Conference.

The creation of Public Innovation Labs to discuss and develop projects focusing on innovation is a step toward integrated urban governance. Some of the lessons learned within the labs activities are:

  1. Working with other Secretaries to address serious problems is extremely important to promote more assertive solutions. Community challenges do not follow the segmentation of our public administrations, collaboration in the design and implementation of public services are required for more impactful outcomes. The integration of citizens’ perspectives is also necessary.
  2. To ensure the lab’s longevity in situations of political change, international recognition as a producer of best practice public policies is imperative.
  3. Methodologies and processes that have tangible results are necessary to ensure significant improvements in citizens quality of living. Initially communication should be based on smaller and concrete results, in order to prove the lab’s efficiency and capacity for greater projects to both citizens and social entrepreneurs.
  4. The step-by-step documentation of initiatives, projects, ideas, challenges and learnings is fundamental to the lab’s long term sustainability and reproducibility and would involve the production of good practice guidelines and a project management toolkit.

In sum, the sheer nature of innovation is problematic, as it intends to be widely diffused and adopted.  In other words, innovation’s goal is ceasing to be innovative. The long term existence of our innovation labs can only be guaranteed by regular review of its identity, methodology and understanding of new governing issues and citizen’s new requirements.

YOUNG O., “Introduction: The Age of Complexity”, in Governing Complex Systems: Social Capital for the Anthropocene, M.I.T. Press, Massachusetts, 2017

LEFEBVRE, H. “O direito à cidade” Paris, Éditions Anthropos, 1968

ROGERS, E. “Diffusion of Innovation”. London, Collier Macmillan Publisher, 1962

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Mariana Leila Nascimento Collin
São Paulo, Brazil

Mariana Leila Nascimento Collin

Individual | City manager

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