United States


Jenny Durkan


744,955 (2019)

Lead Innovation Officer

Tina Walha

Innovation is helping to:
  • Improve service delivery

  • Simplify administrative procedures for firms and residents

  • Engage residents and other stakeholders

Critical success factors:
  • Dedicated funding

Spotlight on innovation in Seattle

The rise of ride-sharing has led to a revolution in urban mobility and, at times, created new challenges for cities and residents. In its review of policies around Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) operating in Seattle, the city applied human-centered design to ensure that rideshare drivers were heard. Seattle conducted interviews, focus groups, a telephone town hall, and an online survey in order to better understand drivers’ needs and preferences. The collected information was ultimately used to inform legislative changes to TNC operation in the city. The approach highlights Seattle’s vision of innovation as a combination of service design, digital engagement, data technology, and policy development.

Vision and approach to innovation capacity

Along with 50% of cities surveyed, Seattle has an explicit innovation strategy. Similar to more than half of cities surveyed, Seattle approaches innovation capacity both from a holistic/macro level, as well as in specific policy areas.

Policy areas that Seattle is focused on

Labour market and skills

Transport/Mobility: The way Seattlites move is changing rapidly. The city residents have so many options to get around the city and the Puget Sound region. They can walk or bike for shorter distances; get on a bus, ferry, Sounder train, Link Light Rail, and the Seattle Streetcar; drive their own car; hail a ride; reserve a car share vehicle; or join a carpool on the fly. Seattle introduced private dock-less bike share services, and the city streets will see automated vehicles in the not too distant future.

Policy areas by number of cities

Seattle utilizes 4 different innovation skills or roles

Project manager
Data scientist
Community engagement staff
Innovation roles by number of cities

Situated within the City Budget Office, Seattle’s Innovation and Performance team consists of 10 staff.

Terms Seattle most associates with innovation

Human-centered design
Data analytics

Seattle's most common innovation activities

Promoting data-driven analytics / public data management
e.g. data storage/analytics; open data; big data
Engaging residents in new ways
Facilitating organizational change within the municipality
e.g. silo-busting; new internal performance management; staff training and capacity building on innovation tools or techniques; reforms to contracting or procurement
Human-centered design
e.g. prioritizing the end-user at each stage of the design process
Rethinking approaches to financing and partnerships
e.g. new public-private-partnerships; collaboration with neighboring jurisdictions
  1. 1

    Taking risks or testing new ideas

  2. 2

    Data-driven analytics/public data management

  3. 3

    Engaging residents in new ways

  4. 4

    Developing new solutions based on digital technologies

  5. 5

    Organizational change within the municipality

  6. 6

    Human-centered design

  7. 7

    Rethinking your city’s approach to financing partnerships

How is innovation funded here?

Like 81% of cities surveyed, Seattle has dedicated funding to support innovation capacity.

Top sources of funding

Municipal budget
Municipal budget
This could include, for instance, City Council approved funds; operating budget; a special funding process (bond, Mayoral special initiative funding, etc.); and participatory budgeting / citizen-selected budgeting.

Activities being funded

Idea generation & brainstorming
47 cities
Launching or sustaining a project
79 cities
Idea generation & brainstorming
51 cities
Investing in digital systems
36 cities
Investing in physical infrastructure
30 cities
Paying for services

Similar to 61% of participating cities in the 2020 survey, Seattle's funding for innovation capacity is also directed towards training staff and building capacity*.

*"Training staff and building capacity" is not an option in the 2018 survey, while "Launching or sustaining a project" is not an option in the 2020 survey.

How is innovation measured?

Seattle has developed partnerships to promote innovation capacity with other public agencies, private firms, not-for-profit organizations, and city residents/resident associations.

To improve data use, the city has also developed data partnerships with the private sector, academia and think tanks, to collect and analyze data.

Data availability by policy area


Sufficient data


Economic Development

Housing and built environment

Policing and law enforcement


Waste and sewage

Labour market and skills

Environment and climate change




Government finance

Social inclusion and equity

Public works


Built environment

Land use

No Response


Social welfare/social services