Name: Luke Feeney
City: Chillicothe, Ohio
When Luke Feeney learned that he was the first mayor to participate as a core team member in Bloomberg Philanthropies’ innovation training program, he was proud and pleased—but also surprised.
"When I heard that, I thought to myself, frankly, why would you not participate?" says Feeney, the mayor of Chillicothe, Ohio, since 2016. "The chance to participate was just so exciting to me. And I guess I tend to like to get into the weeds of real governing."
Feeney loves the continued learning and education the training provides, but also specific insights he and his team can use in an ambitious project to re-imagine and expand the public transit system in the city of just over 21,000 people. The core team includes Chillicothe's utility director as well as a handful of people with transit expertise throughout city government. "Our goal is nothing less than making our transit system the best transit system in rural America," he says.
Feeney and his team are in the eighth month of their transit overhaul, and one of the immediate impacts on the work from his training was a reliance on human-centered design. The city has implemented an outreach program to gauge the views and needs of residents, and that approach is one Feeney can see himself utilizing throughout city government. "Design thinking wasn’t something I was familiar with, so learning that systematic approach to problem solving and being very aware of the assumptions I enter into any process with has been super useful."
That process has led the Chillicothe transit team to a plan that Feeney hopes will build more choice and flexibility into the system for residents. Chillicothe has a traditional fixed-route system, but Feeney hopes that by next summer, the city will not only have different routes based on user feedback but also a hybrid approach that includes an on-demand component. A city trolley is also a possibility, and putting design concepts to work, the transit team is looking to rent a trolley for a week to run simulated routes and get feedback.
Pro tip: "How you conduct interviews is crucial to getting good feedback—just trying to be aware of the mindset that an interviewee comes into the interview with, learning how to cross-examine but gently probe and then dive deeper into a topic."