Using innovation methods to fuel economic recovery

March 24, 2021

Name: Lakshay Raheja

Title: Innovation Analyst

City: Kingston (Ontario), Canada

There are two ways Lakshay Raheja is helping bring innovation methods to Kingston, a city of 130,000 on the shore of Lake Ontario. One is through process-improvement projects, which he leads in partnership with city departments who want to save time or money by streamlining operations. The other is by applying human-centered design to make sure city services respond closely to residents’ needs.

It’s the second of those two hats Raheja wears that has him serving as project manager on a critical mission: Finding creative ways to help Kingston’s economy rebound from the pandemic. Raheja works with a diverse team that includes everyone from department directors to managers to frontline employees. 

When this team asked community members their thoughts about the city’s economic future, they heard the same thing over and over: Because most of Kingston’s residents have lived there for a long time, the city can be a “hard nut to crack” for newcomers, Rahgeja said. “It’s one of the oldest cities in Canada, and when you come to Kingston as a newcomer and don’t have those social and professional connections, it’s hard to get a job.”

Working with residents, the team came up with 700 ideas for making Kingston more welcoming, including two they plan to test. One is a “concierge service” that would help orient new residents to Kingston’s services and employers in the same way a hotel concierge might show you to your room or the pool. The other would aim to bring broadband to outlying parts of the city, where anyone new to town might feel isolated by a lack of good internet options.

The team is now prototyping parts of these ideas with residents to learn what works and build out solutions iteratively. This is where human-centered design gets really fun for city employees, Raheja said. “This is the phase where they start creating something tangible that we can touch and feel,” he said, noting that public-sector employees aren’t used to having the freedom to experiment in this way. “This phase kind of de-risks things for them.”

Pro tip: “Innovation is not a technology or a tool. It’s a mindset—the way you think.”