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Athens-Clarke County Innovation Ambassadors

March 7, 2018


Background

Athens-Clarke County (ACC) describes itself as a hub of innovation, creativity, and higher education. Inspired by the Alliance for Innovation and a visit to the city of Decatur to learn about a similar program, ACC has implemented an Innovation Ambassador Program to encourage collaborative, cross-department discussions of improved organizational processes, and to develop solutions to issues currently facing the organization. This program encourages the Ambassadors to consider feasibility, budgetary and political implications, timing of implementation, and how ACC will present their ideas to the mayor and commission. The program graduated its first class in October 2017.
 

How does the program work?

The Manager’s Office and Department Directors identifies 34 high-potential employees to become Ambassadors. Expectations for the program are two-fold: to encourage employees to share their ideas for improvements and to use this program as an employee retention tool. Once chosen to participate in the twelve-month program, the Ambassadors attend a team-building day, complete a SWOT analysis, and develop organizational core values. Additionally, they discuss project management, receive an overview of the budget process, and participate in an Emergenetics assessment.

For the following five months, the Ambassadors break into smaller groups, or "hives," each one focusing on a specific issue facing the organization. These groups complete extensive research to learn more about their topic and give a formal presentation outlining their solutions to managers, directors, and the mayor at the program’s graduation ceremony. The inaugural Ambassador class presentations included ideas for low-income assistance for water and sewer payments, an implementation strategy for "Envision Athens," and a program to address littering downtown after a football game.
 

What are the cost and benefits?

In addition to an intensive preparation period and organizational buy-in, the program costs approximately $12,000 for the full twelve months, including the Emergenetics assessments. Each Ambassador is asked to commit to two hours per month. The Innovation Ambassador Program benefits Athens-Clarke County in that new, innovative solutions are brought to the attention of organizational leaders, and the program helps to retain employees by engaging them in the processes and decision-making at a high level. Additionally, employees identified through this program have filled the ACC talent pipeline for the organization’s internal succession plan. The high success rate of the first year of the program has led to the launch of a second class in January 2018.

For more information, please contact Catherine Bennett, Organizational Development Administrator, Athens-Clarke County.
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Innovation Made in Georgia is a periodic feature of innovative programs in Georgia’s cities. Each case study presents a creative solution to a problem in municipal government, describes how the program works, and discusses its costs and benefits.
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If your city runs an innovative program that you would like to share, contact Holger Loewendorf at (678) 686-6246.
If possible, please provide the following information: 
 
  • What should everyone know about your city?
  • What was the reason or inspiration for your program, and when did you start it?
  • How does the program operate?
  • What are the costs and benefits?
  • What has been the response to the program?
  • What advice do you have for other cities in order to adopt your program?