Highlights from a week with Kip Harkness

As a part of the Cities Leadership Institute’s International Expert Programme, we brought Kip Harkness, Deputy City Manager of the City of San Jose, to Australia to help urban leaders build their capacity around innovation.

Kip engaged directly with a number of local councils and private partners including EG, Canterbury-Bankstown, Woollahra, Lake Macquarie, Newcastle, and Canada Bay. He also led a Masterclass on Innovation and the Liveable City and shared key insights at a number of public forums including Canterbury-Bankstown’s City Talks and Newcastle’s iQ Talk.

Kip has a unique perspective on using technology to address real problems. With the constant stream of new products being developed, it can be tempting to use them ‘simply because they are cool'. He emphasised that urban leaders need to solve real citizen problems using technology – not problems they don’t have.

Clear and transparent reporting throughout the life of a project was another critical point Kip made. “You need to eliminate watermelon reporting, when a project is reported as green and on track, but actually is red on the inside.” Projects rarely go strictly as planned and not being honest with the reality only delays real progress.

The most important insight from Kip was that every city is different. He recommends a decision-making framework where urban leaders assess their priorities using three questions – what is causing a lot of people pain, what is core to their city, and what is achievable at scale with technology. Kip recommends finding the ‘sweet spot’ where the answers intersect and that it what the city should work on.

Kips continues to lead what he calls a ‘tribe of civic innovators’ to exchange knowledge between cities and communities.

Stay tuned for the announcement of our next International Expert Programme visitor later this year.


Kip Harkness’s visit was held as a part of Cities Leadership Institute’s International Expert Programme.

Leigh Osterhus, Programme Coordinator Cities Leadership Institute

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