TOPCities: A Guide for Community-Driven Innovation Sprints in Cities

TOPCities Toolkit                                        TOPCities Report

The Beeck Center partnered with the Centre for Public Impact (CPI) on The Opportunity Project for Cities (TOPcities)—an 18-week sprint with the cities of San José, CA, and Saint Paul, MN, to leverage public data, community perspectives, and tech talent to build products that address pressing housing-related challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In San José, the TOPcities process was implemented to help the thousands of residents at risk of falling off the “eviction cliff” once federal and local COVID-19 eviction moratoria expire. Over the 18 weeks, the City of San José’s Rent Stabilization Program, Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, volunteers, and civic tech expert Alicia Rouault, used public data and insights from residents to understand how San José could best ensure residents find and obtain rental assistance. 

San José’s solution, the Rental Assistance Finder—a website slated to launch in late 2021, is designed to streamline the rental assistance process, highlight community resources to meet additional resident needs, and direct residents to in-person popup sites for further assistance. San José also worked with its partner, Catholic Charities, to set up eviction prevention popup centers throughout the city as a complement to this tool. 

The City of Saint Paul, M Health Fairview,, and civic tech expert Noah Kunin implemented the TOPcities process to support residents experiencing homelessness. Since the start of COVID-19, Saint Paul’s rates of homelessness have increased tenfold. This increase, combined with limited non-profit serving capacity due to social distancing requirements, placed a tremendous strain on the system and left residents struggling to access essential resources like shelter and counseling. 

During the TOPcities sprint, the city team worked with providers and residents experiencing homelessness to better understand how they could connect with the services they need. Saint Paul’s final product is a customized version of ShelterApp, a centralized platform for unsheltered residents to search and learn more about the essential services that they need, when they need them. The city team is currently partnering with community leaders to  expand the app’s reach in Saint Paul and build the ability for users to book shelter beds directly on the app.

A core tenet of TOPcities is operating in the open. In this spirit, CPI and the Beeck Center’s comprehensive toolkit provides local government leaders with step-by-step instructions to run a TOPcities sprint in their communities

Following the TOPcities process, local governments can build capacity in key human-centered design concepts and work with the community to understand a local challenge and collaboratively build a solution. The companion report on lessons from Saint Paul and San José provides key insights from the inaugural cohort, including lessons for addressing housing-related challenges, collaborating across sectors, centering community, digital public innovation, and data governance. 

TOPcities was made possible with insights from U.S. Census Bureau’s The Opportunity Project (TOP), funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and in-kind support from


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