How does innovation happen? What is the process that occurs from random aha moment to a verifiable smash hit? And, more important, can that process be designed?

That’s what Richard Culatta, director of the Office of Education Technology at the US Department of Education, is exploring by helping cities create “innovation ecosystems” in education.

The idea, which we discussed in further detail in a recent feature story, is to support innovation by identifying approaches that have worked to accelerate innovation in other industries—like biotech or open data initiatives—and applying them to education.

“In Culatta’s vision of this innovation ecosystem, education, research, and commercial partners collaborate closely,” we wrote. Innovators come up with a new idea, gadget, or approach. Teachers tell them if it could work, and researchers test whether it actually does work to improve the things that matter.

“When these groups work together,” Culatta told us in an interview, “both the products and quality of the educational experience and the validity of the research are improved.”

We’re working towards that vision here in Pittsburgh, drawing on the resources of our entire community to support our students to learn both in and outside of school. Our networks of museums, educators, scientists, and artists are creating new partnerships that can support 21st century learners.

Pittsburgh recently hosted a gathering of several other cities that are in various stages of developing similar innovation ecosystems. Groups from Rhode Island; Knoxville, Tennessee; Pittsburgh; and Baltimore were on hand to share ideas and best practices. You can read more about their experiences in Heidi Moore’s feature story. We’ll be keeping tabs on their progress throughout the rest of the year, so stay tuned.

Is your city creating its own innovation ecosystem? We’d love to compare notes. Leave a comment or flag us on Twitter @RemakeLearning.