Academy Recap: Integrated Design Thinking

The third cohort of the Academy for Municipal Innovation kicked off in October 2015. This is a blog series written by participants about their experiences in the program. Today’s author is Amanda Wagner, Customer Service Programs Strategist in the Managing Director’s Office. 

Within the initial two classes of the Innovation Academy the same statement has been reiterated: city government is reactive opposed to proactive. This is a part of our culture—albeit deeply engrained—that those of us participating in the Academy are collectively trying to change. As an entity, city government reacts to an issue and answers when questioned.

In many instances this reactive tendency is true of our processes and daily routines. We fit just enough room into our schedules for asks and (for a lack of a better word) cleanups. However, what does city government look like when we are proactive, when we prevent issues, and when we ask the questions before they are asked of us?

The second session of the Academy focused on ways we can incorporate integrated design thinking and solution-based thinking into our daily practice. These thinking practices involve exploring goals instead of focusing on a specific issue one might be encountering, and using creative solution tools to do so. Tools like stakeholder maps, the creative matrix, rose/thorn/bud, and the importance/difficulty matrix can be used to discover new opportunities through system design thinking.

Granted, if you do not have a MBA (which I do not) these terms can mean very little. In practice, however, tools like the creative matrix can provide structure to an otherwise unstructured brainstorming session. For example, in my position I have to think about new ways to grow our Neighborhood Liaisons Program, which trains committed community members to use Philly311 to improve their neighborhoods. If I apply this issue to the creative matrix, I can draw a grid with one column listing ages of our liaisons and a row of different kinds of communication vehicles. From here, I can fill in the blanks by asking questions like, “How might we engage middle-aged community members through social media? ”

AW table

Generating ideas and thinking about our larger goals are the first steps in becoming a more proactive city government. It is important for us to know that there are tools out there that can assist us in finding creative solutions. I challenge you to use either the creative matrix, or some of the methods I’ve mentioned above to collaborate, solve a problem, or to simply brainstorm about a goal.

Philadelphia Wins First in 2015 Digital Cities Survey


The City of Philadelphia was awarded first place in the Center for Digital Government (CDG) 2015 Digital Cities Survey. The annual survey recognizes cities using technology to improve services and boost efficiencies.

Philadelphia was recognized by CDC judges for its efforts in building a citizen-centric website, a successful open data and analytics program, and a robust innovation strategy, which integrates an Academy, Lab, and Fund to build a capacity for innovation within city government. The City was also recognized for implementing a US2020 STEM mentoring program facilitated by City IT employees.

“When I became Mayor, I placed great importance on making City government more transparent and responsive to the needs of our citizens,” said Mayor Michael A. Nutter.  “I am proud that the Center for Digital Government has recognized our efforts to increase access to information and stimulate innovation in government.”

Open to all U.S. cities, the 2015 Digital Cities Survey recognized cities across four population categories. Philadelphia won first place for a city of 250,000 or more. Other cities rounding out the top five were Los Angeles, Louisville, Kansas City, and Phoenix.

“This recognition speaks to the efforts of our entire organization,” said Chief Innovation Officer Adel Ebeid.  “We have grown in our ability to support the basic technology operations of city departments and now we can increasingly focus on making technology more accessible and relevant for Philadelphia’s residents through public-facing initiatives.”

Todd Sander, Executive Director of the Center for Digital Government, said, “The top-ranked digital city governments in this year’s survey are using cloud services, data analytics and mobile apps—among other technologies—to help citizens interact with government more easily than ever before.  These cities are true innovators and we applaud their efforts to increase transparency and open government, encourage citizen participation, and enhance cyber-security. Congratulations to the winners!”

Winners were honored during the National League of Cities’ annual conference in Nashville earlier this month. For more information about the Center for Digital Government, visit

Dive Deeper Into the City’s Budget

A screenshot of the City's Open Budget tool.

A screenshot of the City’s Open Budget tool.

This past March, the City of Philadelphia released its Open Budget tool, a top-down visualization of Mayor Nutter’s budget proposal to City Council. The data release was unprecedented in Philadelphia; the tool allowed users to drill-down through the proposed budget by funding source, department, and expense-type. The data was also available in a downloadable open data format for the first time.

The expense types were high-level, allowing users to see how much was spent on categories like “equipment” and “personal services” – granularity beyond that was not yet available.

Today, the Department of Finance has released even more granular data, offering a deeper dive into each expense type. For example, in the category of “personal services,” users can see how much a department is spending for full-time employee salaries and overtime. In the category of “equipment,” expense data is now available for subtypes like furniture, plumbing, and printing. The data has also been updated to reflect the budget as adopted by City Council in June, and is compared to the adopted budget of fiscal year 2015.

This release is important for both transparency and accessibility in Philadelphia city government. The data does not only provide an unprecedented look in how public funds are being spent, it is paired with a visualization–the Open Budget tool–which presents this important data in a simple and engaging way.

Check out the Open Budget tool at

Academy Recap: The Jeffersonian Dinner


D.R. Widder, Director of Innovation at Philadelphia University, kicking off the first session of the Academy’s third cohort. 

The third cohort of the Academy for Municipal Innovation kicked off in October 2015. This is a blog series written by participants about their experiences in the program. Today’s author is Ellen Hwang, Program Manager for Innovation Management in the Office of Innovation and Technology. 

As I sat in my first class in the Academy for Municipal Innovation (AMI), I felt as though I were attending a Jeffersonian dinner—a concept created by Thomas Jefferson, who hosted decadent dinners to gather bright and diverse minds to discuss matters of importance at his Virginia home, Monticello. In the case of AMI, our Monticello is the Roxboro House at Philadelphia University and sitting at the table are City employees and university professors. The individuals represent a range of departments and institutions and possess different areas of expertise and skill sets. Some have been with the City for over 20 years and others are newbies and have been with the City for less than a year. Some of us are data analysts and others run direct service programs. Some fill an administrative role, overseeing staff while others are mechanics or programmers.  So, why is it important that we’re all here together at AMI?

AMI is a valuable and unique platform for municipal employees to cross-departmentally network and address municipal challenges.  Whether you’re the “new girl” (like me) or a seasoned employee, it can be difficult to navigate the City’s highly compartmentalized departmental structure. It can be confusing and somewhat frustrating when you’re trying to implement a project but aren’t sure of who to ask for help (or, know if you even need to ask for help). As a part of the Innovation Management Group, I’m lucky because our work is founded upon cross-departmental collaboration; it’s a main component of our mission. However, this isn’t the case for everyone. Since starting my work with the City, I’ve found that many of the individuals and departments we work with are often seeking help to find the right partners. As the practice of cross-departmental collaboration continues to be an integral model to accomplishing good work, Innovation Management has invested in the facilitation of meaningful networking opportunities through programs such as AMI.

Perhaps AMI isn’t as fancy as a Jeffersonian dinner, but its purpose is essentially the same: to reinforce good work that is happening in government by creating a network of innovative individuals who will affect positive change. The current AMI cohort is the City’s third group to participate in this professional development opportunity, adding to the increasing number of innovators in municipal government. It’s an exciting time to be a part of the City as it prioritizes creative problem-solving and collaboration through its employee programs. In the weeks ahead, we can look forward to engaging in deeper discussions about how to integrate the principles of innovation to advance the work we do for the City of Philadelphia.

Academy topics at-a-glance:

  • Defining Innovation
  • Discovering Opportunities through Design Thinking
  • Analyzing Complexities through Systems Thinking
  • Understanding End-user through Research
  • Communicating through Story Telling
  • Developing Value Propositions through Business Analytics
  • Understanding Complexities in Innovation and Organizations

Who Said Government Couldn’t Do Consulting?


City employees facilitated an Innovation Retreat for UPenn’s Office of Alumni Relations

This is a guest post from Eliza Pollack, Program Manager for Innovation Management in the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Innovation and Technology.

When I got a phone call from the University of Pennsylvania’s Office of Alumni Relations last March asking if they could host their annual staff retreat in the City’s Innovation Lab, I sighed and prepared myself to say the usual “No, I’m sorry, we don’t let outside entities use the space without a City connection.” After a few moments of speaking with Molly, the office’s assistant director, however, it was clear that the program they had in mind was very different from our usual event requests. The theme of Molly’s retreat was “Innovation” and she was hoping that we could help her and her colleagues develop a unique, interactive and meaningful session that would encourage their employees to think about their most pressing challenges in new ways. It was a no-brainer for me – I said yes.

Over the next few months, Molly and her team met with us – the Innovation Management group –  multiple times to discuss the details of the workshop, and by the time June rolled around, we had put together a robust plan that involved graduates from our Innovation Academy teaching the Penn Alumni staff how to use stakeholder maps, creative matrixes and out-of the-box brainstorming techniques to help them answer pressing questions about the effectiveness of their communications with alumni across the country.

The workshop was a tremendous success; the Penn team walked away armed with new tactics they could use to tackle real challenges in their portfolios, the Innovation Academy graduates got to put their Philadelphia University education to the test, and we learned that not-so-usual suspects, both internal City departments and external community stakeholders, were truly interested in learning more about how to apply innovative principles to their real work challenges. And so, “innovation consulting” was born.

Over the past few months, the Innovation Management team has developed a series of programs that aim to help explain what exactly we do within the context of municipal government, how some of our strategies and techniques can be applied to a variety of professional environments and challenges, and why it’s important that innovation – whatever that means – be strategically and intentionally incorporated into peoples’ everyday (or at least everymonth) work. We launched the Innovator-in-Residence initiative, an exchange program that allows City workers to “swap” places with employees from a variety of universities, non-profits and private entities in an effort to better understand how innovation manifests itself across different sectors; we hosted an engaging roundtable discussion with young professionals interested in learning more about the changing face of municipal government as part of Young Involved Philadelphia’s State of Young Philly event; and we facilitated an idea pitch session to help City employees solicit, develop and expand forward-thinking, unique ideas to submit to the Knight Cities Challenge.

This consulting is a natural next step in our quest to help Philadelphia develop and solidify a culture of innovation. We are challenging ourselves and our colleagues to truly think about their work in new ways, and we are utilizing our network of innovators to help facilitate meaningful and necessary conversations in their departments and offices. These Innovation Fund Working Group members, Innovation Academy graduates, and Innovation Lab frequent users are acting as our ambassadors, and we are excited to see where else their investment in innovation leads us.

Putting Data into Practice for Sustainability Initiatives


One hackathon team presenting their map of the Water Department’s Stormwater sites.

As part of Code for Philly’s Apps for Philly Sustainability hackathon this last weekend, tech-savvy students and established developers broke into teams to draft online or apps-based tools to support sustainability efforts. After teams presented their projects, a panel of experts in technology, sustainability, and social impact gave feedback and suggestions on how to further implement the ideas post-hackathon. Two of the five teams used or were inspired by data from the City of Philadelphia made available on Open Data Philly:

  • Ensuring Clean Water: Philadelphia has completed building many stormwater sites, which collect and filter water from rain and snow. This process prevents pollution of streams and rivers, the overflow of sewers and the flooding of homes and businesses. One hackathon team collaborated with the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) to create a map that shows the locations of Philadelphia’s stormwater sites, the costs and tools used to manage them and their storage volumes. The map was built using PWD’s Green Infrastructure Completed Projects data, which they released last week for public use and in conjunction with this hackathon. In future iterations of the map, they would like to add Indego locations so that visitors and residents using the bike share program can plan their tour.
  • Reducing Energy Consumption: The 2014 Energy Benchmarking data for City Owned Buildings from the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability inspired another team to develop a tool that they described as a means to “strengthen the connection between individual behavior and impact to inspire action.” The tool would allow community members to link their gas, water and electric bills to map their current energy consumption patterns. Another feature would allow users to assess the impact of renovations they may consider making (i.e. replacing old lighting systems with LED lights) on energy costs and consumption over time.

So why not try it out yourself? Check out the data sets mentioned above, as well as others, released by the Streets Department, Water Department, and the Office of Sustainability and try creating your own tools for sustainability! We’re interested in how community members think to use this data, so email or join us on the public open data google forum  to share your inspirations.

Crash Data & Oodles of Water Data Released for Sustainability Hackathon

Ten new data sets and three data refreshes have all been released just in time for the Apps for Philly Sustainability event this weekend. Many data sets come from the Philadelphia Water Department, highlighting the department’s work in Green Stormwater Infrastructure along with locations of infrastructure and information about rainfall.

Water Department

  • Green Stormwater Infrastructure ProjectsGreen City, Clean Waters is Philadelphia’s 25-year plan to protect and enhance our watersheds by managing stormwater with green infrastructure.
  • Green Infrastructure Completed Projects – Locations of completed Green Stormwater projects.
  • Green Stormwater Infrastructure SoakItUp Adoption Sites – Locations of infrastructure being partially maintained by neighbors through the SoakItUp Program.
  • Dams – Locations of dams throughout Philadelphia.
  • Outfalls – Locations where water flows out from the city’s system.
  • PWD Monitoring LocationsLocations where PWD has conducted surface sampling and other types of stream assessments.
  • Customer Calls by Disposition – The types of calls received by the Water Department and how many of each type were received each month for the last year.
  • Rain Gauge Network – Location and attributes of Rain Gauges throughout the City where Rainfall is measured.
  • Rain Check Installation SitesRain Check is a Philadelphia Water program that helps residents manage stormwater at their homes. Participants can get a free rain barrel and/or get a downspout planter, rain garden or porous paving installed at a reduced price.
  • Rain Barrels (Data Refreshed) – Rain Barrels installed under PWD’s Rain Barrel Workshop and Installation program, which ran from 2006 to 2015.
  • Grants Disbursed (Data Refreshed) – Recipients, award amounts, and project sites for grant money disbursed by the Philadelphia Water Department for the Stormwater Management Incentive Program, Soak It Up!, the Green Acre Program, and Business Incentive Program.

Streets Department

  • Crash Data – point data generalized to the street segment mid-point or closest intersection for the years 2011 through 2014 with information detailing the severity of the crash and more.

Also newly released is the 2014 Energy Benchmarking data for City Owned Buildings from the Energy Office, along with Activities Data from the Department of Parks & Recreation.

You can use these data sets and more this weekend at Apps for Philly Sustainability, an unconference and hackathon organized by Code for Philly. The event kicks off with an “unconference,” where attendees can pitch their own sessions and City of Philadelphia representatives will host a session about the Crash Data release. Following that is a community needs assessment and a hackathon, where technologists, community organizers, and sustainability enthusiasts come together for a weekend-long rapid prototyping session around the ideas generated at the community needs assessment. Code for Philly’s schedule outlines the full three-day event.

For more information about these data sets and more, go to To sign up for the event, visit

Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Releases Upcoming Activities Data

A public data set has been released from the Philadelphia Parks & Recreation (PPR) Program Division. The data, which is a list of upcoming activities, can be found at Open Data Philly. It contains data that have always been available publicly but is now provided in multiple formats. Previously, activity data was only available through the City’s Find a Facility Application. Now that the data is being hosted on Open Data Philly, it can be easily downloaded in a .csv file (comma separated list) or accessed programmatically through two different APIs. Documentation on how to use the data is also provided on the Open Data Philly site.

The data consists of a list of upcoming, “in-house” programs at Philadelphia Parks & Recreation facilities. In-house programs are open to the public and are run by a staff member, volunteer or fee teacher. The data has attributes including type, age, gender, facilitator type, and description. At the time of release, the data contained over 1,000 records, which is about half of the number of programs that PPR hosts each year.

Now that the data is fully accessible to the public, staff at the Program Division hope to find ways to allow for people to more easily use the data. The ultimate goal for the data and any implementation of it is to help more people become involved in PPR programming. Questions about the data or its use can be emailed to Andy Viren.

Re-Innovating Government: A Philadelphia Story

A while back, Steve Goldsmith, of Harvard University’s Ash Center for Governance and Innovation, asked me to present Philadelphia’s innovation story at a National League of Cities event. Leaders from across the country heard and asked great questions about what we have accomplished. The feedback was incredibly positive both on that day and after. The podcast version above is about a half hour long and gives an overview of our efforts that anyone can learn from. It tells the story of how we’ve re-innovated government in Philadelphia. Cities have reached out from across the country to hear about what we have done around innovation and we thought we would share this presentation more broadly in an effort to help others learn from our efforts, challenges and lessons learned. We are proud of this story; it begins with a vision, focuses on our strategy and explains how we worked to build the right team. Yes, it highlights the progress we’ve made but it also emphasizes our continuing goals for the future. We are just getting started. Many of the efforts you will hear about are foundational and are an important part of a modernization effort that is unprecedented in government. As the first City administration to come of age during the “real-time” digital age, our journey has just begun as a City. My favorite part of all of this is our great people. Who didn’t just think “outside the box” but threw that old box away to lead transformational change. It is my wish that these efforts will help keep Philadelphia at the forefront of innovation and technology for generations to come. This is our Philadelphia story. I hope it helps you write your own.

Rich headshot 1

Rich Negrin is the City of Philadelphia’s Managing Director and Deputy Mayor for Administration and Coordination. Service Centered Leadership is the Managing Director’s blog series appearing on PhillyInnovates. Follow Rich on Twitter @RichNegrin.

Streets and Sustainability Data Released for Hackathon

Seven new data sets and five data set refreshes are being released in preparation for the upcoming Sustainability Hackathon, hosted by Code for Philly taking place October 16th-18th. The batch of data sets were prioritized by the Streets Department and the Office of Sustainability for release in response to public feedback received during the open data inventory process.

To see the entire list of data sets from Streets and Sustainability, go to and share your feedback on what data would be helpful if released.

Newly released data sets include:

  • Streets
    • Street Name Aliases – Table to display street names which have aliased street names associated with them.
    • Street Place Names – A listing of “places” and their corresponding addresses to be used for geocoding.
    • Track Streets – Street segments containing train tracks.
    • Intersection Control – Active intersection controls for the Street Lighting and Traffic Engineering Divisions of the City of Philadelphia Streets Department.
    • Snow Categories – Prioritized categories for snow deployment, depending on the severity of snowfall.
  • Sustainability Office

The following data sets have been refreshed:

All are available for bulk download, with most also available via an API, and will be refreshed on an ongoing basis.

What could you do with the data? Do you have ideas about how to improve sustainability efforts or analyze outcomes throughout the city of Philadelphia? Share your thoughts at the hackathon!

For more information about Open Data go to and check out the many data sets available at


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,093 other followers