Spotlight Innovator: Dan O’Brien


The City’s Innovation Management group concentrates on building an innovation infrastructure within municipal government. Through its innovation academy, lab, and fund, the group works with a wide-range of City employees, all doing interesting things in and around government. We think its important to highlight these employees and their work. Today’s highlight is Dan O’Brien.

Name, title, and department:

Dan O’Brien, Deputy Director of Implementation, Office of Grants, Finance Department.

Describe your role.

Some of my duties include: assisting City agencies with the implementation and management of grant funded programs and activities; actively pursuing grant opportunities that align with the Mayor’s goals and bringing in resources to support implementation of promising, proven or innovative programs; and promoting collaboration and coordination across City agencies and fostering partnerships with the public and private sectors.

Tell us about an interesting project you’re working on.

There are a couple of groundbreaking projects I’m working on, with the help of a number of really amazing City employees and outside partners, that focus on creating jobs and green spaces in North Philadelphia. One that stands out is funded by The Youth Violence Prevention Collaborative. It is a Summer program that brings together two amazing organizations: Philly Urban Creators and The Mural Arts Guild. A team of 13 men and women, all from the 22nd Police District, was hired by Mural Arts and they are spending their Summer painting murals, building garden beds and transforming empty lots into green spaces and community gardens, all in or around their neighborhood. What makes this program so innovative is there is an entrepreneurial component making sure that the guild members are developing transferable skills and practice marketing their experience for future employment. Many City departments have been and will continue to be involved as the crew both improves their neighborhood and hones their life skills.

How has the Innovation Lab, Academy, or Fund changed your experience in working for city government?

I can’t fully calculate what an asset the Innovation Academy has been to my personal development, but also to the City at large, because new benefits continue to emerge. Weekly, I’m reaching out to an alumni of the Academy to assist on a project or helping them move the ball forward with something they’re working on.

I’m a firm believer that if you put creative people who like to solve problems in a room, great things can happen. The City of Philadelphia was forward thinking enough to recognize one of their greatest assets was a thoughtful and diverse set of employees and to create the Innovation Academy to cultivate this resource.

How do you spend your Saturdays?

My Saturdays are generally spent trying to entertain my children (3 and 1). Between my wife and I, it’s generally an unsightly dance between some combination of the Clark Park farmers market, zoo, Please Touch Museum, Camden Aquarium and Academy of Natural Sciences. (The yearly memberships are some of the best bargains in the City!) I did just become a bike owner, because that seems to be the thing to do in the city these days, so I’m trying to incorporate exploring the various bike paths into my Saturday routine as well.

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