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

2 thoughts on “Academy Recap: The Jeffersonian Dinner

  1. Pingback: AMI Recap: Storytelling | PhillyInnovates

  2. Pingback: Academy Recap: Ideation |

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