Academy Recap: Storytelling

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 Sarah DeWolf, Director of Performance Management in the Department of Public Health. 

As I headed to class on Tuesday, I wondered how professors Mark Havens and Jeff Clemmons would make “Storytelling and Research Methods” relevant to a group of municipal employees. Managing programs as varied as Park Concessions and Entrepreneurial Investment, this year’s AMI cohort is a diverse group of Philadelphians who are introducing positive change to city government. We aren’t interested in academic discourse; we want to learn new tools for innovation that we can implement today.

I shouldn’t have worried. Mark skipped over the basics of “how to give a PowerPoint presentation” and spoke to us about how to communicate ideas in an effective and engaging way. His main takeaways were:

  1. Find out who your audience is and what they really care about; and
  2. Get to the point by sharing your ideas in a way the audience understands and relates to.

One of the great things about working in Philadelphia city government is that our leadership supports change. In my job, I evaluate the performance of 13 divisions within the Department of Public Health (PDPH) and assist staff with various projects to improve the delivery of our services. Determining what processes need the most improvement is a difficult task that requires consensus among staff and leadership in the department. Mark’s advice made me think about the many ways in which I communicate ideas across the department, from casual conversations to formal presentations, and how to do so in the most effective way.

Jeff talked to us about survey design, encouraging us to be thoughtful about the way that we ask questions. There are a number of common mistakes that survey-designers can make, including:

  • Making surveys too long;
  • Crafting “loaded” questions; or
  • Asking the wrong questions.

I was surprised by the number of ways that survey design could go wrong.  We found out that determining the right questions to ask is difficult in practice. Ultimately, you have to have a very good understanding of what you want answered before you begin. I look forward to using these tools to determine new ways in which our performance management program can grow and further engage staff.

Participating in the Academy has been a great opportunity to expand my “toolbox” of professional skills. Even more importantly, it’s an opportunity to connect with other municipal employees who are passionate about making Philadelphia a great place to live and work. I’m excited to see what new ideas develop as a result of the program. The potential for innovation is high.

Read past AMI Recaps:

Cobra Skins
Integrated Design Thinking
The Jeffersonian Dinner

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