Academy Recap: Ideation

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 Patrick Mulhern, Salesforce Administrator in the Office of Innovation and Technology.

Ideation. That’s what the Innovation Academy has done. Every member of the class, at some time or another, had a brilliant idea, a way they could leverage what they’ve learned from the Academy to better serve Philadelphia. Ideas don’t need to be all-encompassing to have impact. Even the simplest exercise of visualizing thoughts can spring innovation. We exchanged these epiphanies upon returning to class each Tuesday afternoon.

See the gap there?

We’d learn new strategies, a different way of thinking or a tried-and-true method of mapping system traps, only to head back to work in an attempt to apply something. But why not work within this network of civil servants and alongside of professors on current concerns?

The final week provided that express opportunity. And it included a road trip!

Our final lecture saw the entire class move from the Arlen Specter Center for Public Service to the massive collaboration classrooms inside Philadelphia University’s purposely-built DEC Center. The cavernous room, lined top to bottom in white boards, provided a blank slate for the teams to hash out a municipal problem from top bottom. Juices flowed immediately. How do you help the homeless at Love Park and continue to attract tourists? What’s the best way to get buy-in for the Green Commute initiative in buildings that have City employees? Where’s the value lever in the City to capture the resources needed to support an increase in minority and women-owned businesses? Markers squeaked, hands darkened with chemical dust, and synapses fired as the lecturers roamed, probing us for further insights.

The cycle continued until the boards could hold no more.

The teams, randomly spread across the half dozen projects, reconvened to offer each other feedback. (Not to look for flaws, but for additional insights like expanding upon a stakeholder map or an finding an alternate pairing on a creative matrix.) Each squad contained a dedicated stakeholder, the City employee that is currently invested in finding solutions. (Or at least next steps.) There was no expectation that the problem would be solved in a day. The collaborative effort from members outside the problem, those that would ask the “dumb” questions, provided invaluable input for each project to continue.

This forced networking between departments, age groups, tenure, demographics, could very well be the unsung ninth lecture. A lecture that will forever seed the City with the obvious bits of new knowledge and subtle, yet strong bonds of collaboration. All in the name of a more efficient, innovative government to serve its citizens.

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