Philadelphia City Workers Learn to Innovate at PhilaU’s Academy for Municipal Innovation

The latest group of Philadelphia city employees this week enrolled in Philadelphia University’s Academy for Municipal Innovation (AMI), a unique educational program that gives the workers the knowledge and tools they need to innovate in their jobs and promote positive change in city government.

The first AMI class kicked off with a quick exercise to lay the foundation for the seven-week program.

The first AMI class kicked off with a quick exercise to lay the foundation for the seven-week program.

“We want them to go to work tomorrow using the skills they learned today,” said D.R. Widder, PhilaU’s vice president of innovation and Steve Blank Innovation Chair.

This is the fourth class  of Philadelphia city employees participating in the Academy, a partnership between the University and the city. The program is based on PhilaU’s award-winning curriculum designed to promote innovation and a culture of interdisciplinary collaboration—an important foundation for driving innovation.

The first class kicked off Oct. 4 with a quick exercise to lay the foundation for the seven-week program. The 18 students broke into small groups and had to strategically stack cups in a pyramid with string and a rubber band. After three minutes of planning, team members had to complete the task without speaking to each other. The exercise taught concepts such as trust, quick and creative thinking, and troubleshooting.

Each class will focus on a specific innovation-centric topic, including discovering opportunities through design thinking; analyzing complexities through systems thinking; developing value propositions through business analytics; and storytelling and communicating innovative solutions. Courses will be taught by PhilaU faculty experts from a range of disciplines, including biology, engineering, business, industrial design, graphic design and strategic leadership.

This is the fourth group of Philadelphia city employees, representing a range of offices, who are participating in AMI.

This is the fourth group of Philadelphia city employees, representing a range of offices, participating in AMI.

The AMI students come from a variety of city offices, including disease control, commerce, civic engagement and volunteer service, water, public health, immigrant affairs and education.

“The opportunity to learn about other agencies in city government and explore possibilities to collaborate on innovative programming is what most appealed to me about this program,” said Naomie Nyanungo, director of professional development and community engagement in the Office of Adult Education. “I am also excited to be able to step away from my desk for a few hours a week to reflect on what we do and gain new tools and strategies.”

In just the first class, “the faculty at Philadelphia University really dug in and showed how innovation strategies and techniques could be used to solve the daily challenges, big and small, faced by a municipality such as Philadelphia,” said Kristin Bray, chief deputy city solicitor for code enforcement. “I truly look forward to the coming weeks.”

AMI is an important piece of the city’s innovation infrastructure, said Ellen Hwang, program manager for innovation management in Philadelphia’s Office of Innovation and Technology.

“Through AMI we are able to invest in and empower individuals in city government to further the good work they are doing as public servants in an intentional way,” she said. “The faculty at Philadelphia University are the experts in teaching and facilitating discussion around the principles of innovation. Ultimately, what results is a stronger workforce working hard to bring the best services to the public.”

Faculty members who teach in the Academy also benefit from the experience, said Jeff Klemens, assistant professor of biology and Nardiello-Flick Term Chair in Biology and Design.

“Any time we are challenged to make our teaching relevant in a new context it’s an opportunity for us to grow,” said Klemens, who has taught in all four AMI sessions and helped coordinate the current one. “This is a particularly exciting opportunity, because we are helping to grow and evolve the problem-solving skills of individuals whose decisions help determine what it means to live and work in Philadelphia, and it’s great to be a part of that process.”

The Academy has graduated 57 city employees to date, and this is the first AMI class under the administration of Mayor Jim Kenney, which demonstrates the program’s long-term value to the city, said Ronald Kander, executive dean of the Kanbar College of Design, Engineering and Commerce and AMI instructor. “It’s helping to establish PhilaU as the place to come for innovation process training.”

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