The City of Philadelphia and Jefferson (Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University) continued to expand their partnership in government innovation with a groundbreaking expo held this week.
For the past five years, Jefferson and the city have collaborated on the Academy for Municipal Innovation (AMI), a novel program designed to help city workers innovate in their jobs. Each class focuses on a specific innovation-centric topic, such as discovering opportunities through design thinking, analyzing complexities through systems thinking and developing value propositions through business analytics. Jefferson faculty from a range of disciplines teach the courses to city employees, who come from diverse areas such as Philly311, the Department of Licenses and Inspections, the Fire Department and the Department of Commerce.
More than 100 people have graduated from the program since its inception, and many more have benefited from their knowledge, skills and insight.
To highlight the cumulative impact the Academy has had on city employees and departments, Jefferson—in partnership with the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer, which coordinates AMI on the city government side—held its inaugural Government Innovation Expo with alumni from all five cohorts on Dec. 4.
“AMI is pioneering,” said D.R. Widder, Jefferson’s vice president of innovation and founder of the government innovation program at the University. “We have 100 city leaders practicing Jefferson-inspired innovation and have reached a critical mass with them teaching their peers and even consulting to other city groups. Together, we’re changing government culture to foster innovative thinking and acting.”
In her opening remarks, Christine Derenick-Lopez, chief administrative officer of the city, thanked the attendees for being the disruptors and their courage in standing up to the status quo.
“It’s not easy to go in and say, ‘I know that piece of paper has four boxes to check, but maybe, we only need two,’” she said, urging the audience to continue the momentum going. “We’re growing our network of innovators, and we’re seeing things happen. Keep on pushing, keep on asking, ‘Why, why, why.’ Before you know it, everything will be different, and we’re going to look back at this moment and say, ‘We did it.’”
Eliza Pollack, senior program manager for innovation management, said she was incredibly excited to host the Expo at the city’s Innovation Lab.
“Bringing together program graduates, city leadership and Jefferson faculty and administrators is a unique opportunity for us to re-engage with each other and the innovation work, and it provides us with a platform to think intentionally about where this portfolio goes in the future,” she said. “The unique partnership between government and academia has been invaluable to all of us involved, and we’re eager to see what happens next.”
During the Expo, Jefferson faculty gave a workshop on problem-solving and AMI alumni shared their experiences in the program and how they’ve used innovation principles in their jobs. For example, Graham Quinn, administrative operations manager at Philly311, discussed how he’s empowering his staff to build morale; Tracey Bryant, director of training and recruiting in the Human Resources and Talent Unit, explained how she’s working to leverage expertise and eliminate redundancies; and Orlando Almonte, language access program manager for the Office of Immigrant Affairs, detailed how he’s streamlining the call flow in his program.
James Onofrio, who graduated from the most recent AMI class, enjoyed attending the Expo. He said he loved hearing how previous cohorts remain engaged and use what they learned in the Academy to improve how city agencies function.
“I think we can see an ecosystem of change-makers forming now, where we start to break down silos and stale thought processes that have prevented city government from serving the citizens to its highest capacity,” said Onofrio, the community development corporations program manager at the Department of Commerce. “I’m excited to join this community and implement what I’ve learned and maybe make my own Expo presentation one day.”
Jefferson Chancellor Stephen Spinelli Jr., Ph.D., applauded the role AMI graduates have taken to lead change and be innovators in the city at the Expo. “You are redefining the culture of government,” he said.