For the last seven weeks, a group of 20 city employees took classes at Jefferson to help them foster an environment of innovation in area government.
The fifth class of the Academy for Municipal Innovation (AMI), a unique collaboration between Jefferson (Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University) and the city of Philadelphia designed to help city workers innovate in their jobs, graduated Nov. 14.
“This is a groundbreaking program,” said D.R. Widder, Jefferson’s vice president of innovation and Steve Blank Innovation Chair. “Government is a difficult area for innovation, but this program with the city is having real impact. It’s amazing that we now have nearly 100 city leaders applying Jefferson innovation principles to make Philadelphia better.”
For the last seven weeks, a group of 20 city employees took classes at Jefferson to help them foster an environment of innovation in area government. Coming from diverse areas such as Philly311, the Department of Licenses and Inspections, the Fire Department, and the Department of Commerce, participants learned to integrate tools and techniques of innovation drawn from design thinking, system thinking, business analytics and ethnographic research to discover solutions to complex real-world problems.
The program was delivered in a studio setting, anchored in Jefferson’s signature Nexus Learning pedagogy of active, collaborative and real-world learning, Widder said. Each session introduced practical techniques and tools that can be immediately applied at work to inspire innovation through collaboration. The program is designed to apply the innovation best practices from industry in a government setting.
As a result of AMI, graduate Monique Nesmith-Joyner hopes to implement electronic payment capabilities in the Department of Records.
“AMI is a wonderful opportunity for municipal employees to think outside the box as they strive to improve services,” said recent program graduate Ava Ashley, manager of the trauma transformation unit in the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services. “The Academy’s approach to introducing design thinking with a cross-section of municipal services allows one to hear the complexity of how various departments must address issues.”
New graduate Monique Nesmith-Joyner, deputy commissioner of the Department of Records, also found the experience rewarding and already started work on a project as a result.
“Currently, Department of Records’ units don’t accept electronic payment,” she said. “Through conversations during the AMI, I’ve made a connection with the key staff that oversee electronic payment initiatives for the city and plan to begin the exploration of electronic payment for all of the Records’ units. I’m hopeful that in a relatively short timeframe, we will have electronic payment capabilities throughout the department, creating an effective process for citizens and an efficient process for the Department of Records.”
Each class focused on a specific innovation-centric topic, including discovering opportunities through design thinking; analyzing complexities through systems thinking; developing value propositions through business analytics; and understanding end users through research. All courses were taught by Jefferson faculty members from a range of disciplines, including biology, marketing, and business and strategic leadership.
“We’re particularly excited about this fifth cohort of the Academy because we’ve really solidified the connection between this program and our larger innovation portfolio,” said Eliza Pollack, senior program manager for innovation management in the Office of Innovation of Technology, which coordinates AMI on the city government side. “Our new initiative, Innovation Consulting, connects graduates of the AMI program with other departments in the city looking to solve problems in new ways. We feel this class will truly be able to help us—and their teams—leverage what they’ve learned to grow the innovation network.”
On Monday, Dec. 4, Jefferson will host its inaugural Government Innovation Expo with alumni from all five AMI classes. They will share their experiences in the program and how they’ve used innovation principles in their jobs. Jefferson faculty and city government leaders will speak as well.