The sixth class of the Academy for Municipal Innovation (AMI), a unique collaboration between the University and the city of Philadelphia designed to help city workers innovate in their jobs, graduated Nov. 13.
“With now six amazing sets of graduates from AMI, we have reached a critical mass to be fostering a culture of innovation within the cities,” said D.R. Widder, vice president of innovation at Jefferson (Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University) and the Steve Blank Innovation Chair. “Between the graduates themselves and their mandate to teach their teams what they have learned and serve as innovation consultants to other groups, together we’re having a broad impact on government departments and projects.”
During the seven-week program, a group of 20 city employees took classes at Jefferson to introduce them to the principles and practice of innovation. Coming from areas such as the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Free Library of Philadelphia and the Office of Homeless Services, participants learned to integrate tools and techniques of innovation drawn from design thinking, system thinking, business analytics and ethnographic research to discover innovative solutions to complex real-world problems.
Each session taught by Jefferson faculty members introduced practical techniques and tools that could be immediately applied at work to inspire innovation through collaboration, Widder said.
AMI proved to be an invaluable opportunity for Gianna Grossman, the city’s internship program manager in the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer, noting she learned new tools to evaluate problems and solutions, design thinking methodology and how to communicate these tools to the city government community and beyond.
“With the help of our professors and my colleagues, I used the tools and the cohort’s feedback to take a complex problem of succession planning and look for specific areas where I could affect change—for example, creating pipeline programs,” she said. “The environment of AMI is one where failure or challenges is only a stepping stone to new innovations. Our cohort worked together to always improve upon and support the ideas of our colleagues, with our professors guiding us through the process. AMI has already expanded my network and given me colleagues around the city to workshop ideas with and has equipped me with the tools to innovate when facing stagnant processes.”
Fellow AMI graduate Erica Gibson works as a legal analyst for the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer reviewing and drafting policy for the city’s adjudication departments. Prior to this position, she served as a hearing officer for the Bureau of Administrative Adjudication (BAA) where she adjudicated parking ticket disputes.
She found the systems thinking class taught by Radika Bhaskar, teaching assistant professor in DEC Core, and Chris Pastore, professor of transdisciplinary studies, particularly helpful. Through the knowledge gained this fall, she will seek to improve a person’s experience when contesting a ticket at the BAA.
“AMI provided me with the formal training of innovative practices that I can utilize in my work,” she said. “It’s a unique and significant opportunity for professional development, and it has given me the chance to collaborate with a diverse group of people who represent the different departments within the city. I highly recommend the program to any individual who desires to make a significant impact in government.”
Graduate Kevin Eaton, senior GIS project manager in the Office of Innovation and Technology, said AMI helped him develop and refine his skills for innovative thought, project design and management, and effective communication.
“I employ many tactics learned through AMI into daily operations and actively seek opportunities to apply innovation tools taught throughout the course,” he said.