Innovation Labs Bring Results

Over this last year, the Alliance has traveled across the country sharing the emerging practices in civic engagement and providing local government innovators the opportunity to adapt them to meet their challenges.

ARTICLE | Mar 20, 2017

We created the Innovation Lab to be a thought, solution, and experimentation workshop series that would bring together leaders at all levels of local government from across the country looking to share, collaborate, and exchange ideas around specific topics. We challenged attendees to leave the event with one ideas they plan to take back with them to adapt into their organization.

Ideas were grouped into the following challenges

  • How to best engage the public to identify community priorities?
  • How to best be socially equitable in community engagement?
  • Identifying the best tools for engagement.
  • How to be better storytellers?
  • How to best put a face on local government?
  • How to make citizens active participants in solving community problems?

We began each event with an action-leader panel made up of private-sector,non-profit, and academic experts on the topic to provoke the audience and encourage them to adopt an idea. After the presentations, the audience broke into one of the group addressing the challenges above. They shared their specific concern in their community and then worked with the action-leaders and their small group to choose an idea to adapt into their own. The top 10 most popular ideas (in no particular order) adapted were:

1. DIVERSITY ENGAGEMENT: Two cities in Illinois, Oak Park and Evanston hosted Diversity Dinners and in one Michigan city, we’ve seen the creation of Citizens for Fair Ferndale. The goal of both programs is to hold difficult conversations and build the relationships between different groups in the community. Each discussion brings together individuals of diverse backgrounds together to promote understanding and respect. View Innovation Burst!

2. SOCIAL MEDIA PHOTO TAKEOVERCommunity Facebook/Instagram photo share to share stories of the community.

3. CONVERSATION CORPS, AUSTIN, TEXAS: Austin trains citizen volunteers in facilitation techniques to engage groups in the community (

4. 15 FOR 15 FILMS, TROY, MICHIGAN: Based on the ESPN 30 for 30, Troy tells the stories of the businesses in the community in 15 minutes video stories

5. MEWEUS, WYOMING, OHIO: “Citizen engagement forums-MeWeUs Thinking is a framework that includes customized ideation and brainstorming techniques in which participants are invited to dream big and contribute possibilities for the future. Participants rapidly see that they are the cause of the future, and that local government is willing to work hand-in-hand with the community. Typically, residents complain about what’s not being done, causing tension between residents and civil servants. The MeWeUs process invokes positive public involvement that creates a productive process that leads to win-win solutions”

6. NEIGHBORHOOD PARTNERING PROGRAM, AUSTIN, TEXAS: “Through the Neighborhood Partnering Program, community groups have the opportunity to work with professional City staff to develop, resource, and improvement projects on City property or right-of-way. The results of this process have been amazing: vacant lots transformed into community gardens, ugly retaining walls and cinder block pool houses into stunning mosaics, and auto-oriented streets retrofitted with sidewalks, protected bicycle lanes, rain gardens, and street art”

7. WELCOME WAGON, BROOKLYN PARK, MINNESOTA: “New Connect welcome wagon program: BP New Connect is a service where resident volunteers welcome new homeowners to Brooklyn Park. These Community Connectors greet new neighbors with a reusable tote bag filled with community information like recreation programs, library services, parks and trails maps, fire prevention tips, police safety tips, city events and programs and much more. Also included in the bag are some goodies and coupons for free items or services from local businesses! “

8. PERISCOPE, SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA: “While there are many ways to discover events and places, we realized there is no better way to experience a place right now than through live video. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but live video can take you someplace and show you around.”

9. 17 STRONG NEIGHBORHOODS, HAMILTON, OHIO: “17 Strong is named for the 17 neighborhoods initially proposed by the Sense of Place Committee. Public input will be gathered to finalize neighborhood identities, including neighborhood boundaries and names. By establishing these defined neighborhoods, the Committee hopes to rally individuals, groups, and other organizations to take pride in their particular corner of our city. Once the neighborhoods are defined, 17 Strong will embark on creating neighborhood-specific programs that assist in developing a sense of community in all 17 neighborhoods. There is a wide array of neighborhood programming that can be developed. The neighborhoods could set up neighborhood crime programs, act as a liaison to City officials on behalf of their neighborhood, pool their resources for community activities, and much more.”  View Innovation Burst!

10. TWEET-A-LONGS, TOPEKA, KANSAS: “Think about the jobs your employees do every day, but no one thinks about until there is a problem – inspecting storm water pump stations, cleaning sewer lines, patching potholes and plowing snow. Imagine showing your citizens the gritty details of those every day, thankless jobs and the tireless, dedicated employees who work them – live on Twitter. Tweet-a-longs let you share those behind-the-scenes experiences with the public in an engaging, interactive and visual way. And your employees get a chance to show off what they do.”  View Innovation Burst!

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