Have you heard of the PHL Participatory Design Lab?

It’s not a lab in the traditional sense — we’re not wearing white coats or holding beakers — instead, we’re a small team of six City of Philadelphia employees using research and data to improve how the City interacts with residents.

Over the next 12 months, we’ll be redesigning City services to benefit the most important people — our residents!

The program is made possible thanks to a Knight Cities Challenge award from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Here are 5 other things you should know about the PHL Participatory Design Lab.

1. The work will be participatory.

This means that the Design Lab team will work with City departments, organizations, and residents to improve services together. We believe that people closest to a service problem are closest to the solutions.

2. The Design Lab team will use social science.

Did you know that you’re more likely to open an envelope with a handwritten address label over one with your computer-printed name? These are the kind of helpful insights that a social scientist can use to nudge residents into taking action. The PHL Participatory Design Lab recently hired a social science fellow, Nathaniel Olin, to advance this effort.

3. The Design Lab team will use service design methods.

Have you ever been frustrated by a service experience? Maybe, a line was too long; or, a customer service representative didn’t have the information you were in search of?  Service designers look at these experiences from beginning to end to understand what works and doesn’t. With that understanding, they design improvements with those who use, advocate for, and deliver services. The Lab recently hired Devika Menon as its service design fellow.

4. Two City departments are currently partnering with the PHL Participatory Design Lab.

The Office of Homeless Services and the Department of Revenue are the first City agencies to partner with the Lab. In Revenue’s case, the Lab will help improve the Owner-Occupied Payment Agreement program, which helps homeowners make affordable monthly payments on property taxes that are past due. For the Office of Homeless Services, the Lab is looking at the agency’s centralized homeless intake system, which provides short-term emergency housing for individuals and families.

5. Two women lead the PHL Participatory Design Lab.

The Office of Open Data and Digital Transformation (ODDT) and the Mayor’s Policy Office accepted the Knight Cities Challenge award in the summer of 2017. Liana Dragoman, Service Design Practice Lead and Deputy Director in ODDT , and Anjali Chainani, Director of Policy in the Mayor’s Office, will be the fearless leaders of this work throughout 2018!