Blog by Eliza Pollack, Director of Innovation, Office of Innovation and Technology

In the wake of COVID-19, many City departments and agencies face the urgent task of adapting or creating programs and projects that address the “pandemic landscape” of Philadelphia. Precautionary measures like social distancing—combined with budget cuts, staffing changes and mission realignment—forced agencies to innovate and figure out how to deliver important services safely and effectively to residents across the city.

In response, the Innovation Management group, in partnership with the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia, was thrilled to launch a fast-tracked grant cycle of the Innovation Fund. This internal grant opportunity backs pilot and concept projects that improve and enhance city services and functions.

A quick overview

Six projects were chosen to receive seed funding ranging from $6455–$7500. The submissions were selected, evaluated and recommended for funding by the Innovation Advisory Group, a cross-departmental team of City employees who are trained and invested in seeding innovation across government. The Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia provides the funding for these grants from its annual operating budget, and final proposal decisions are made by the Mayor’s Fund Board.

“Awarding Innovation Fund grants is always exciting, but this year, it felt especially impactful and important to be able to help departments pivot in the COVID era,” says Eliza Pollack, Director of Innovation. “We were overwhelmed by, and proud of, all the submissions we received. It’s a heartening reminder of the dedication and investment of public servants and how much they really want to respond to the needs of residents.”

The Mayor’s Fund is pleased to provide its full support to these innovative practices and process improvements that can be applied to city government,” said Richard Levins, the Mayor’s Fund Board Chair and Vice President, Deputy General Counsel for Independence Blue Cross.”

The selected projects

The six grantees and their projects are:

Licenses & Inspections – Online Customer Support Integration

  • Adding additional functionality to the eCLIPSE systems (i.e., online chat function for customers, ability to view customer’s screen) to allow for easier troubleshooting and improve customer experience.

Department of Prisons – Outdoor Refrigeration Unit for Philadelphia Orchard Project

  • Installing a self-contained outdoor refrigeration unit to facilitate the safe storage of harvested fruits and vegetables from the Philadelphia Department of Prisons’ Orchard until they can begin delivering to communities again after COVID-19.

Office of Immigrant Affairs  Multilingual Voter Guides

  • Partnering with local immigrant organizations on a user experience design process to develop multilingual voter guides for the general election in November that will be unlike any other election due to COVID-19.

Office of Domestic Violence Strategies – Marketing + Floor Decals for Domestic Violence Hotline

  • Working with Mural Arts to create floor decals to promote the Philadelphia Domestic Violence Hotline (PDVH) in grocery stores and bodegas.

Department of Behavioral Health & Intellectual Disability Services – Youth Resource Bags

  • Providing trauma-exposed youth and families with resource bags full of arts-based coping strategies.

Office of Emergency Management –Pop-up Spraygrounds & Cooling Stations

  • Creating mobile / pop-up spray grounds and water bottle refill stations throughout Philadelphia in order to provide residents relief from high summer temps while pools and cooling stations are closed due to COVID-19.

The grant cycle was open to all City employees and departments. The Innovation Advisory Group prioritized projects that:

  1. Piloted a new and different approach for a given department navigating the impacts of COVID-19.
  2. Pushed Philadelphia to be the first city to solve a problem(s) related to COVID-19 in a unique way.
  3. Leveraged partnerships and stakeholder collaboration, either internal or external to City government.
  4. Focused on delivering services more effectively, equitably, and efficiently to all residents.