Project to involve residents in designing City services
The City’s efforts to improve its services to residents are getting a jump-start with $338,000 in support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Knight Cities Challenge. The City was announced as one of 33 winners of the challenge today.

The Knight Cities Challenge seeks ideas that help make cities more vibrant places to live and work, focusing on three drivers of city success: keeping and attracting talent, expanding opportunity, and creating a culture of civic engagement.

The award to the City will fund a project titled the “PHL Participatory Design Lab,” spearheaded by the Office of Open Data and Digital Transformation (ODDT) and the Mayor’s Office of Policy, Legislation, and Intergovernmental Affairs.  The Lab project idea was selected from a pool of 4,500 applications and is the largest Knight Cities Challenge award  given this year.

The award will allow the City to hire fellows from the complementary fields of service design and behavioral economics. The team’s goal: to find ways that will improve the experiences of the public when interacting with a particular City department. They’ll work with residents and City staff involved with the service to understand their successes and challenges in experiencing the service. Improvements will be designed, tested, and refined to ensure effectiveness.

“Residents need to be part of creating the type of cities where they want to live,” said Patrick Morgan, Knight Foundation program director for Philadelphia. “In this spirit, the PHL Participatory Design Lab will tap into the preferences of the people, advancing greater civic engagement and creating lessons in city-building.”

“City services involve many people, processes, and entry points. As a result, services are hard to navigate—from awareness of a program or service, to moving through it with dignity,” explains Liana Dragoman, Service Design Practice Lead & Deputy Director of ODDT.  “Service design methods can help government see the service experience from multiple perspectives in order to understand what works and doesn’t. With this comprehensive understanding, improvements can be made confidently.”

Through the design lab, stakeholders will be convened in neighborhoods across the city and in City offices to learn from one another and design together.

“Ensuring the programs we offer are accessible is important to us. Behavioral economists can improve outcomes by using what we know about human behavior within the policy making context,” said Anjali Chainani,  Director of Policy in the Mayor’s Office. “By testing low-cost interventions, we can remove barriers to and effectively nudge positive behaviors. If we can connect policy improvements to on-the-ground service delivery processes and tools, then we can be more effective in maximizing government resources. This is where service design and behavioral economics intersect.”

Because this is a learning opportunity, ODDT and the Mayor’s Office will perform and document the work in the open so findings can be shared across government. The project’s output will build internal capacity for evidence-based design and practice within City government.

Under the Kenney administration, ODDT was created by the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) in 2016 to help departments make government services more efficient, transparent, and accessible to the public. “ODDT will grow its service design practice through the work produced by this support,” said Christine Derenick-Lopez, CAO. “This is a great opportunity to demonstrate that human-centered design methods can and should inform more than digital products, like City processes and policies.”

More broadly, the Mayor’s Office is committed to leading with evidence-based and data-driven practices to ensure sustainable outcomes. For example, the Philadelphia Behavioral Science Initiative and GovLabPHL are on-going initiatives that foster relationships with academic partners to increase opportunities for City employees to engage in designing and testing behavioral nudges.  “I’m confident that the PHL Participatory Design Lab will foster new insights for the Kenney administration in how we design and administer smart policy changes,” concludes James Engler, Deputy Mayor for Policy and Legislation.

Liana Dragoman and Anjali Chainani will attend the Knight Cities Challenge Summit in Miami, FL from June 12 – 15 to share the work the City of Philadelphia is doing as well as learn from other winners and civic engagement practitioners.