PHILADELPHIA – Today, the Kenney administration formally launched GovLabPHL, a multi-agency team led by the Mayor’s Policy Office focused on developing innovative and evidence-based practice in city government.

The development of GovLabPHL stemmed from City Accelerator, which was an initiative of the Citi Foundation and Living Cities to promote innovation in local government. The City received the Living Cities grant in September 2014 to increase access to our public assistance programs. It was at this time that the City started to experiment with behavioral economics, using design research methods to simplify complex processes and increase access to government programs and services.

Specifically, a multi-agency team worked with the Department of Revenue to conduct workshops with senior citizens to understand their barriers to enrolling in the City’s senior citizen water bill discount program. They also surveyed homeowners to uncover ideas on how paying one’s Real Estate Taxes could be made easier. With that information, the team prototyped several “nudge interventions” with the public to test what approach would work best and within what context. The low cost nature of the interventions ensured that the City didn’t invest a lot of upfront resources into untested service changes.

As a result of these pilot projects, the Department of Revenue increased enrollment in the Senior Water Discount program, made the enrollment forms easier to access and fill out, and conducted trauma-informed customer service training with front-line staff so they were more equipped to manage public interactions.

Through this experience, the City Accelerator team realized the power and potential of human-centered design and behavioral economics to improve service delivery. Post funding, the team decided to sustain their work through a new moniker, GovLabPHL, which is now housed in the Mayor’s Policy Office. Currently, GovLabPHL is comprised of City employees from the Department of Revenue, the Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems, Office of Open Data and Digital Transformation, and the Mayor’s Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity.

“We’ve learned that the consequences of not approaching the City’s work through a behavioral economics lense is a risk to getting our best return on investment,” says Anjali Chainani, Director of Policy in the Mayor’s Office in the City of Philadelphia.” If we can better connect policy improvements to on-the-ground service delivery processes and tools, then we can be more effective in holistically enhancing the public’s experiences with City services.”

To date, the GovLabPHL team has partnered with a number of field experts from five universities to pilot several service improvement projects via a behavioral economics lens with the Department of Revenue, the Mayor’s Taskforce on Litter Reduction and Zero Waste, the Water Department, and the Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems. Starting in March, GovLabPHL, in collaboration with the Office of Open Data and Digital Transformation and the University of the Arts Design for Social Impact Program, will host a 10-month speaker series that explores the role human-centered design can play in transforming services. In May, GovLabPHL will host the City’s second Behavioral Economics Workshop where departments, in partnership with academic researchers, will share how they have been using behavioral insights to inform programs and service delivery.