Diversity and inclusion are critical underpinnings to our evolving culture at Microsoft and powerful bridges to the marketplace. We are inspired by the local leaders who make diversity a priority in their daily work. In the spirit of International Women’s Day, we’re honored to celebrate women in our community who are carrying out the mission of civic engagement, leadership and empowering other women.
— Microsoft New England
Several months ago I was listening intently to leaders from the City of New Orleans tell me the story of how an important and seemingly unassailable problem known as urban blight was transformed with civic innovation. Urban blight – the process where a functioning city falls into disrepair– was a problem at the center of the daily citizen experience and they were able to change that with civic innovation. I left that conversation asking myself, where are those stories of civic innovation going? If a transformational idea exists in one city, can it apply to other communities? Does knowledge of that invention ever scale to other communities who are facing the same challenge? How does that happen?
These remarkably relevant questions kept appearing in my mind in countless conversations I had with leaders of cities and towns throughout the decade I spent working with communities in various roles. I heard stories of the creativity and innovation in governance and technology being used to address financial management, transportation, schools, land use, the environment, public finance, and so many other challenges at the heart of citizen life. I also realized that healthy functioning cities were also being transformed by grass-roots citizen led innovation. The inspiration for my work began to take form in those moments.
The Civic Innovation Project began with a simple vision that endeavored to raise awareness of civic innovations that were transforming communities by presenting stories from leaders, citizens, academics, and private sector stakeholders using creativity and civic technology to solve the most vexing problems facing communities. The stories, presented in a Civic Innovation Gallery, live alongside actual technology demos, created with data-rich resources, including access to downloads, tutorials, and instructional materials that provide any citizen or leader of a community with an instant roadmap to innovate around a challenge.
When I asked myself – how could I take my work a step further and empower communities and citizens to bridge the information gap? How could I further create a space that facilitates learning about global innovation? I chose to evolve the platform into a learning lab for cities and their citizens.
Examples of what cities and their citizens will find in the Civic Innovation Project learning lab include:
- The ability to learn from leaders, like those from the City of New Orleans, who in their own words, share an innovation road-map, alongside other examples of inventions from leaders in the public and private sector.
- Visualizations that distill the most complex aspects of data to facilitate data-driven decision-making, created with Microsoft tools that help communities begin innovating instantly on their own.
- Data sets drawn from leading sources, like Morningstar, Inc., that will be integrated in models that can help communities assess and understand key metrics related to the markets they operate in.
- A virtual classroom that will help citizens and leaders learn from each other’s inventions.
Taken together, these resources are intended to create a learning space where information about civic innovation can exist and be used by citizens and leaders to change the trajectory and narratives of communities and increase transparency in significant ways. I believe that process begins when you empower these various constituencies to share discoveries with each other, build their awareness and capacity as civic innovators, and provide them with access to tools that allow them to turn their vision into realities and engender meaningful change in communities.
To see a video that helps you learn more about the vision behind the Civic Innovation Project learning labs that will be released later this year, and our development process, please visit www.civicinnovationproject.com/preview.
Lourdes German is the founder and director of the Civic Innovation Project, a national platform focused on emerging government innovation that was recognized with a 2015 State of Boston Innovation Award. Lourdes is also a fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, where she advances the Institute’s global municipal fiscal health campaign. An expert in municipal finance, Lourdes is driven by a deep commitment and passion for communities and civic engagement, made visible by her roles as Governor Baker’s appointed Chair of the Massachusetts State Finance and Governance Board, and as an appointee of the Mayor of Boston to the committee focused on the City’s audit and finance matters. For over a decade Lourdes has held several leadership roles in government finance, including as an attorney at the international law firm Edwards Wildman, at Fidelity Investments where she helped create a new national business division focused on government public finance, and as Vice President and General Counsel at Breckinridge Capital Advisors. Lourdes has also served as an advisor to non-profits focused on urban economic growth and social impact investing; has developed and taught a graduate course in government finance at Northeastern University, and serves on the boards of United Way and Boston Women in Public Finance.