Philadelphia Innovation Fund Rewards Employee Solutions

October 17, 2018
philadelphia innovation fund

Photo credit: Bob Krist for PHLCVB

In a variation on the civic engagement theme, America’s 6th largest city is investing in employee involvement to tap encourage creative solutions to common challenges.

The City of Philadelphia’s Innovation Fund has announced seven grants allowing City employees to launch pilot initiatives, with the goal of improving the services and functions of municipal government. Projects recognized include efforts to address zero waste, bike corrals, public health, computer-aided dispatching and training programs, among others.

“The Innovation Fund demonstrates that innovation is alive and well in the City’s many operational departments, and that many of our workers are creative thinkers who are committed to improving services for all residents,” said Andrew Buss, Deputy Chief Information Officer (CIO) for Innovation Management.

The start-up funds for the seven grants were chosen among 15 applicants by the Innovation Working Group, a cross-departmental advisory team of City employees who are trained and invested in seeding innovation, according to a news release issued by the City. After inviting pilot program ideas from across City government, the Working Group then shortlists a group of finalists and helps them refine their ideas and prepare a final proposal.

The largest city in Pennsylvania, and the country’s 6th largest city, Philadelphia has a population of 1.56 million, according to U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 estimates, and a workforce of more than 25,000 employees.

“The Working Group gave consideration to many deserving and inventive ideas submitted by City employees,” said Buss, noting that the grant application was open to all City of Philadelphia employees. 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.

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

The recipients of the grants include:

Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet / Managing Director’s Office – Clean Futures / $7,500
In partnership with Keep Philadelphia Beautiful and the School District, the Cabinet will launch a pilot of the Litterati application in 75 public schools, allowing students of all ages to learn about and directly impact litter, consumption and the environment in their neighborhoods.

Office of Transportation of Infrastructure Systems (oTIS) – Prototype Bike Corrals / $7,500
Working with local makers, oTIS will develop a prototype bike corral to prevent illegal car parking in front of a hydrant and creatively meet an increased demand for bike parking in Philadelphia. The corrals will preserve access for hose hook up and equipment mobilization during fires, and include a tall visual guide to alter fire fighters to hydrant locations.

Philadelphia Fire Department – Upgrading PFD-TV / $7,500
The Fire Department relies heavily on video and online material to train and communicate with its diverse, and non-traditional workforce. By upgrading their video equipment, software and programming, the department will be able to offer more, higher quality, and engaging training and educational materials to both firefighters and emergency responders, and the public.

Public Health – Sharps Disposal / $7,500
The Philadelphia Department of Public Health is proposing a pilot project to identify and address safe sharps (opioid needle) disposal needs across City departments and among the community, including non-profits and businesses. PDPH plans to assess community concerns, offer portable sharps disposal containers and ensure safe removal. These containers would supplement the larger disposal systems that are currently planned for distribution.

Department of Human Services / Mayor’s Office of Grants – Penn Museum Virtual Learning Pilot / $7,478
Philadelphia’s Juvenile Justice Services Center will team with the Penn Museum for year-long educational opportunities for youth currently being held in the City’s Juvenile Center School (a public school). Programs include Unpacking the Past, onsite programs offering hands-on lessons that boost critical thinking. Virtual Programs will offer connections to global educators and professionals through real-time video connections.

Animal Care & Control (ACCT) – Mobile Dispatch and Information System / $6,600
ACCT is piloting a tech-based, computer aided dispatching program that provides more efficient animal control responses to residents. This requires installation of laptops, stands and hotspots in Animal Control Officer vehicles. Officers will be able to respond to calls for service and enter animal information into software in real time, saving time and money for the department, and improved services to the public.

Air Management Services – Asbestos Webinar / $1,080
AMS is proposing to develop a series of webinar trainings for approximately 200 Asbestos Project Inspectors. Currently, the trainings are only offered in person, and moving to a more modern, tech-based platform would allow for innovations in the delivery and the material of the course itself, making it more effective and responsive to the needs of both facilitators and participants.

The grant winners were assessed on several criteria, including:

  • Process Improvement: Creating better pathways, process, or systems that improve the quality, user experience, and/or efficiency of internal and external operations.
  • Novelty / Value Creation: Realizing and discovering new values in municipal government through the testing of alternative or creative processes, strategies, products, and services.
  • Delivery of Public Services: Advancing the work of municipal government through improved processes, development of new partnerships, or creative avenues for the delivery of public services.
  • Government Relations: Improving and cultivating stronger and meaningful relationships with the public through new strategies, services, or initiatives.
  • Cross Departmental Collaboration: Cultivating strategic partnerships within municipal government to strengthen government work through a more efficient and connected network of City workers.

About the OIT

The Office of Innovation and Technology (OIT), as noted on the city's department overview, oversees most major technology projects for the City of Philadelphia. Its OIT uses technology to help City employees do their work better and to serve residents in getting what they need from City government. To that end, the OIT coordinates the following services:

  • Provides IT services to City employees so they can communicate with each other and with the public.
  • Manages the City’s technology assets, including computers, printers, scanners, and more.
  • Monitors and updates security to keep information safe.
  • Finds new ways to use technology to modernize how City government operates.
  • Offers digital design guidance and technical support for the City’s website.
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