Innovation Teams in Los Angeles and Long Beach were front and center at Innovation Week, an ambitious events series bringing together artists, entrepreneurs, government innovators and others to explore all things cutting edge in southern California. The L.A. i-team shared three key takeaways from an event they co-hosted with design firm IDEO.

This is the first in a series of two blogs on Los Angeles and Long Beach Innovation Week, an ambitious series of events that ran from October 2-22, 2015. The next blog will feature reflections from the Long Beach i-team.

To celebrate Los Angeles Innovation Week, the Los Angeles Innovation Team (i-team) partnered with IDEO, a global leader in user-centered design, to create a series of four hands-on workshops to generate, prototype and test ideas to advance the team’s work in inclusive neighborhood revitalization. This included a series of three workshops that brought together a diverse group of both managerial and front line city staff, non-profits, philanthropy and community partners to co-create solutions to problems that their individual departments or agencies had already been working to address.

The topics ranged from the very specific (“how might we improve the business tax/business licensing customer service experience for Los Angeles business owners?”) to the fairly broad (“how might we build a culture of small business in the city?”). Over the course of the three days, workshop participants utilized methods such as customer journey mapping, in-depth interviews with “end users” such as small business owners, and building and peer reviewing physical prototypes to develop their ideas further.

Workshop with small business owners and leaders from the community. Credit: Stephanie Todaro

The team worked to develop a fourth workshop that was part of the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation’s (LAEDC) Innovation Week and took place at the Los Angeles City College’s Fall Classic Hiring Spree. Building this workshop alongside an existing event enabled the team to engage with several hundred members of the public and community college students from a wide range of age, ethnic and economic backgrounds. Interactive stations provided residents of Los Angeles an opportunity to reflect on how they currently engage, and how they would like to engage, with their neighbors, their community and City Hall.

Feedback exercise. Credit: Stephanie Todaro

From these intense four days, the team emerged with new ideas to inform their initiatives, but also partnerships, and perhaps most importantly, added capacity and skill sets to continue to apply these useful methods of problem solving in City Hall. These methods include:

  • Going from “talking” to “making”. One of the key lessons in the workshops was the ability to go from idea to concept in a very short period of time, with few tools other than paper, scissors and a little ingenuity. Going from “talking” to “making” helped participants think about their ideas in new ways, and signaled in a very real way that the purpose of the workshops were not so much about generating ideas, as it was about getting them to a point where those ideas could be implemented.

Prototypes of outreach tools designed by participants. Credit: Stephanie Todaro

  • Engaging with the end user. In one of the small business workshops, the team was fortunate to have several small business owners who committed several hours out of their busy schedules to serve as subject matter experts. It underscored the value of soliciting the perspectives of the end user (or, alternatively, “customer”) at all stages of work – from conception to feedback. Without understanding what people truly want or need, creating new city tools and services for Angelenos could result in poor customer satisfaction and underutilized or inefficient use.

  • Iterating and the power of bringing people together. We’ve learned along the way that there are few ideas that are truly “new.” The issues the i-team is exploring around inclusive neighborhood revitalization have been explored by many people, in many ways, shapes and forms. The innovation comes when you bring them together and help them build off of and add to the ideas of others. Similar to the story of the blind men and the elephant, each person has unique insights to a problem, and by bringing people of different backgrounds and roles together, we were able to create more responsive solutions.

One of the exercises had different groups creating prototype materials to engage with hard-to-reach populations; at the end, the groups were asked to exchange their creations and build and improve on one another’s prototypes. The exercise was a powerful illustration of how, by including space in our process for iterating and continuous improvement, we can move beyond business-as-usual.

The week served as important opportunity for members of City government and a broad cross-section of the community to consider the importance of good design in the critical services that government delivers and lend their unique perspective as end-users to the work of government innovation.

Los Angeles i-team and three members of the Long Beach i-team who visited us to learn about new processes and methods of engagement. Credit: Stephanie Todaro