Announcing Our New Membership Approach: A Note from Executive Director Kate Garman Burns

MetroLab Network
4 min readMay 2, 2022

Victor Hugo once said “change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots.”

Since MetroLab Network launched in 2015, much has changed. A pandemic has shifted our daily life, new federal administrations have begun, and our society is different. Many things around us have evolved, MetroLab is no exception.

In 2019, MetroLab announced a dues-paying membership model. This approach supported MetroLab programming and solidified partnerships as cities and universities became members together. As programming was set to ramp up, the pandemic began. And three years later, we must evolve once more.

My first few weeks as Executive Director were spent listening. I met individually with our member local governments and universities. I met with key partners and collaborators. To support a national network, I needed to understand how best we could support innovation projects and research, how to bring as much value as possible to our members, and importantly, how to move the needle on furthering the space of civic innovation itself.

These conversations were instrumental in assessing next steps. And today we are announcing a new approach to our membership model.

A New Inclusive Approach

At its core, MetroLab is a connector. We want to connect local government and academic institutions across the country and to be as inclusive as possible. This means lowering financial and administrative barriers to join our organization. Now, cities, counties, universities and colleges can join on behalf of their organization alone, and for a significantly reduced cost. This approach enables us to invite cities and counties who want to partner with academic institutions, but may not have a research institution in the backyard to join as a member. And for academic institutions, they can work with several cities and counties on a project or program.

Note: Partnerships between local government and academic institutions remain a central focus to our mission. We will recognize institutions who have experience and expertise in partnering with their local government/university/college. An announcement is forthcoming.

We will now have a tiered membership approach. The first tier will be the “MetroLab Member.” MetroLab Members will be invited to high-impact and topic-specific programming, enabling the thought provoking conversation and networking opportunities that thrive at the MetroLab summit to live year-round. MetroLab Members will also include student programming for our university and college members.

We also recognize that financial requirements can become a barrier to involvement. So we are creating the MetroLab Affiliate, the other tier of our membership. The affiliate level membership is a zero cost option to join. We simply ask your organization to fill out an application that demonstrates a desire to join collaborative efforts in furthering civic innovation and research, and to highlight expertise and resources that may contribute future work. Affiliates will receive MetroLab updates, invitations to be featured in our Innovation of the Month series, and information on partnership opportunities.

Community Engagement with Our Community

Importantly, let’s keep these one-on-one conversations going. Working for mayors taught me the simple but important lesson that the best form of community engagement is getting out of your office and into your community. That’s precisely what we are going to do. MetroLab is not just a newsletter. We are a network, we are a community. And I look forward to meeting with you and learning about your work so we can connect, amplify and support your work.

As we launch our new membership model we will be tracking two things. First, how successful is MetroLab programming? Are members getting the value and programming they need to be successful? And second, are we actually impacting partnerships between local government and academia? Are we actually seeing movement and collaboration in which civic research can bring a big impact to our communities? Assessing both of these tracks will be critical as MetroLab moves forward and grows.

Thank you to our members and partners who have supported MetroLab through these years of change. Your input has helped shape our strategy as an organization.

We hope to enrich our network by welcoming more communities and increasing our outreach. Innovation and developing the art of new approaches are not frivolous focus areas, but a true need so that we can address community challenges like housing, climate, and health. Let’s work together to learn from each other and bring impactful change.



MetroLab Network

35+ city-university pairs bringing data, analytics & innovation to city gov’t thru research, development & deployment. Launched at #WHSmartCities 2015