“Change is driven by those who are brave enough to imagine a future that departs from the status quo.” — Terra Baer, graduating student at University of Chicago during her opening remarks to the summit on day two.
Walking into the 2022 MetroLab Summit, we knew it was going to be an important meeting. Not only was it exciting to get our network back together for the first time in three years, it was also an important time to talk about the things that have changed. MetroLab has changed (hi, Ben!). Our research topics and innovation projects have changed. And our way of life looks different.
Even though we had a shorter timeline for planning than previous summits, we wanted to accomplish the following goals:
- Strengthen partnerships between local governments and universities by discussing successful partnership structures, research agendas, priorities for local government and how universities can support those efforts
- Create a forum for an idea exchange, highlighting civic innovation projects around the country
- Discuss policy positions and identify emerging practices on nascent work such as privacy, data-governance, and curb data specification
- Bring to bear networking opportunities with federal agencies, foundations and partners
- Support the efforts of students partnering with local governments by showcasing their work and connecting them with fellowship and job opportunities.
And this is how we approached it.
We kicked off day one with two plenary panels focused on funding and supporting local work. First we hosted a conversation with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the Knight Foundation, and the Cleveland Foundation. We heard a conversation asking ourselves what true community engagement looks like, and how can foundations rightsize the balance of vetting funding opportunities with getting out of our own way. Fund projects that work. It’s that simple.
Next we heard from federal agencies including the General Services Administration 10x Program, the National Science Foundation, and the US Department of Transportation. Simply put, things are evolving. Take a look at the 10X program and how the federal government selects innovation projects. It’s a great program that local governments can model. We also know that USDOT is busy working on the infrastructure and partnerships will be critical with competitive funding. MetroLab is here to help if you have new and emerging partnerships between local government and academic partners. Take a look at our MOU templates, for example. And finally, NSF is supporting innovation in local communities through programs such as Smart & Connected Communities and the Civic Innovation Challenge. Not to mention the newly announced Directorate of Technology, Innovation Partnerships is a big deal. Huge deal. We especially want to highlight the recent announcement of the Regional Innovation Engines, a funding opportunity to grow and sustain regional innovation.
I had the opportunity to give an update on MetroLab in a presentation called the State of the Lab. I hope you’ll take a look at the presentation for more details on our new membership model and our strategic development over the next few months. The Board of Directors, many of whom have been involved with MetroLab since its inception, joined for a town hall meeting to talk about the space of civic innovation itself. Of note, the Board has issued a call of interest for individuals to join the MetroLab Board. Due to term limits, we will have several director positions available at the end of the year. If interested, please send an email explaining your interest and a copy of your CV to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our roundtable discussions are really becoming a favorite MetroLab staple. This is an opportunity to hear from practitioners and researchers alike as they endeavor new projects. In our post-summit survey, we heard from several of you that these sessions weren’t long enough. We’ll work on that. We would also like to have more of these sessions virtually throughout the year to continue amplifying projects and research publications.
And we’re off to day two.
Former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is now the managing partner of a non-profit called Chicago CRED. This organization focuses on reducing gun violence in Chicago and has recently partnered with Northwestern University. Secretary Duncan invited several members of this effort to join as a panel and hosted a conversation that brought the room to near silence. The commitment and work from each of the panelists is inspiring. And (unfortunately), the lessons shared are incredibly needed in cities across America. Check out this site for more information on the project.
Four former chief data officers joined me for a candid conversation on open data. The cities of Pittsburgh, Louisville, Chicago, and Kansas City have had national thought leaders serving in the CDO role. And after years of work, it was time to look back and see how things have gone. To no surprise, COVID changed everything. It changed the way data was presented and widened the audience as other jurisdictions, agencies, and the general public needed public health data. Meanwhile, the desire for general open data programs has decreased. What has happened to the thirst for transparency and good old fashioned data sets, like my favorite one, city trees? Frankly, this conversation could have gone all day. Which makes me think, we should have some follow up on this. Let’s do that. More to come. Special shout out to Laura Cunniff’s cat, Numbers, who joined our panel in a last minute coup.
The rest of day two — I was particularly excited about because they were some great “firsts” for MetroLab. First we had a 90 minute feature on the “how” and the challenges of transformative partnerships. Fletcher Beaudoin from Portland State University has been working with several others to study the art of the partnership. You can see more of his work here. Fletcher was joined by leaders from the Northern Texas Innovation Alliance, KC Digital Drive, Hennepin-University Partnership and Miami-Dade County, all of whom are working with partners in a perpetual and on-going way.
Finally, our day ended with a student project showcase. We heard from students from Washington, Florida, and Illinois on projects they are working on that could positively impact local government and communities. It was fantastic learning what students are focusing on. Lightweight energy sources for disaster recovery? Ok! New tools for bridge inspections? I’m into it. This is just the beginning in MetroLab’s efforts to work with students in a more meaningful way.
Looking back to our original goals, I think we succeeded. And these goals will continue to live on as MetroLab grows our connective footprint and brings programming that is useful, educational, and cuts to the chase. Thank you to everyone who joined us in Chicago. And to those who were unable to make it, we hope you’ll consider joining as a member for the 2022–2023 MetroLab Member programming as these conversations continue.
Finally, this event would not have been possible without the amazing team at the Mansueto Institute at the University of Chicago. Anne Dodge and team, we are extremely thankful.
See you next year.