One-on-One with Kate Garman Burns, MetroLab Network’s New Executive Director

Congratulations on your new role as MetroLab Network’s Executive Director! Could you tell us about yourself; your personal and professional background?

Thank you! To start, I am proudly from Kansas City (Joe’s KC BBQ is the best place in KC, trust me on this), and I’m a lawyer who loves working for and with cities. I’ve had the privilege of working for two mayors, Mayor Sly James in Kansas City and Mayor Jenny Durkan in Seattle. In both of these roles I focused on technology and innovation, crafting legislation around issues that are nascent for cities. In 2020 I moved to the east coast right before Covid-19 changed us all. I’ve been in Arlington, VA working for Cityfi, a consultancy firm focused on fostering innovation and new thinking in the urban environment. In all of this work, what truly matters is bringing positive and equitable impacts to communities. And through the partnerships and projects supported by MetroLab, this focus is especially true.

Personally, I love to read and to hike. During the pandemic I grew an appreciation for sourdough bread makers and the Home Depot gardening section, and I had a great time starting a podcast called Kate Garman & Friends. This crescendoed into a big 2021, where I got married, bought a house, and welcomed our baby boy, Will.

What inspired you to join MetroLab Network?

I became a full time staff member to a mayor’s office before my final year of law school, so I worked for a city and a university at the same time. When MetroLab began, I immediately joined the network to continue this parallel work and learn from others who were doing the same. My participation continued when I was at the City of Seattle and partnered with the University of Washington. It has always been clear that MetroLab is a vital connector. Now MetroLab has grown to be even more than that, serving as a hub for expertise and program leadership. Ben Levine’s service as Executive Director did great things, and the future of MetroLab can continue that trajectory. I am thrilled to join and build the next phase of the MetroLab Network.

MetroLab Network holds a strong position in the nation’s civic research sphere; how do you intend to consolidate this momentum?

First, bolstering the partnership between cities and universities with federal agencies will bring positive impacts to our communities. An important partnership is the work with the National Science Foundation. The Civic Innovation Challenge has funded research opportunities to pilot projects that will grow community-identified priorities, and I am really looking forward to working with the NSF on this program.

As Covid-19 continues to change our way of life, we need to be agile. MetroLab can quickly highlight lessons learned in civic research, city projects, and successful partnerships.

In that light, what lofty changes should we expect to see at MetroLab Network in the first 6 months of your time as Executive Director?

The first six months will be busy. I’m excited to reach out to city staff across the country to re-engage with our network. And I hope to have virtual coffee with members to understand what they value from MetroLab, as well as identify areas of opportunities to grow that value add. We will plan the first in-person conference in nearly two years. And we’ll grow our programs like the Civic Research Innovation Prize and Climate Challenge Cup. I would love to see MetroLab create something with students akin to the National Day of Civic Hacking. Growing the pipeline of talent to local government is hugely important, and Metrolab has a natural role here in supporting this.

How would you describe your leadership/management style?

I’m really looking forward to working with the staff at MetroLab. The staff is one of the best assets of the organization. My management style is to empower others to lead. And I would love to grow the number of staff at MetroLab to continue building a robust team of civic and university innovators. In the immediate, we’ll grow our capacity as policy experts and contribute to the innovation policy ether, particularly as MetroLab staff see best practices across the country.

Outside of work, what are the things you do to relax and unwind?

This is a tricky question as a new mom! I walk my dog for 20 minutes every morning. I even did this up until two days before I went into labor! Now, if I time it right, Will joins us in his stroller (Josie the dog has mixed feelings on this).

Describe MetroLab Network’s future in one word.

Growing.

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MetroLab Network

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