Photo by Dylan Luder on Unsplash

The 2020 MetroLab Summit

Some Thoughts and an Invitation

We at MetroLab Network walked into 2020 expecting some significant changes: bringing aboard two new staff members, launching the CIVIC Challenge with the National Science Foundation, and beginning to work on our Civic Research Agenda project. We, like you, did not expect the other significant changes of a global pandemic, protests and unrest to call attention to racial injustice, and economic downturn.

As we adjusted to remote work, we also realized that we not only had to adjust the way we work, but the work itself. Specifically, we found ourselves needing to rethink the way we engaged with our members and with our partners: we pivoted our resources to responding to the immediate needs that COVID-19 seemed to require of local governments and universities; we also began down the long path of self-reflection regarding our own practices that might uphold anti-Blackness. And we had to reassess our Annual Summit.

At first, the necessity of moving the Summit to a virtual (versus in-person) format seemed clear. But as we dug in to plan this year’s virtual Summit, we had to ask ourselves: why?

Why not skip the year and simply postpone until we can once again meet in person? Couldn’t we all use a little time off, to reorient and gather ourselves? Yes. But we very quickly realized that, as an organization whose primary asset is its network of collaborators, one of the things we might offer — for our members, our partners, and ourselves alike — is the space to reorient and gather ourselves together.

Our Summit theme this year acknowledges and (dare we say) plays in this liminal space. While we live in a time of great uncertainty, this same uncertainty presents opportunity: the opportunity to improve, to change, to build anew. As leaders in the civic research space, we all know that we will not be able to maximize the opportunity that lies ahead if we are not prepared — to see it when it comes and to act on it with the proper tools and resources.

To name it is to see it: ‘Fragility in the Wake of a Global Pandemic’ recognizes where we are right now — and is an invitation to prepare together so that we can join in the co-creation of where we want to be. This year’s Summit interrogates all aspects of ‘fragility’ in our society so that we might be able to move from ‘fragile’ to ‘resilient.’ But for those of us working in the civic research space, theory is only useful when we can translate to policy and practice, so we not only interrogate ‘fragility,’ but begin to practice using the skills and tools we might need to become more ‘resilient.’

Along these lines, we are developing 2020 Summit offerings that are curated to meet at least one of four goals:

  • Introduce transformative ideas to the MetroLab audience,
  • Provide grounding for future civic research activities and projects,
  • Build meaningful partnerships with civic ecosystem members, and
  • Support pipelines of civic research leadership development

Introduce transformative ideas to the MetroLab audience. Civic innovation comes from learning and sharing together. We kick off the 2020 Summit by learning about fragility from individuals who have seen, experienced, and have been addressing different aspects of fragility in their work. The rest of our panels, roundtables, and workshops incorporate individuals whose thoughts and actions have had meaningful impact on their local communities.

Provide grounding for future civic research activities and projects. As civic researchers, thought must be translated to action. From roundtables and workshops to our Member Commitments to our social events, we begin to build and strengthen the skills and tools we have to design, carry out, and evaluate meaningful civic research projects.

Build meaningful partnerships with civic ecosystem members. Our network is our strength: no one can do it alone. Despite the virtual format, we attempt to build bridges and make strong connections among our members, with our partners (old and new!), and with all participants. The majority of our Summit events are open to all audiences because we believe expertise of all kinds is necessary for a better future.

Support pipelines of civic research leadership development. One thing we’ve learned amidst COVID-19 is that resiliency requires agility. Systems, structures, policies, and programs that are built to be agile in the face of the unknown have more of a chance to stand the test of time. It is the same with people: our future civic research leaders need to be supported now so that they have the skills and tools with them if and when another disaster hits.

These are not all of the things we need to do to prepare, but we think they are a good place to start. This year, we offer our Summit as a space to work on these things together.

So, that’s it. That’s the (beginning of our) story of the MetroLab Network 2020 Summit. We invite you to join us in examining our fragility; in building our skills, tools, and networks; and in finding #CivicJoy when and where we can. After all, our strength is in each other.

— Ben, Katy, Josh, and Kim

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