Los Angeles Launches Civic Innovation Lab

The city hopes to leverage public knowledge and enthusiasm to identify and solve key local problems using data available from its open data portal.

by / September 25, 2014
The Los Angeles Civic Innovation Lab is reviewing the output from the launch event, and is looking for volunteers. LA Civic Innovation Lab
The Los Angeles Civic Innovation Lab is reviewing the output from the launch event, and is looking for volunteers.LA Civic Innovation Lab

Add Los Angeles to the list of cities hoping citizens have some good ideas on what to do with their data. The city launched a data-oriented civic engagement program on Sept. 14. About 200 entrepreneurs, policy makers, artists, activists and students gathered to take part in the first step of what the city controller’s office is calling the Civic Innovation Lab.

In partnership with incubator Hub LA, the Civic Innovation Lab will use the public’s knowledge and enthusiasm to identify and solve problems using data from the controller’s open data portal, Control Panel LA.

City organizers launched the event at no cost to the city, according to the controller’s office, and welcomed any ideas citizens could offer. With the event now over, the city and Hub LA will develop the most promising ideas in the coming months.

The opening day provided insight into what level of success can be expected from the lab. “It was a really exciting group of people, I have to say,” said City Controller Ron Galperin. “[We saw] people you don’t necessarily see involved in other city hall kind of activities, which is exactly the kind of folks we wanted to get. This is people who can breathe new ideas and new life into our government.”

Breathing new life into government means taking a slightly different tack with the Civic Innovation Lab. Where hackathons typically try to conquer the world in one weekend, the lab is a longer, more calculated effort. “We want to make sure there are truly deliverables that come out of this and that’s why it’s a longer-term process than say your typical hackathon,” Galperin said.

The city’s role involves supplying the data that citizens will use to create new apps or processes, as well as serve as a connector between groups. The city plans to announce more partners in the coming weeks and coordinate the involvement of more city departments that might benefit from new ideas. “It’s about bringing people from the city to work with everyone outside and also helping to bring the outside expertise and knowledge and excitement into city hall, as well,” Galperin said.

In conjunction with the lab, the controller’s office also announced the Civic Innovation Fellowship, an extension of the city’s Entrepreneur In Residence program, which will allow fledgling technologists an opportunity to work within the city for three to six months on technology projects. “They’ll spend time in the controller’s office, they’ll spend time in the hub, and get the best of both worlds, hopefully,” Galperin said.

The work performed by the Los Angeles civic innovation fellows will follow work begun at the lab launch. Launch day was a chance to bring everyone together and introduce the stakeholders, Galperin said, and the next phase could be called “data discovery.” “It’s about using community input and data scientists to take a deeper dive into data analysis and to lay the foundation for what will then be a two-day, learn-to-share collaborative design session in October,” he said. The event will happen on Oct. 10 in conjunction with Los Angeles Innovation Week, a collection of events between Oct. 6 and 12.

After that, there will be an opportunity for people to submit responses to the design challenges developed in the initial phases, according to Galperin. Then prototypes will be developed, and eventually some products will be launched. “Part of what’s exciting about this is we don’t know yet fully what’s going to come out of it, but we have a great feeling something is,” Galperin said. “And we already have many, many great ideas that have been put forward.”

Some of the ideas submitted by attendees are centered around the areas of water and power efficiency, transportation, city biking, traffic, parks, livability, permitting, and getting answers from city hall, he said.

Colin Wood former staff writer

Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.