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Philadelphia’s Innovation Team Leadership Changes Hands

Following the departure of the director of innovation, the city’s Innovation Management Team’s leadership is changing. The mission of supporting city departments in their innovation work, however, will remain the same.

Philadelphia shows street and buildings at night. Street shows movement of lights.
Following the departure of Philadelphia’s Director of Innovation Eliza Pollack, who co-founded the city’s Innovation Management Team with deputy CIO Andrew Buss, the team will see new leadership. Its mission of empowering city employees and departments to innovate, however, will stay the same.

Pollack’s final day with the city was Jan. 13, and she has since accepted the role as vice president of innovation with Philadelphia-based nonprofit Coded by Kids. In this new role, she will continue to do community-centric, mission-driven work that will keep her connected to the city and this team in a different way.

When looking back at her achievements with the Innovation Team, she said the greatest legacy is the endurance of the team itself. “I’m really proud that we’re still here.”

When the team started its work nearly a decade ago, there was not a lot of understanding about its purpose or programming. However, through a mayoral transition and the COVID-19 pandemic, the team has been able to provide support for initiatives that departments might otherwise not take on.

“I’m really proud of the intangible culture change — really getting to a point where people understand who we are. They get our value,” Pollack said.

Stephanie Orlando, who previously served as the team's innovation coordinator, will drive the work moving forward. The role of innovation coordinator will be filled, but in the meantime, Buss will be working more closely with the team to help out.

Buss also noted that in addition to the team’s portfolio — which includes the Innovation Academy, the Innovation Fund, the Innovation Lab and Innovation Consulting — the city is hoping to leverage this ecosystem to innovate in the digital equity and smart city spaces as well.

With the Innovation Fund, the team is able to support the employees and departments in their problem solving by offering grant funding through the Mayor's Fund for Philadelphia. Orlando said that two cycles of that funding are slated for this year.

In addition, Orlando underlined the goal of conducting another version of the Innovation Academy this year, which is a professional development program run in partnership with Jefferson University. This academy offers a way to ignite passion among city employees and create a desirable culture, Pollack previously told Government Technology.

The academy is also an effective way of building citywide support for the team and its work, Buss said, as it creates cross-departmental collaboration and alignment.

Orlando also noted the importance of continuing to communicate across departments to make sure that employees throughout the city are aware of the work being done by the team and what supports might be offered to them.

“Something that I think has really helped our work grow is making sure that teams and employees know that we are not there to tell them how to do their job,” Pollack explained. “We’re there to build a scaffolding and build a framework through our portfolio.”

Another area the team hopes to innovate within is hiring in the public sector by working with human resources and opening the pipeline to address public-sector hiring challenges.

Orlando added that the city is making an effort to support its new, younger employees as a way to strengthening the innovation culture. As co-chair of the new citywide Young Employee Resource Group, Orlando will be closely involved with the city's young employees.

“I think it would be great to continue to elevate this and expose employees that don't know about our work yet to kind of the full scale of offerings that we have,” Orlando said.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.