The Policy Innovation Lab is a special initiative of the McCourt School of Public Policy. It was launched five years ago as an experiment with the purpose of enabling McCourt to step up its commitment to and involvement with hometown Washington, DC. This required looking beyond the Federal presence and focusing on DC’s neighborhoods, communities, and the people living in them. Social and economic indicators and overpowering issues related to equity, equality, and opportunity further narrowed the Lab’s attention to communities and people living in Wards 7 and 8, east of the Anacostia River.
The Lab was established as a social justice initiative with a clear vision, mission and set of values from which it has not waivered. Through seminars, trainings, conversations with multiple stakeholders and hands-on work, the Lab teaches graduate public policy students about critical urban policy issues, particularly in the District of Columbia
The Lab’s work is grounded in three domains:
- Racial equity and social justice through its commitment to work on projects and policies that promote racial equity and advance an agenda of inclusion, equitable opportunity, and justice;
- Deep listening and engagement with community leaders, residents, and other stakeholders, recognizing that policy must be designed in collaboration with the people who it is designed to serve; and
- Systems and human-centered design thinking in order to deeply engage the experiences and views of residents, to help advance policy innovation, and to assist in understanding the complex and interdependent issues affecting the lives of residents and their communities in Wards 7 and 8.
A critical driver of the Lab’s work is making connections between public policy and the people and groups it is aimed to serve. This occurs as Lab members develop an understanding of the profound challenges faced by large segments of the city’s population, particularly people and families living in Wards 7 and 8. It occurs when Lab members make personal connections with residents, community leaders, and multiple stakeholders. It occurs as Lab members co-design projects with community members and stakeholders. And, perhaps most importantly, it occurs as Lab members interact with each other sharing research, thoughts and ideas.
As the Lab has matured, it has generated great interest, support, and involvement both inside and outside the university — particularly among McCourt students and an ever-growing group of community partners. Its current project work spans a number of critical areas e.g. equitable development; affordable housing; racial equity and workforce programs and policy; and helping build the capacity of a multi-member community-based coalition.
The Lab is a community of students and others committed to social justice, to innovation and to making a difference in the lives of people and communities east of the Anacostia River.