Our Vision, Mission, and Values


We envision a world where policy responds to the needs of communities and each individual has equal opportunity to learn, grow, and lead a fulfilling life.


We shape leaders who partner with communities to create and implement policy that serves and responds to their needs.

What we do

We provide McCourt students with a policy practicum grounded in Wards 7 & 8 of Washington DC, where students acquire the skills to understand and partner with community actors. Students engage in policy research, analysis, implementation, evaluation, power-sharing and advocacy that advance the Lab’s vision and mission.


Racial Equity

Racial Equity exists when a person’s future cannot be predicted by race. Structural and systemic racism are largely responsible for the concentration of poverty and related harms among black people in Wards 7 and 8. We are thoughtful, intentional, and explicit when considering the impacts of race and racism in the communities we serve.

Social Justice

We support equitable political, economic, and social structures that promote justice for each member of our society. It is essential to understand intersectionality between systems of power and privilege that result in different outcomes according to one’s distinct identities.

Respect for Communities

The residents of Wards 7 & 8 should determine the future of their respective communities. The Policy Innovation Lab is committed to learn from stakeholders through empathy and active listening. This commitment acknowledges the Lab’s unique composition of graduate students willing to challenge divisive structures.


The Policy Innovation Lab is committed to transparency through the sharing of goals, processes, and limitations with student members and community partners. The Lab is flexible, willing to adjust its work and practices based on actively solicited feedback. Transparency and flexibility ensure accountability, sustainability, and responsiveness as the Lab evolves.


The Lab acknowledges its privilege, and positions community engagement at the center of its work. We are not experts, but we are committed to listening and learning from partners with direct experience and knowledge of the communities in Wards 7 and 8. We remain willing to critically engage with our beliefs, approaches, and goals — as well as the opinions, ideas, and information that we encounter as we move forward. The beliefs, approaches, and goals we hold are the result of critical engagement with stakeholders, and members commit to evaluating their preconceived opinions as the result of humble community engagement.


Conventional approaches may not resolve complex issues, so the Lab focuses on finding new strategies, theoretical approaches, and practices to solve seemingly intractable problems. We do not promote ideas because they are novel or new, but focus on intentional approaches and policies that place people and their communities at the center of the policymaking process.

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  

Our work

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. In the spring of 2019, a committee of Lab students built upon previous work and the founding goals of the Lab to develop the following Vision, Mission, and Values that guide the Lab’s work.