McCourt Policy Innovation Lab Logo (DC outline in gray, Name, and GU)



The McCourt School Policy Innovation Lab was founded in the 2014-2015 academic year as a pilot project—an experiment to engage policy students and faculty in generating innovative solutions to complex and often intractable policy challenges in their own backyard. The Lab's current policy project is to apply design thinking to the potential redevelopment of the Anacostia waterfront in Wards 7 and 8, and develop policy solutions for equitable growth through a human-centered design framework. Our partners include the DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, Bread for the City, the Urban Institute, and the Federal City Council.

The mission of the Policy Innovation Lab is to draw upon and convene the talents of students, professors, researchers, community leaders and activists to tackle urgent and emerging issues at the forefront of policy discussion and debate in the DC area, and to develop pioneering and forward-thinking solutions. It will do this by: 

  • Tapping student ingenuity to tackle local policy challenges, emerging questions, and intractable dilemmas;
  • Drawing upon the knowledge and creativity that exists in the DC community to help inform and design policy recommendations;
  • Connecting students, faculty, and research experts from multiple disciplines as university-community partners in the work of the Lab; and
  • Employing human-centered design thinking and other innovative approaches to policy prototyping.

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The Lab is examining and making recommendations on key policy questions related to the future development of parkland along the Anacostia River, in particular the lands bordering Wards 7 and 8 on its eastern banks.

The questions The Lab is addressing are:

  • How can the development of the Anacostia River parkland add lasting value to the communities in Wards 7 and 8 – its neighborhoods and its residents? What are the innovative strategies, policies and practices for creating this value?
  • How can communities in Wards 7 and 8 along the Anacostia River in Washington, DC benefit from the city’s strong economic growth and the impending spillover development fast approaching these neighborhoods so long untouched by economic growth?
  • How can the parkland along the Anacostia River be developed in such a way that will bring optimum community benefits, most importantly greater economic and social equity and inclusion for residents and communities in Wards 7 and 8?


Human-Centered Design Graphic
Together with our research and policy analysis skills, the Lab employs human-centered design thinking to generate ideas and recommendations. Human-centered design is an iterative process using design approaches and tools that put the community’s needs in the center of design solutions, and ensure that their experiences drive innovation. The design thinking approach has been used across the country to tackle tough urban policy issues and challenges.


While engaging with local nonprofits in doing research for the McCourt Policy Innovation Lab, one of the clear desires from the community was for increased capacity to acquire and analyze data that they produce. Focusing on providing programming and services, many NPOs would like to quantify their impacts but lack the organizational bandwidth to add dedicated data personnel. McCourt students, with their quantitative backgrounds and the school’s emphasis on creating a culture of data, seemed like a natural fit.

To that end, the McCourt Policy Innovation Lab is developing a partnership with Fairchance, an organization that provides management training and best practices with “classes” of nonprofit partners. With guidance from Fairchance, small Data Capacity Teams from the Lab will work closely with nonprofit organizations in the community to thoughtfully data implement acquisition and analysis practices. We hope to improve these partner-nonprofits’ “data toolkit” by engaging with their staff and users to develop effective ways to incorporate quantitative and qualitative analyses into their routines, and further develop the social good that these organizations provide.



  • Gabe Klein, Author of Startup City and Former Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation
  • Jennifer Bradley and Eric Lavin, The Aspen Institute Center for Urban Innovation 
  • India’s Smart Cities and what the U.S. Can Learn: A Conversation with Dr. Ramachandran, Senior Advisor to the US Green Buildings Council and Uwe Brandes, Founding Executive Director of Georgetown’s Masters Program in Urban and Regional Planning
  • Creating a Nexus between Education, Environment and Sustainability”, a conversation with Dr. Sharon Jaye, Executive Director of the Green Schools Alliance
  • "Focusing on Racial Equity and Public Policy, Particularly Urban Policy Development and Implementation" a presentation by George Jones, CEO at Bread for the City


The Lab works with an ever growing set of institutional and community partners. At this point, its principal local non-profit partners are DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, the Federal City Council, and the Urban Institute.  It also works closely with other entities within the University, e.g. the Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership, the Office of Community Engagement, and the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation.  Most importantly The Lab is developing close ties with  community-based organizations in Wards 7 and 8, as well as residents and community leaders.

Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership & Urban and Regional Planning Program at Georgetown University


DC Appleseed Bread for the City
Anacostia Waterfront Trust Federal City Council
Fairchance: Beeck Center
Urban Institute  

The Lab is part of a new cross-sector partnership, the Anacostia Park and Community Collaborative, organized by the Anacostia Waterfront Trust.  Its members represent non-profit, civic, community, business, and policy groups.


Margaret O'Bryon

Margaret O'Bryon

Margaret O’Bryon is a Research Assistant Professor and Executive Director of the Policy Innovation Lab at the McCourt School of Public Policy, Georgetown University. She previously served as the Waldemar A. Nielsen Chair in Philanthropy from 2013-2015. In 2013, O’Bryon stepped down as founding president and CEO of the Consumer Health Foundation (CHF) after 14 years of building and growing the organization. CHF is the principal health philanthropy in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Under Margaret’s leadership, CHF built a regional and national reputation based on creative leadership, its activist approach to health grantmaking and policy reform, its pioneering work in the area of health and racial equity, as well as its ability to build funder and community coalitions to support its work. CHF was featured in the 2011 national publication, Do More Than Give: The Six Practices of Donors Who Change the World. She has recently launched Accelerating Change Group (ACG), an enterprise committed to transforming the way individuals, communities, and institutions think, innovate, and create breakthrough and lasting solutions to big questions and complex issues. Early in her career, Margaret spent over a decade working for the US House of Representatives. She is past chair of Grantmakers in Health, which represents the field of health philanthropy in the United States. She received the Terrance Keenan Leadership Award from Grantmakers in Health. It honors outstanding individuals in health philanthropy whose work is distinguished by leadership, innovation and achievement. She also serves as a community council member of WAMU 88.5 public radio and as a member of the National Hispanic Council on Aging, as well as several other local boards. She received her bachelor’s degree from Hamilton College and her master’s degree in urban and regional planning from the George Washington University. Margaret loves working with students of all ages, hiking, film festivals, and spending time at the Chesapeake Bay with her family.


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Kristina Rodriguez




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