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


Vision, Mission and Values


We envision a world where every person’s needs are met and each individual has equal opportunity to learn, grow, and lead a fulfilling life.


The Policy Innovation Lab offers students educational and hands-on experiences that develop the skills and understanding necessary to create policy that serves and responds to the needs of communities. The Lab participates in strategic partnerships with organizations and community members in Washington, D.C.’s Wards 7 & 8 that engage students in policy research, analysis, formulation, and advocacy. We do our work with an intentional focus on concerns of racial equity and social justice, respect for communities and our place in their ongoing work, integrity in fulfilling our commitments, and innovation in taking new approaches to policy problems.


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.

Snapshot of the Policy Innovation Lab

Who are we and what do we do?
We are future policy leaders at the McCourt School engaging with community partners to tackle tough urban issues and policy challenges. To find out more about our work, you can read our 2018-2019 report
What are our guiding principles?
We are working to advance social and economic justice through a racial equity lens. In that work we center our values of respect for communities, integrity, humility, and innovation.
Where do we work?
Our focus is on communities based in D.C.’s East End (Wards 7 & 8).
How do we shape our policy ideas?
The Lab uses traditional (qualitative and quantitative) and experiential (community engagement and listening) research methods.
What are our methods?
In order to innovate effective ideas and policy recommendations, we use human-centered design thinking to inform our work with community partners.
What makes us different?
Community engagement and listening as well as human-centered design thinking allow us to lead with empathy and put people at the center of policy.

Human-Centered Design Thinking

Human-Centered Design Graphic
Human-centered design is an iterative process using design approaches and tools that put the community’s needs in the center of solutions. It ensures that community member’s experiences drive innovation. The design thinking approach has been used across the country to tackle tough urban policy issues and challenges.

Institutional & Community Partners

The Lab works with an ever growing set of institutional and community partners. Most importantly, The Lab aims to develop close ties with community-based organizations in Wards 7 and 8 as well as with residents and community leaders.
Some of the local non-profit partners that the Lab works with include DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, the Federal City Council, the Urban Institute, Bread for the City and the Anacostia Waterfront Trust.
The Lab is also closely linked to other entities within the University, including the Baker Center for Leadership & Governance, the Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership, the Office of Community Engagement, and the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation.


Margaret O'Bryon

Margaret O'Bryon
Executive Director

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.

Rachel Grich

Rachel Grich, originally from the Bay Area, is in her 3rd year as a dual MPP/MBA student at Georgetown. Prior to starting graduate school, Rachel earned a B.S in Finance and Political Science from Northeastern University and worked as a Management Consultant for both the public and private sectors. With a passion for education and community development, Rachel returned to school to make a career change and learn more about community-based policies, which is why she joined the Lab in the fall 2017. She has since interned at Kingsman Academy Public Charter School, City First Bank, FutureEd, and KIPP DC. When Rachel isn't in school or working, she enjoys running, traveling, exploring D.C., and spending time outdoors. 


Emilia Calma smiling with fountain in background

Emilia Calma

Emilia Calma is from Oakland, CA and is currently a second year Master of Public Policy student at Georgetown University. Before graduate school, Emilia earned a B.A. in Political Science and International Relations from Carleton College in Northfield, MN. She is particularly interested in health equity, social policy, and sustainability opportunities for urban centers. Emilia previously worked in healthcare and environmental campaigns and last fall Emilia researched and made recommendations regarding racial equity for D.C. City Council. Most recently, she worked on racial equity across several policy areas for Montgomery County Council. In her free time, Emilia likes to marvel at art shows, dance at concerts, and plan new vacations.


Find out More

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Location and Contact Info

Georgetown University
McCourt School of Public Policy

Old North Building
Suite 100
37th & O Streets, NW
Washington, D.C. 20057

(202) 687-5932