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The Governance Innovation Clinic is a public policy and design clinic that supports the strengthening of democratic institutions by using legal and technological innovations to transform and improve how we govern. In this clinic, students work with public institutions on designing solutions to complex public problems. The goals of the clinic are three-fold: to help institutions innovate and become more effective using both big data and collective intelligence; to promote the public’s right to participate in governing in ways that access people’s talents, creativity, and interests; and to empower students to become 21st century public leaders and problem solvers armed with a diverse and powerful toolkit for social change.


Course Mechanics


Students will work on their own or in small groups on one of the below projects. We will meet regularly for one-on-one mentoring and group discussion of projects, generally on Thursdays between 11:30-2:00. We loosely follow the timeline described below for advancing our projects and developing the skills needed to solve public problems along the way. We start from the hypothesis that by working differently – using agile methods, data, collective intelligence and behavioral insights – we can solve real world problems better and faster.

How Do We Choose Projects


We invite projects that:

  • Have the potential to improve people’s lives;

  • Can be developed in one semester and are implementable in a one-year time frame;

  • Involve innovative leaders as clients willing to experiment and test what works;

  • Involve the design of technology and institutions

  • Give students the opportunity to design and implementnew products and services

Spring 2019 Projects


Title: Designing a Tool for Selecting Constitutional Cases

Problem: The Constitutional Court has too many appeals to review and disadvantaging litigants by failing to pick the right cases

Client: Carlos Bernal, Justice, Colombian Constitutional Court

Project: Design a process and platform to help the Colombian Constitutional Court select the constitutional complaints to review. The court gets around 50.000 appeals each month and selects between 15-30.


Title: Business First Stop

Problem: The State of New Jersey does not know what impediments start-ups face in seeking to do business in the State.      

Client: NJ Office of Innovation

Project: Work with a cohort of innovative start-ups to journey map and document their experience doing business to inform the design of better business services.


Title: NJOneApp

Problem: Residents entitled to social services have a hard time knowing the services for which they are eligible.

Client: NJ Innovation Office

Problem: NJOneApp ( is available on the Department of Human Services website and it currently allows users to determine whether they are eligible for SNAP, TANF, and other benefits. The “anti-hunger programs” refer to a new set of bills working its way through the Legislature that provides information about food-pantry programs. This project involves developing improvements to the website to make benefits and services more accessible.


Title: Text4Jobs

Problem: The long term unemployed get discouraged when looking for a job and fail to get responses to their applications or interviews. Also they do not know where to go as many times they are not eligible for the State's in-person services.

Client: NJ Innovation Office

Problem: Most unemployed do not visit an in-person “One Stop” job center either because they are not eligible or because they prefer, instead the convenience of looking for jobs online. But the job search process can be discouraging and confusing. Behavioral psychology research, however, has produced many insights about how reminders and encouragement, when sent by text message, can improve the prospects of job seekers. This project involves designing a text-based system inspired by the Text4Baby maternal-child health reminder platform, to give encouragement and reminders to job seekers to support their job search.

Week 1


Introduction and Project Selection and the Agile Mindset


What is it? Agile describes a new way of working that is dynamic, evolutionary and iterative and emphasizes breaking down larger projects into smaller chunks. Instead of researching and planning a final product, policy or service from start to finish, practitioners of agile “think small,” develop projects incrementally and assess progress frequently. Agile methodology includes the the skills of defining a “minimum viable product,” testing and iterating in ongoing feedback loops.


Why does it matter? An agile workflow that is both faster and smaller makes it possible to try out ideas before committing excessive time and money. By testing with real people early and often, instead of waiting to complete the final, comprehensive policy or service, practitioners increase the likelihood of delivering a solution that meets people’s needs and reduce the risk of failure.


Give me an example! Previously stalled, Denmark switched to re-developing its online business registration system using an agile approach– that is to say, developing the project in modular bursts with frequent testing of prototypes on real users – and within three years was able to reduce the average time needed to resolve a customer’s problems over the phone from 16 minutes to 5 minutes and dropped the number of customers needing phone support from 70 percent of applications in 2009 to only 30 percent today. (McKinsey)


To Read:

US Government Digital Services Playbook

Harvard Kennedy School, The Path to Agile Policymaking

Futurice, Lean Service Creation Handbook

WEF, Agile Governance Whitepaper

Bloomberg, The Creative City


To Do: 


Begin the Public Projects Canvas:


Weeks 2-3


Defining the Problem and Developing the Work Plan– For the next two weeks, we are focusing on developing a work plan for the semester and defining the problem you are trying to solve.


What is it? Problem definition is the process of narrowing a major issue down to a more readily definable and solvable smaller problem by hypothesizing why a problem is occurring and identifying its root causes. The process generally involves a multi-step process of defining and re-framing the problem to arrive at either a narrower or a new understanding of an actionable challenge. Problem definition skills include developing a hypothesis, defining and re-defining root causes.


Why does it matter? One cannot come up with workable solutions until one has defined, as concretely as possible, the problem to be solved.


Give me an example!  In the 1978 Art of Problem Solving, Russell Ackoff illustrates with the example of the “slow elevator problem.” Hotel guests complain to the manager that the elevator is too slow. He consults an engineer who defines the problem mechanically and proposes the obvious solution of replacing the elevator at great expense. But the manager digs deeper and hires a psychologist who reframes the problem as “the wait is annoying.” Then it suddenly becomes obvious that adding mirrors to the outside of the elevator for people to gaze in will reduce frustration more cheaply. By framing the problem differently, suddenly you discover a more actionable opportunity to solve it.




HBR Article, Are You Defining the Right Problem?

Alph Bingham, Problem Definition Video

Defining a Problem, Crash Course Kids 

Positive Deviance Field Guide


Weeks 4-6


Human Centered Design– To truly define and understand the problem, you need to talk to and observe those most affected. Thus, we go out into the field to engage with people in order to understand the problem better.


What is it? Human-centered design is a process that starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor made to suit their needs. (IDEO) It consists of ethnographic practices that involve observing or talking to those affected by a policy or service to understand their needs, desires and experiences. For a design to be truly human-centered, it should engage and involve users from start to finish. Human-centered design involves skills such as interviewing, prototyping and journey mapping.


Why does it matter?  Government solves problems faster and more effectively when it understands the environment, wants, and needs of residents.


Give me an example! The San Francisco Unified School District used human-centered design to increase student participation in the free school lunch program. By interviewing students, staff, family and community members and running a workshop with students to design their own fruit stand, the District’s Director of Innovation and Strategy used student input to reimagine and redesign the school dining experience in order to make it more equitable and enjoyable for all students.


Read more:


IDEO Human Centered Design Toolkit

DIY Toolkit

NESTA Designing Public Services

Service Innovation Toolkit

Giff Constable, Talking to Humans


Weeks 7-8


Data Analytical Thinking– Next we turn to identifying the data we need to understand the problem and develop some rudimentary skills in data analysis needed to develop the project further. Data helps us both to define the problem and establish metrics and indicators of success.


What is it? Data analytical thinking emphasizes the value of data to achieve improved outcomes and equities, reduced cost and increased efficiency in how public policies and services are created. Data analytical skills include formulating a hypothesis, identifying data to test a hypothesis, spotting patterns and predicting trends from data and sharing data responsibly.


Why does it matter? By making it possible to measure past successes, spot present disparities, and predict future performance, data is becoming a key tool for making decision and tackling problems in every arena.


Give me an example! Lincoln, NE developed 132 performance indicators to measure the City’s progress toward the 39 goals in the eight outcome areas. On its Taking Charge website, the city displays justification and support for each performance measure and describes the strategy to achieve each goal. (GovEx)




The GovLab’s Solving Public Problems with Data Online Course

Open Data Institute Skills Framework

Data Collaboratives Canvas


Weeks 9


Open Innovation


What is it? Open innovation describes the distributed process of working across organizational boundaries to accelerate innovation. While originally used to describe how firms innovate using the external ideas of employees, suppliers and customers, open innovation has become commonplace in public institutions. Open innovation skills include the ability to define a clear and compelling goal, determine appropriate incentives, define the task for people to do and decide how to use their contributions.


Why does it matter? Open innovation enhances both the effectiveness and legitimacy of policymaking. As we know from restaurant reviews on Yelp and medical discussions on WebMD and Patients Like Me or from reading entries on Wikipedia, productive knowledge is widely distributed. People have diverse forms of expertise, from lived experience to professional know-how. The value of more open innovation is that it leverages this collective intelligence to accelerate the solving of public problems.


Read More


GovLab, People-Led Innovation

MIT Sloan, Using Open Innovation to Identify the Best Ideas

Mozilla, Open Innovation Toolkit

HHS Idea Lab, Open Innovation Toolkit


Give me an example! in 2014, Mayor Eric Garcetti launchedthe new $1 Million City of Los Angeles Innovation Fund, which invites city employees to submit ideas on how to make the city more efficient and able to provide better service to residents. From 2014-2016, participants were encouraged to propose innovative ideas to improve a process, save time, increase collaboration among departments, provide the potential for long-term benefits, or generate revenue and/or cost savings. Hundreds of ideas were submitted, and 25 cost-saving ideas received funding. 


Week 10


Behavioral insights


What is it? An inductive approach to policy making that combines insights from psychology, cognitive science, and social science with empirically-tested results to discover how humans actually make choices. (OECD) Behavioral insights involves the skill of knowing how to design an experiment, such as a randomized controlled trial, measure the results and know how to scale the learnings.


Why does it matter? Behavioral insights aim at improving the welfare of citizens and consumers

through policies and regulations that are formed based on empirically-tested results, derived using sound experimental methods.


Give me an example! “In New York City, approximately 130,000 people each year miss their court dates after they’ve been issued a summons citation. Summon citations are instructions to show up in court in response to a low-level offense such as littering or drinking in public. These missed appearances represent nearly 41% of all summons cases in the city. It may appear at first glance that people who don’t appear in court consciously weigh these consequences and choose not to show up, but often there’s a whole host of hidden behavioral barriers, including the fact that many people aren’t even aware that these familiar pink tickets are actually a summons to appear in court. However, with our redesigned summons form that makes the consequences of failing to appear clearer, coupled with behaviorally informed text messages reminding recipients of their scheduled date, the failure-to-appear rate in NYC dropped from 41% to 26%—preventing tens of thousands of unnecessary warrants (and potential arrests).” (Ideas42)


To Read


EAST: Four Simple Ways to Apply Behavioural Insights Toolkit

OECD Behavioral Insights Toolkit


Weeks 11-15


The Design Sprint- Designing your solution. For the remainder of the class, we focus on iteratively designing, prototyping and testing your project.


To Read:


The Design Sprint

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