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Commentary Article January 12th, 2022
Innovation • Technology • Justice • Delivery • Legitimacy

Unlocking continuous improvement: a people centered approach

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"A grounding in knowledge sharing & process empowerment supported by senior leaders has motivated intelligent risk taking. No lo digas, hazlo! – Don’t say it, do it! —is our unofficial motto" @RS_ELPTX from @ElPasoTXGov

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"Creating spaces to innovate involves more than the physical space. It is anchored by the people leading change for impact" states @RS_ELPTX & Juliana Baldwin-Munoz from @ElPasoTXGov, which participated in @BloombergDotOrg Innovation Training

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"The @BloombergDotOrg Innovation Training program provided @ElPasoTXGov an emotionally supportive, dynamic & connected space to get comfortable w/ human-centred design & gain confidence practicing bold innovation techniques"

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Partnering for Learning

We put our vision for government into practice through learning partner projects that align with our values and help reimagine government so that it works for everyone.

Partner with us

From March 2020 to June 2021, the City of El Paso, Texas participated in Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Innovation Training. Innovation Training, delivered in partnership with the Centre for Public Impact (CPI), is designed to help cities adopt cutting-edge innovation techniques that engage residents in testing, adapting, and scaling ideas with the potential for long-term impact. 

As part of the largest binational metroplex in the Western Hemisphere, El Paso serves as the epicenter to a global, cultural, and economic population of 2.5 million people. Over the past two+ years, our community has faced three unprecedented events that have required action, resolve and resilience at new levels--- the continuing response and recovery needs required during the ongoing pandemic; a humanitarian crisis created by the surge of asylum seekers crossing the border from Mexico into the US; and the aftermath of the August 3, 2019, mass shooting tragedy. The City of El Paso relies on its deeply ingrained and valued sense of community, connection, and self-sufficiency to accomplish the work of the city. Our organizational culture reflects this relentless spirit. In demonstrating a supportive workforce environment to take care of the community through the continuous improvement of our service delivery, innovation has become mission centric

With a city workforce of over 6,000 operating within 1,000 distinct job titles delivering over 500 services spanning across 250+ geographic square miles, aiming for a systematic way to grow a culture of innovation is as ambitious as it is compelling. A deliberate focus to (re)design key processes and systems or our "how" has incrementally evolved this thinking into walkable and measurable results. We turned to our leadership system---rooted in plan, people, process, and performance as the operational framework setting the tone. Amplifying that tone has required organically creating, celebrating, and scaling opportunities that centered on people through knowledge sharing and spaces to be innovative.

The Leadership System The Leadership System

Knowledge sharing

2015 marked a significant pivot point for the City of El Paso. The visionary leadership of a new city manager and a freshly crafted Strategic Plan led by City Council would become the blueprint for a series of transformative successes to follow. The City’s first Performance Office was created to deploy new learning tools focused on embedding a continuous improvement model and shared language across operations. This landscape was first rooted in introducing new workforce training opportunities, such as Lean Six Sigma (LSS) centered on process improvement and the Baldrige Performance Excellence criteria for a holistic systems perspective. 

Applying the Lean Six Sigma methodology has engaged process owners from frontline to senior leaders in the practice of innovating by leading and completing projects for evidence-based learning. Since the program launch, over 500+ have engaged on project teams, 100% departmental reach has been attained, with $7.5M in cost savings and avoidance realized while adding over 95,000 hours in capacity. The program design was intentional in its focus to build in-house expertise first and then designate layers of process ownership including a project lead, coach roles and executive sponsors for shared accountability. 

Human-centered design

With over 60% of our workforce shifting to remote work at the onset of the pandemic response and approximately a third of our population under the age of 18, conversations centered on reimagining service delivery for our youth population. Entrusted by leadership to explore new opportunities, the Performance Office pursued human-centered design (HCD) as a renewed opportunity to meaningfully seek out insights from our residents. This led to a partnership with Stanford University's Designing for Social Systems Program. El Paso became the first organization to pilot a virtual workshop. El Paso was later selected as one of the first local governments to participate in the d.leadership Program.

With a long-held belief that innovation must live within the organization’s culture and cannot reside solely within the expertise of a Chief Innovation Officer or Performance Office, we pursued a comprehensive Innovation Training opportunity through Bloomberg Philanthropies. Being selected as one of 14 organizations in North America to join the Innovation Training in 2021 meant we could complement our process improvement approach by upskilling our workforce in areas of design thinking. It also meant we could combine our appetite for data and dialogue to help inform key decisions by understanding, generating, and delivering results through the voice of our residents. What we didn’t fully realize at the time is it would also help reinforce trust in the innovation path among our cross-functional team, underpinning how we approach our work to grow champions in every department.

The Innovation Training program provided our team an emotionally supportive, dynamic, and connected space to get comfortable with the newness of HCD as a skillset and to gain confidence practicing bold innovation techniques. This work subsequently led to a complete redesign of our 2021 Strategic Planning Session and has also since amplified our approach to feedback sessions for process improvement projects, most recently updating our workforce wellness program. From the smaller scale projects to the highly complex, it’s a lens we now apply to how we operate, ideate, and stay in a space of create.

"[Innovation Training] would also help reinforce trust in the innovation path among our cross-functional team, underpinning how we approach our work to grow champions in every department."

Creating the ‘Spaces’

A grounding in knowledge sharing and process empowerment supported by our senior leaders, has motivated intelligent risk taking within the organization.No lo digas, hazlo! – Don’t say it, do it! —is our unofficial motto, first introduced by our City Manager. New in 2022, the City will begin to offer an introduction to HCD training led by our internal champions, augmenting the existing Lean Six Sigma learner pathway to extend the reach from a cross-functional team to our workforce of over 6,000. This training is key in expanding creativity and design knowledge. Employees will experience their ideas move from concept to a reality. This distinct combination of an LSS + HCD framework is about expanding a practical and scalable toolset to continue designing for the needs of our community.

Demonstrating a high level of trust and support by our executive leaders to continue nurturing a culture of innovation, in 2022 a Design Lab or “d. Lab” will be launched. This provides a welcoming space for our workforce and community of co-designers shaping future innovative undertakings. This space will welcome all levels of city employees as co-designers in redesigning and developing new programs and services. The Design Lab will serve as an organizational beacon for employees to share their ideas in delivering exceptional services. The Lab is in the heart of the City’s San Jacinto Plaza, key in engaging residents just steps from the City’s parks, restaurants, cafes, museums, hotels, and other high traffic pedestrian areas.

"At the heart of this important work, is a relentless belief that learning + innovation when harmonized can’t help but lead to meaningful and continuous improvement---for us, our organization and vibrant El Paso community."

Creating spaces to innovate involves more than the physical space. It is anchored by the people leading change for impact. Over the last year the Performance Office evolved to encompass both our learning and innovation professionals into one operational area, the Performance Team. Our approach is people-centered and is systems and process focused so we may continue to deliver results. At the heart of this important work, is a relentless belief that learning + innovation when harmonized can’t help but lead to meaningful and continuous improvement---for us, our organization and vibrant El Paso community.

Written by:

Juliana Baldwin-Muñoz Learning + Innovation Director, City of El Paso
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Roman Sanchez Chief Innovation Officer, City of El Paso
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