How the I-Team is Working to Amplify Civic Innovation in LA

By Kaitlin Milliken |  August 13, 2018

After New York, Los Angeles is the second biggest city in the United States, with nearly four million residents. However, its innovation team got started in 2015 with a team of just six people.

Since then, LA’s “i-team” has expanded to ten full-time employees, with skills ranging from data science to project management. Its leader is Amanda Daflos, a former senior manager at Deloitte with deep experience working with government clients.

The i-team is working on ambitious projects, from working with the Los Angeles Police Department improve its recruiting process to helping city residents to stay in rental homes and apartments as their neighborhoods gentrify.

“We’re changing big systems,” Daflos says. “It takes both patience and persistence, a lot of energy, excitement, and enthusiasm to really see the future.”

The i-team in Los Angeles is one of several civic innovation initiatives around the world funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies. Each reports to the city’s mayor, and takes on big issues, cultural change at City Hall, and long-term projects that might otherwise struggle to attract sufficient resources.

In a recent interview, Daflos discussed how LA’s i-lab approaches innovation in government, and detailed some of the projects her team has worked on so far.

Amanda Daflos

Defining the i-team

[In the Bloomberg program], mayors and their senior staff get to choose one “priority area.” [It’s] one topic, and the innovation team then spends about a year working on [and] researching that topic, and developing projects or incubating projects and then launching those projects.

When we set out to take anything on, we always ask ourselves at the city, “Is it a good fit? Is it achievable? What do we hope will come out of this? What behavior might we change or what outcomes might we see?”

We’d hope that the choices we make are good ones. One of the virtues and values of the i-team is that you prototype things. You do them at a small scale, so that government doesn’t put a ton of money towards something that might not work. You use the i-team to test something.

Tackling Gentrification

When we first came into the city, we were working on the broad question of neighborhood change. In Los Angeles…our neighborhoods and our city is experiencing a sort of a Renaissance. … The way that we [identified that issue] was by looking at residential displacement, business displacement, and then changing neighborhoods.

In response to that, we launched a portfolio of projects. … [O]ne was a media and PR campaign to help people better understand one really important law here in LA, which is called the Rent Stabilization Ordinance. It’s really the ordinance that helps people stay in their homes and experience incremental rental increases, versus huge jumps that might displace them.

What we learned in our research is that lots of Angelenos don’t, A) know about it, or B) don’t know how to use it, who to go to if they have something happen to them that they might get wrongfully evicted for…

We designed a campaign with renters, with landlords, and with the department here that oversees the Rent Stabilization Ordinance to get the word out in a data-based and factual way. Fifty percent of Angelenos live in a rent-stabilized unit…

The second part of that, I’ll call it a traditional campaign. A campaign that you would see around the city on buses, any kind of transportation station.

In addition to that, we [had] an effort to help simplify the ordinance, meaning how to take a policy document and put it into something that both landlords and tenants could understand. Because, as you probably know, policy documents can be tough to read…

The third part was to create  a website for folks, which we track.

Lastly, over the last year-and-a-half…we’ve worked at the department [to] make it such that residents can text a number and find out if their unit is rent-stabilized.

Working with the LAPD

The second year of our work…[was] with LAPD and with the personnel department. The question that we were asked to look at there was around a changing workforce with the LAPD…

So retirement is going up, [and] interest in all police positions around the country [is] going down. [Hiring] is not consistent with the [rate of] retirement, [and yet there’s a real need for candidates as older employees retire.] 

… Our work is really focused on diversifying and hiring ideal candidates—with ideal meaning everything from diversity to diversity of thought. One thing that we learned is the importance of reminding people that jobs in policing are community jobs. … You’re in the community. You get to know the people in the neighborhood. The things you see on TV, maybe that happens once or twice in someone’s entire career.

[O]ne of the things that the i-team is working on right now with the LAPD is creating a partnership with the Peace Corps, which might sound…unexpected, which is what we hope. The truth of the matter is, people who are in the Peace Corps are compelled to serve. They’re compelled to make change. If you think about those qualities, those are the same qualities that we find police officers have a lot of the time. … We’re finding that there’s more of an interest than you might think.

[Policing is also] a career opportunity. As much as it is a service job, it’s also a place where you can build a career. That’s a thing that oftentimes gets forgotten or lost in conversation, particularly on large forces like an LAPD, an NYPD, a Chicago PD. There’s more than 200 job opportunities in the LAPD. You can work SWAT and you can work diving. You can work with canines. You can also be on patrol.

One of our programs that we’ve set up, it’s a brand new program in the city. It’s called Pledge to Patrol. It’s really about creating a pipeline for young people in Los Angeles to continue on to careers in policing.

The goal is to help those people who are participating in those programs, who want to become police officers…giving them an apprentice opportunity and a paid work opportunity while they’re in the process of being hired.

We’re quite interested in helping achieve diversity with that program, with the understanding that if we do it there and these people are continuing on, we have a good chance of continuing [to bring] the diversity into the force. We are tracking that. We’re looking at that.

Building Relationships with city departments

Amanda Daflos joins in the conversation during a session at InnoLead’s LA Field Study in 2017.

My goal is that people just want to work with us. When the mayor chooses the thing we’re going to work on, people feel really compelled because it’s a priority for our mayor.

We don’t look at it as we’re going to come in and fix…thing[s]. Rather, we look at it as, we’re going to partner with you to help you do something great as a department, and we’re just here to help make that happen.

For me, setting that value out for our team, that has been one of the most important things, because I don’t want to ever be looked at as the person who’s going to come in and raise hell, innovate, create a whole bunch of stuff that’s not useful.

I think our goal is to really be supportive colleagues and help move things in a direction that is interesting and different and does create value for both departments and residents.

Then we try to be great people. We try to create value for folks. If we’re working on something…and someone needs us as an extra hand on some other project that doesn’t have a ton to do with us, we really try to lend a hand and just be good colleagues.

A Public Sector Budget

We budget once a year. … The public sees the budget. The public gets to, here in LA, participate in the budget.

If you’re going to spend more than you said you were going to spend, there’s then a whole public process to make sure that that is doable and is on record, if you will. Those kinds of institutional differences, in the way that the public sector’s structured [compared to the private sector], just make it tougher.

[Additionally], the private sector generally has a whole budget [for public relations], marketing, and all of that stuff that gets the word out about what you do. That is not real in government most of the time. We just don’t put public dollars towards that stuff.

Using Metrics to Keep Track of Projects

We’re tracking at the project level but then also looking more macro…

[Hypothetically,] if 10,000 [people] download a book that we created about rent stabilization, does that mean we kept 10,000 people in their homes? … How do we know that we made this bigger difference?

In the places that we can, we do our best to track towards those bigger goals.

Remembering Your Customer: the Public

We’re public institutions. Our constituents are the public. … There’s a public participation process and, in [the] private sector, that doesn’t happen.

When you weigh the public’s role, rightfully so, you have to have…meaningful ways of integrating the voice of the public. … [S]ometimes, that makes the process longer.

Government is structured so that there is that time for that process.

We shouldn’t just change because the market tells us to. We serve a public. It’s important that we change only when we know it’s going to work.