Seeing residents as the experts in City Hall problem-solving

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Name: Rachel Walch

Title: Senior Innovation Consultant

City: St. Paul, Minn.

Rachel Walch joined St. Paul’s innovation team back in March. She hopes to build a learning program to train city employees in human-centered design methods, similar to one she created in nearby Hennepin County. It’s an approach that helps immerse city hall employees in the needs of residents, so that they’re always working to solve problems from the residents’ point of view.

“For so long in government, we’ve seen ourselves as the experts in the room,” Walch said. “We’re not. The residents are the experts in their own experiences and needs.”

She also leads a team aimed at making it easier for people coming out of prison to find housing. They’re currently prototyping ideas with landlords that would provide incentives for people who rent to this population. Some of the proposals include a fund to reimburse landlords for certain expenses, a landlord recognition program, and tenant education programs that could be offered to potential renters before they leave prison.

“What we’re trying to figure out,” Walch said, “is what are the things that will entice a landlord to say even though this person has a criminal background, they seem like a better candidate to live in this property than anyone else.”

“Problem solving is not about who has the best solutions. It’s about how well we understand our residents. We need to stop rewarding solution-giving and instead reward time spent immersing ourselves in our residents’ needs and problems.”

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Celebrating public sector progress and innovation in cities around the world. Run by @BloombergDotOrg’s Government Innovation program. bloombergcities.org

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