innovation lab

City of Los Angeles Case Study

Ms. Hand was appointed as the Transportation Technology Strategist for the City of Los Angeles, Department of Transportation in August 2015, She is working via a one-year fellowship, funded by the Goldhirsh Foundation in partnership with the Mayor's Fund of Los Angeles, to develop public policy and pilot projects in a rapidly evolving mobility landscape with an emphasis on shared use mobility, user experience and autonomous vehicles.


Previously, Ms. Hand served Mayor Sylvester "Sly" James as the first Chief Innovation Officer of the City of Kansas City, Missouri and the first female municipal CIO in the country. Working collaboratively across departments, she focused on process improvement through strategic planning, staff involvement and the use of lean methodology and design thinking. In addition, she championed an unprecedented public-private partnership to make Kansas City one of the most comprehensive smart cities in North America by bringing digital infrastructure to a new streetcar line in the downtown core.


Interview Participants


Ashley Z. Hand


1. Leadership


  • Recognize Changing Context in which DOTs Operate - The role of the DOT is changing from primarily infrastructure construction towards the role of a mobility manager. This requires innovative data-driven thinking and flexibility in leadership structures to allow good ideas to be brought forward, especially with regard to the procurement processes.

  • Set Proactive Attitude Toward Innovation - Leadership’s job should be to set the big picture challenges and to help employees ensure that their ideas can be assessed with metrics to support implementation evaluation. This creates an achievement culture, where employees are proactive, rather than waiting for direction.

  • Rely on ‘Early Adopters’ to Form an Innovation Team – To spur innovation, establish a team that represents different levels and different disciplines in the organization. Often an effective innovation team can be comprised of early adopters within the agency.

  • Office of Extraordinary Innovation – LA Metro is the major operator of bus and rail service in Los Angeles County. In 2015 Metro created an Office of Extraordinary Innovation (OEI). The small OEI team is a clearinghouse and creative engine for inventive plans, practices and thinking. It consults with experts in local, national and international academia, along with those in the nation’s transportation and policy think tanks and senior transportation veterans. OEI began a comprehensive strategic planning process that includes input from the Metro Board of Directors, employees, stakeholders and local and national partners that will help set the strategic direction of the agency for the next decade or more. OEI reports directly to Metro CEO Phil Washington. Responsibilities of the office include:

    • Informing the high-level vision for Metro through exposure to innovative people, organizations and industries.

    • Supporting Metro departments in piloting new and experimental programs and policy.

    • Serving as the primary liaison for new ideas relevant to Metro and the transportation industry coming from entrepreneurs, established private sector entities, academia or individual citizens.


2. Empowerment


  • Lean Six Sigma Training - Workforce training is essential and should be advocated by leadership.  Training in Lean and Six Sigma practices empowers lower and mid-level management to implement practices and empowers the entire workforce to bring good ideas forward.

  • Innovation Fund - The City of Los Angeles created its first-ever Innovation Fund. The $1 million fund is designed to provide one-time funds to City departments to test new ideas that could make the City work better. The Innovation Fund supports projects that haven’t been tried in Los Angeles before, that increase efficiency, improve quality of life, and that are feasible and measurable. The fund is managed by the City of Los Angeles Innovation and Performance Commission, which is dedicated to improving the responsiveness, efficiency, and quality of City services. The Commission makes recommendations on the use of the Innovation Fund and sponsors awards that recognize innovation within the City. All city employees and city commissioners can submit an idea through the web portal at


3. Communication


  • Don’t Rely Only on Email - Communication is essential to creating an innovation culture. Employees become more empowered when they have greater awareness about innovation happening throughout their organization.  The City of Los Angeles embraces multiple media for communication; in particular they have found they cannot rely only on email, since many frontline staff do not have easy email access. Communications through inserts in paychecks and postings by water coolers and punch card areas have been effective alternatives.


4. Recognize & Reward


  • Reward Employees - Rewards are a great way to motivate employees to innovate. Each year, the reward for top innovators within the City of Los Angeles includes ‘lunch with the mayor,’ a feature on local TV and ‘shout outs’ on the DOT social media. It is also important to recognize employees who consistently innovate via career advancement promotions.