Where’s the innovation? A review of CPS’ first Oregon Innovation Award

CPS will announce the winner of the second annual Oregon Innovation Award at the CPS Reception and Award Ceremony on April 2, 2016. In celebration of public service, and in honor of the great work completed by the recipients of the first annual award, we have compiled selected report excerpts and participant quotes from the project in this blog post. Links to final reports and participating organizations are provided so you can explore further!


(The following excerpts are from Transforming the Decision-Making Table through Co-Produced Public Sector Innovation by 2015 Hatfield Resident Fellow, Erin Pidot)

A public sector innovation, as defined by the Center for Public Service, is a new or significantly improved policy, process, product, service or method of delivery for the organization using it, and provides a way of resolving a public problem or responding to user or citizen demands. The innovation both outperforms previous practices and improves public outcomes.

About the Oregon Innovation Award  

The Oregon Innovation Award recognizes and honors the active pursuit of public service breakthrough innovation through collaborative partnerships between one or more public service organization(s) and the Hatfield School of Government’s Center for Public Service.

The award is designed to enable forward-thinking governmental and nonprofit organizations to further identify, co-produce, and scale-up breakthrough innovations in their organizations and communities. The awardee receives 1,000 hours of consultation and facilitation by CPS faculty and a HaInnovation Award Fellow Quotetfield Resident Fellow. The OI Award represents an exciting opportunity for CPS to further its vision of “Making an enduring difference in advancing public legitimacy and trust in our public service institutions.”

Compelling Story: transforming the decision-making table through co-produced innovation

The Portland Metropolitan region is one of the fastest growing in population and diversity, but the demographics of elected officials and others who directly influence policymaking generally remain the same—predominantly white, middle-aged and older, with four or more years of higher education.[i] This disparity is reflected across the state and country. Whites, who compose seventy-seven per cent of Oregon’s population, occupy ninety-three per cent of elected offices; and the state performs relatively well—ranking ninth on the New Organizing Institute’s National Representation Index.[ii]

Government cannot effectively address communities’ needs and priorities unless those at the decision-making table reflect the diversity of the population, but the obstacles to realizing a reflective democracy are complex. Public processes are often long and impenetrable. Traditional decision-making spaces and formats may not be welcoming or accessible. And Oregon’s long history of institutionalized racial discrimination and exclusion has left a legacy of distrust.

Instead of trying to address this challenge together, local governments typically operate in silos—each with a diversity, equity and inclusion team and strategic plan; independently reaching out to historically underrepresented communities in jurisdictions that often overlap. While this engagement is critically important, uncoordinated efforts place a large burden on these communities and the community-based organizations that serve them. Add to that the fact that engagement efforts too often take community input without leaving anything behind, except the question—why bother?

In co-production with the Center for Public Service at Portland State University, 1000 Friends of Oregon and a host of other regional partners, Metro is taking this wicked challenge on with the support of the Oregon Innovation Award.

Winning proposal 

In 2015—the inaugural year of the award—the following four public service institutions submitted six proposals: Metro, Multicultural Integrated Kidney Education Program, Clackamas County, and the City of Portland. Metro was granted the award for its proposal to partner with 1000 Friends of Oregon and the Center for Public Service to design “a best practices model for engaging underrepresented communities in transportation and land use decision-making and building collaborative relationships that generate trust and offer value to community partners.” The three key components of the proposed model included a mechanism for assessing the level, type, frequency, and duration of engagement sought by CBOs; a method for identifying the best indicators for measuring progress in engaging communities of concern; and a leadership development curriculum for use by CBOs to prepare leaders to effectively engage in the regional decision-making process.

Over the course of about seven months, Metro worked with CPS, 1000 Friends of Oregon, and a host of other community and jurisdictional partners to scope the project, design the breakthrough innovation, develop champions for the work, and create a plan for implementation and long-term success. Over sixty individuals participated in some way. During the process, the content and language used to describe the innovation changed based on input from community members and other stakeholders.

The innovation that resulted includes a vision, set of guiding principles, five key strategy areas, and recommendations and action steps to advance inclusive public engagement and decision-making. The innovation specifically seeks to engage historically underrepresented communities—including people of color, English language learners, and people with low-income—in decision-making at all levels, from engagement to elected office. The central theme of this work is culture shift. How can Metro break-down barriers between public agencies and the communities they serve to inspire a public service culture that listens deeply to community voices?

Actions inspired at Metro by the innovation work

One benefit of the Oregon Innovation Award was its short timeline—Metro was expected to complete the project in partnership with 1000 Friends of Oregon and the Center for Public Service within eight months. This motivated Metro and its partners to act quickly. Here are a few important actions that are already complete or underway.

  • First joint meeting of community organizers and Metro senior staff
  • Hands-on learning: Evaluate your engagement and partnership efforts
  • Biannual Regional Engagement Forum
  • Pipeline from public engagement to public service
  • RTP Regional Leadership Forums

Value-add of the Oregon Innovation Award

The Oregon Innovation Award offers a public or nonprofit organization 1,000 hours of consultation and facilitation by CPS faculty and a Hatfield Resident Fellow. But the actual benefits of the award far exceed the stated benefits. This is a list of significant benefits—in addition to the 1,000 hours—that Metro received over the course of the award process.

  • Perspective and expertise of CPS faculty
  • Reputation of the Center for Public Service and Portland State University: CPS staff and faculty have strong ties with leaders in public service across the state, including at Metro, and these connections helped build momentum and buy-in for the innovation work.
  • Third party innovation facilitation: The Hatfield Resident Fellow—with the support of CPS staff and faculty—provided impartial, third party facilitation that helped create the space for co-production and innovation to occur.
  • Sense of urgency and focus on a specific challenge: The award gave Metro staff members license to focus time and energy on the public service challenge, and to be innovative in coming up with a response.
  • New opportunities for collaboration: Metro staff from across departments, as well as community and jurisdictional partners from across the region, came together in innovation working groups to discuss the shared challenge and identify solutions.
  • New enthusiasm for and commitment to the work: Staff members were eager to get involved and are prepared to carry the work forward after the Hatfield Fellow leaves.

[i] This is reflected in the demographics of elected officials, voters, and participants in many public engagement efforts. For example, you can find panel member demographics of Opt In, the Portland-Vancouver area online participation tool, here: http://optinpanel.org/whos-joined/.

[ii] How Does Your State Rank in the National Representation Index? (2016). Retrieved January 4, 2016, from wholeads.us


CPS is looking forward to broadening its impact with the selection of the second Oregon Innovation Reward recipient in April.

Innovation Award finalists

Please join us by registering here or meet us at the door on April 2nd, 5-7 pm! Credit welcome for entry and wine wall; cash-only no-host bar.