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COVID-19 learning & connection opportunities: week of May 18, 2020

Will We Innovate?

Posted on May 13, 2020


Remember Don't Touch Your Face, Photo of Samantha Harkins

What I’m reading: An Honorable Life, a biography of President Gerald Ford, Michigan’s only president

What I’m watching: Finally watching Schitt’s Creek, and it’s as hilarious as advertised. (Also can you believe Eugene Levy is 73 years old? He looks amazing!)

What I’m listening to: The Sing soundtrack with my 5 year old son.

Today’s morning buzz is brought to you by Samantha Harkins, Deputy Mayor, Lansing Michigan


I love local government, but let’s be real: we aren’t always known as the most nimble organizations. I work in a city with a lot of unionized employees, a lot of rules governed by bargaining agreement, and an aging workforce with 1/3 of our employees being retirement eligible today. While the idea of losing that kind of institutional knowledge at once is absolutely terrifying, it also means that we do a lot of things…the way we’ve always done them. That is my least favorite phrase and why I instituted a “swear jar” for anyone who uses that to answer a question. So far our parks director has paid the most money into this fund (and I have yet to decide what we’ll spend it on…probably happy hour). 

While there are so many great groups encouraging local government innovation (including ELGL’s innovation cohort), being on the cutting edge in local government isn’t easy. When we first started dealing with COVID-19 in early March, we didn’t have a procedures set in place for our employees to work from home. We were faced with a global pandemic and closing city facilities to the public, but no way to really deal with it.

I’ll be honest –we’ve fumbled through it for the last few months. The first few conference and video calls were brutal, but now we’ve mostly got those mastered. We’re now used to working remotely, and there’s a real opportunity here for local governments to innovate. Once we reopen city facilities and head back to work in a new normal, will we do things the way we’ve always done them? Or will we make changes?

I hope it’s the latter, and we think differently about the work we do and the services we provide. I’m currently leading a recovery team to look at our reopening facilities, providing services and the way we work, and it’s a key opportunity to innovate. It’s been weird and scary, but there’s a ton of opportunity to work smarter. 

I don’t have the answers in this post, but as I work with our team to recover and rebuild our community, I hope we will seize the opportunity to make changes. And I’ll miss wearing pajama pants to our virtual council meetings, but making that change is a little too far.

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