City of West Hollywood

Designing an Innovation Academy to build capacity for government staff.

Home to the sunset strip, and a population of 34,399 people, the City of West Hollywood has a goal of becoming a smart city within the next decade. Sporting a nimble mentality, City Hall’s foreword thinking culture, and love for innovative design methodologies is supported across all ranks and departments.



Matthew Manos


Matthew Manos

Katharine Hargreaves

Anya Iverova

Ben Snyder

Jake Dunagan


Clarisa Valdez


Kate Manos


At the beginning of 2016, verynice was awarded a project with WeHoX, the city’s innovation program, in order to fast-track the growth of knowledge and resources city staff had access to in the design and innovation sphere. Specifically, the city wanted to build capacity for staff around the following: Research Methods, Strategic Planning, Design Strategy, Integrated Design Processes, Systems-Design, and Innovation Leadership.

Our curriculum is designed for replicability, with the vision of leveraging the lessons learned atWeHo in order to share the curriculum with other cities across the country. The structure itself recognizes the challenges of teaching design processes to a very busy staff by calling for a series of five webinars that would be sandwiched by two full-day design intensives. As a whole, the experience is designed the span a total of 6 weeks.

Working with the WeHoX staff, Kate Mayerson, and Francisco Contreras, we finalized the curriculum, and suggested an important diversification of participants. As a result, the staff were invited to participate in the program based on their position, but also in a manner that would allow us to have equal representation from all departments to ensure all voices were heard.

The first intensive, kicked off at City Hall, was nicknamed “madness to the method”, as our goal was to throw the participants into an array of methodologies and histories without providing substantial context for the end deliverable, or the real-world use-case. In doing so, participants were able to successfully free themselves from any assumptions, and experience the methods with a fresh perspective. The intensive included an introduction to Design Futures methodologies, Design-Thinking practices, and our own business-design methodology, Models of Impact.

Following the workshop, we held a series of 5 consecutive webinars, each of which provided a deep-dive into the topics covered in the first training. The “method to the madness”, so-to-speak. The webinars were designed to strike a balance between lecturing and guiding the participants through hands-on (virtual-friendly) activities. Topics included innovation leadership, strategic foresight, business design, and experience design.

Our second webinar, Models of Impact, inspired us to realize an exciting new opportunity for our toolkit series, a Public Sector edition. As a result, in preparation for the final training, we developed an alpha-version prototype of the expansion pack, complete with over 70 new models of impact that are leveraged by governments.

Our final intensive, centered around this new Public Sector edition of Models of Impact, was designed in the format of a hack-a-thon. The session was held in a beautifully renovated conference center at Kings Road Park. Over the course of 8 hours, city staff leveraged the Models of Impact methodology in order to identify a problem and explore a range of solutions. The solutions were then brought to life through a deep examination of the users impacted by the identified problems as well as a series of prototyping exercises, all resulting in a series of pitches.

The pitches ranged from ideas for new concert series to connect the many generations that inhabit the City of West Hollywood to a new revenue model for the city’s bike-share program that would benefit the homeless. After providing shark tank-style feedback to the presenters, we distributed some beautiful certificates to make the staff’s achievements, and enjoyed a lovely happy hour down the street.

If you’re city is interested in exploring bringing an Innovation Academy to your staff, get in touch!

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