What do a football helmet, hockey puck, hoola-hoop and an engagement ring all have in common? Well, if you are at the City/County of Durham IdeaLab session on Friday, they are all a giant, inflatable tube, just big enough to squeeze a grown adult through the middle. Other groups had a bacon costume (someone became breakfast to go, another the “Bacon-nator), a flowerpot and stuffed dog (which quickly turned into a hydrant and dogs doing what dogs do to hydrants). It was all part of a fun, improvisational icebreaker game we played as a table groups to get the innovation and ideation juices flowing for the rest of the session.

The image of boring old government jobs seem to be a thing of the past in Durham. At the IdeaLab there were people from all kinds of departments within the city and county. Employees from social services, IT, janitorial, budget, legal and human resources were all there to learn, have fun and most importantly, try something new. Folks even came from other cities like High Point and Greensboro to see how they could implement innovative programming in their own cities.

There was an expert talk given about the ways to innovate within government. The idea of innovation and ideas for continuous improvement can come from anywhere, from anyone at any time was driven home. And that to be innovative doesn’t necessarily mean you have to come up with something totally new. It can mean little process changes that make life easier. There was even a quiz to help everyone understand where they might be most comfortable in the innovation process and at the end of the session a pledge employees could pin up in their office as a reminder to be as innovative as possible.

I was struck by how everyone there really did want to make their departments better and adopt some of these human centered design techniques in some form. As a student, it is wonderful to get out of the classroom, connect with real service providers in this wonderful town we live in. This was my third time going to an IdeaLab session and they just keep getting better. Caley Patten and Josh Edwards run the show and they are very open to Duke students participating. You should go! When is the next time you’ll be able to pretend to be a football player with a giant helmet, or a walking breakfast sandwich?