The Course

Field Study in Urban Innovation - MLD 621

Improving social conditions is a collaborative, multi-sector effort. The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Harvard Kennedy School has partnered with a group of five cities in Massachusetts to form the Innovation Field Lab. The field lab embeds teams of graduate students to collaborate with local governments to develop a holistic, data-driven strategy to prioritize and resolve the prevalence of problem properties.

The class is co-taught by Jorrit de Jong, lecturer in public policy, and Joe Curtatone, the current mayor of Somerville and Innovations in American Government Fellow at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. 

The students undertaking this experience are provided with the opportunity to apply problem solving skills in a public setting, to be challenged to think in new and creative ways and to understand how to lead change. The project also provides an opportunity to investigate the effects of innovation on a particular area of urban policy, with potential implications for theories of public sector innovation.

Project Team


Mayor Joseph Curtatone
First elected in November of 2003, he began his historic sixth term as Mayor of Somerville on January 2, 2014. He had previously served for eight years as an Alderman at Large. Thirty-eight years old at the time of his first election, Curtatone is the second youngest Mayor in Somerville history.  A 1984 graduate of Somerville High School, he earned his B.A. from Boston College in 1990, a J.D. from New England School of Law in 1994, and a Mid-Career Masters in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School in 2011.  Prior to his election as Mayor, he served as an attorney in private practice and a volunteer assistant football coach at Somerville High School.  As a member of the Board of Aldermen, Curtatone took the lead on a number of major legislative initiatives, including successful efforts to stem gang violence, eliminate graffiti, prevent drug abuse among teenagers, and promote clean and energy-efficient buildings.

As Mayor, he has successfully implemented a wide range of reforms and new programs that have earned Somerville many distinctions by regional and national organizations, including the designation by Boston Globe Magazine as “the best-run city in Massachusetts,” by America's Promise Alliance as one of the "100 Best Communities for Youth," and a winner of the 2009 "All America City" award.

Mayor Curtatone established a policy advisory commission headed by former Attorney Scott Harshbarger to develop a comprehensive reform agenda for the Somerville Police, including the decision to remove the position of Police Chief from civil service. He created Neighborhood Impact Teams that combine fire, health and building inspectors – along with representatives of the Council on Aging and the city's environmental office – in a coordinated effort to monitor and improve the health, safety and appearance of Somerville’s businesses and residential neighborhoods. After inheriting a government in fiscal crisis, he has stabilized city finances and begun a restoration of lost city services and personnel cuts that occurred before he took office – and he led a successful effort to end years of delay in the development of Assembly Square as a transit-oriented, mixed use, Smart Growth project on the banks of the Mystic River.

Delegations from other Massachusetts communities – and from cities as far away as Ireland and Korea – regularly visit Somerville for briefings on the city’s SomerStat program, a data-driven performance management system modeled on Baltimore’s CitiSTAT initiative. In 2006, Somerville became the first city in America to offer both a 311 constituent service center and Connect CTY mass notification technology. By calling 311 from any phone in the city, Somerville residents and businesses can now access information and services from any city department and can track progress on service requests through a publicly accessible work-order system. Under his leadership, Somerville has also earned national recognition for its successful joint effort with Tufts University to implement “Shape Up Somerville,” an effective program to reduce the incidence of childhood obesity among the city’s elementary school children, which was lauded by First Lady Michelle Obama during the launch of her "Let's Move" initiative. His success in Somerville has earned him the presidency of the Massachusetts Mayor’s Association, a position on the Board of Directors for the National League of Cities, and as a member of the Metropolitan Mayors Association.

Mayor Curtatone lives with his wife Nancy and his sons Cosmo, Joseph, Patrick and James in the Ten Hills neighborhood.

Jorrit de Jong, Ph.D.
Jorrit de Jong is Lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) and Academic Director of the Innovations in Government Program at the Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. His research and teaching focus on the challenges of making the public sector more responsive and more resilient through innovation.

Jorrit is also the Faculty Director of the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, a joint program of Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School, funded by and executed in collaboration with Bloomberg Philanthropies. It is the world’s most comprehensive effort to advance effective problem-solving and innovation through executive education, research, curriculum development and field work.

A specialist in experiential learning, Jorrit has taught strategic management and public problem solving in degree and executive education programs at HKS and around the world. Before coming to Harvard, Jorrit co-founded the Kafka Brigade, a not-for-profit organization in Europe that helps governments diagnose and remedy bureaucratic dysfunction. He was also founding co-director of a consulting firm for the public sector in Amsterdam, and director of the Center for Government Studies at Leiden University.

Dr. de Jong holds a PhD in Public Policy and Management (VU Amsterdam), a Master in Philosophy (Leiden) and a Master in Public Administration (Leiden). He has written extensively, including the books The State of Access: Success and Failure of Democracies to Create Equal Opportunities (Brookings 2008, co-edited); Agents of Change: Strategy and Tactics for Social Innovation (Brookings 2012, co-authored); and Dealing with Dysfunction: Innovative Problem Solving in the Public Sector (Brookings, forthcoming). 

Quinton Mayne
Quinton Mayne is Assistant Professor of Public Policy in the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He received his Ph.D. in Politics from Princeton University. His dissertation, entitled The Satisfied Citizen: Participation, Influence, and Public Perceptions of Democratic Performance, won the American Political Science Association's 2011 Ernst B. Haas Best Dissertation Award in European Politics as well as the 2011 Best Dissertation Award in Urban Politics. Mayne's research and teaching interests lie at the intersection of comparative and urban politics. He is particularly interested in how the design and reform of democratic political institutions affects how citizens think and act politically.

Field Lab Coordinators

Four Harvard Kennedy School students and one Harvard Graduate School of Design student have worked for over a year to develop the foundation for the work you will do in the Field Lab. They have put together the City Files, conducted background research and established working relationships with City Officials. On most site visits, your field lab coordinator will accompany you, and he or she will be available for consultation. However, each team is responsible for its own work, and the role of the coordinators will be that of a coach. The coordinators will not be involved in evaluating or grading you.

Azrina Azhar (Fitchburg Coordinator) is a candidate for the Master of Public Administration & International Development (MPA/ID) program at HKS. She has more than seven years work experience in engineering, investments, and development. While at Khazanah Nasional Bhd (Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund), she led the establishment of Yayasan Hasanah, the largest corporate foundation in Malaysia.  She has project managed across focus areas including renewable energy, community security, waste management, and climate change.

Caleb Gayle (Salem Coordinator)  is a joint MBA/MPP student at Harvard’s Business School and Kennedy School, where he attends as Sheila Johnson Fellow at the Center for Public Leadership. Prior to his time at Harvard, Caleb worked as a program officer at the Kaiser Foundation. A Truman Scholar, Caleb also served as Technical Adviser to INADEM, Mexico’s version of the Small Business Administration, designing policy interventions for female entrepreneurs. Caleb received his bachelor’s at the University of Oklahoma and received his master’s from University of Oxford.

Alex Maza (Chelsea Coordinator) is a first year MPP student, and a Sheila C. Johnson Leadership Fellow at the Center for Public Leadership.  Alex and his family came to the United States from Cuba when he was two years old.  Growing up he witnessed lacking opportunities in communities and education systems for the poor and people of color.  His passion for these issues led him to study Political Science and Economics at Ohio University, and into social justice advocacy.  Alex joined Teach for America upon graduating and taught 6th Grade English and Social Studies in the Washington D.C. area.  He has spent the past two years working administratively at an international school in Beijing, China.  While at HKS he is interested in exploring government performance and innovation.  He spent the past summer working in the Governor’s Office of South Carolina on developing a statewide longitudinal data system for evaluating education performance and workforce development. 

Glendean Hamilton (Lawrence Coordinator) is a second year Master in Public Policy candidate and the President of the Black Student Union at the Kennedy School. Prior to the Kennedy School, she worked as a 6th grade English teacher in Lawrence, MA and as a Research Associate at the Nellie Mae Education Foundation in Quincy, MA. At HKS, she focuses her studies on helping governments and nonprofit organizations generate and use data to drive decision making. Glendean spent her summer as an Ash Center Fellow in the Office of the Mayor in the City and County of Denver, CO. Her primary task involved developing a performance framework and strategic plan for a new mayoral office focused on homelessness services. Glendean earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Government from Smith College in Northampton, MA. Her hometown is the Bronx, NY, and she is the daughter of Jamaican immigrants. 

 Rebecca Nolan (Winthrop Coordinator) is a second year Masters in Design Studies candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD). Rebecca is a licensed Landscape Architect and has spent the last several years working with municipal clients on downtown revitalization projects throughout New York State.  Prior to beginning at the GSD, Rebecca was part of the public involvement team for the replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River, just north of New York City. Over the past year, Rebecca has worked with the Harvard Community Development Project (CDP) in Central Falls, RI to help the city identify problem properties under the Innovation Field Lab model. Her research and professional interests are focused in policy, distribution, and ecologically sensitive tactics for upgrading and enhancing wastewater and stormwater infrastructure.

Course Advisors

Cecily Tyler  is a producer in TV, film, and multi-media from New York City and currently a fellow at The Harvard Kennedy School of Government.  Cecily has been working in the field of communication for the past 20 years and is the founder of Docutribe which activates positive change at the local community level through the use of storytelling and filmmaking. Since graduating from Sarah Lawrence , Tyler has told a lot of stories: of inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola; a forensic pathologist; young practitioners of the Brazilian martial artform, capoeira; of CEOs seeking to establish healthy practices in their fortune 500 companies; and of the history of antique classical and baroque instruments still being played today. She has worked with the Discovery network; Public Broadcast System (PBS/WGBH); the NBC News educational website, “NBC News Learn;” New York Times Television; BBC NYC; Brown Alpert Medical School; and multiple independent productions. In 2010 the Department of Labor funded a 6-year “Teach the Teachers” initiative that she developed for YouthBuild USA. It looks at establishing best practices regarding gang-transition, post-program placement, construction and apprenticeship readiness, sustainability and other pertinent topics for the staff, educators and youth in the YouthBuild USA community. Cecily has also worked with not-for profits in the arts and education sector including the Nantucket Film Festival, Bronx Community College, Raw Art Works, and Massachusetts General Hospital. She currently serves as a board member at the Handel & Haydn Society and at the Institute of Boston Contemporary Art in their Director’s Circle. She obtained her M.P.A. from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in 2016.

Judy Pearlman is a Manager in The Cloudburst Group’s Housing and Community Development practice area. She leads teams of housing and homelessness experts active in multiple US communities, facilitating efforts to help communities optimize their uses of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and other funds to address local needs. Her focus is on facilitating the work of cross-cutting Cloudburst teams that help local stakeholders to articulate objectives and take action in numerous areas simultaneously. Her teams have helped states shift programs from one state-level agency to another; have helped free up millions of HUD dollars that were “stuck” in bureaucratic bottlenecks; and have redesigned the relationships between a city and its nonprofit partners to improve the delivery of critical services to residents. Her teams help localities to improve grants and financial management systems, resolve complex outstanding projects and fiscal issues, build staff skills and/or reshape organizations to improve efficiency and accuracy, incorporate performance measures into funding decisions and use data to guide neighborhood investments.