MetroLab Network: 
Data Governance

Civic Design, UX Design, Civic Research


  • Design Researcher
  • Develop Site


  • Focus Groups
  • Prototyping


  • WordPress
  • Elementor: Wordpress Plugin
  • Figma


  • May 2023 - July 2023 (3 Months)


Kate Burns, Tony Luppino, Victoria Ponce

1. Internship at MetroLab Network 

MetroLab Network is a non-profit that drives positive impact in communities by empowering collaboration between two critical public institutions: local government and universities. It believes science and research can live and flourish in cities and their city halls – bringing innovation and solutions to the front door of communities. MetroLab has created a national task force of local government leaders and university experts to develop guidance around data governance called the

I secured the Internship through Partnership for Inclusive Innovation's Smart City Corps Cohort of 2023 program, based out of Georgia Tech. As a Design Intern, my primary task was to transform a complex policy guide into a user-friendly website while also support MetroLab with with their MetroLab Summit 2023 design requirements.

2. Challenge 

During the MetroLab Summit of 2019, a series of discussions with city officials and civic participants revealed critical concerns about data governance that align with broader challenges in the public sector:

  • Transparency Issues
  • Community Engagement
  • Data Security
  • Interdepartmental Coordination
  • Data Sharing Oversight
  • Need for Comprehensive Policies

Collaboration between Kansas City, MO, and UMKC resulted in a document draft for the Model Data Governance Policy and Practice Guide. The interns worked with MetroLab Network’s subcommittee leads to create discussions with its members that resulted in addition and refinement of these policy recommendations for a release in the form of a publicly available document and web platform.

3. Approach

I joined MetroLab Network at the stage where the Policy Guide draft had already made a significant progress and MetroLab Network had their own tech setup in Wordpress. A big challenge was to balance between the design, how to create it and what could be implemented by me in a way that it could also be managed by someone else.  

Due to nearby deliverables and availability, focus groups were an effective method to ask questions as an already existing remote collaboration was ongoing. I proceeded with my focus group of 10 city officials from cities of different maturity levels to gather insights.  After rough prototype in Figma, I built the site through Elementor with several rounds of feedback from the task force members.

I. Discovery    ➡️

  • Focus Groups: Conducted a focus group with 10 city officials to gather initial expectations of a website for data governance needs.
  • Content: Collaborated with political scientists to distil complex policy recommendations and resource libraries into a simplified structure

II. Design   ➡️

  • Information Architecture: Developed a site structure that categorizes information for easy navigation.
  • Wireframing: Working with the task force members to create wireframes of how possibly the website could be presented
  • Customization: Utilized the theme’s customization options to match MetroLab’s branding guidelines

III. Implementation

  • Prototyping Within WordPress: Developed pages using WordPress plugin Elementor Pro to create a live prototype that stakeholders could interact with.
  • Responsive Design: Ensure website was mobile-responsive

4. Prototypes

I designed initial prototypes on Figma, due to a short turnover time with mid to high-fidelity to accomodate also for branding and style incorporation since the start to make sure we have minimal changes while building the actual Elementor-Wordpress site.

5. Model Data Governance
Policy And Practice Guide For Cities and Counties

This team produced a document called the Model Data Governance Policy & Practice Guide

Enhances the ability of local governments to both use data to provide increasingly efficient and beneficial public services, and to protect the public and mitigate risks of misuses of data.

Provides different resources such as checklists, protocols, practice tools, and policies.

Figure 2. Having a mobile friendly page makes
it accessible to City officials anytime.

Figure 3. Access to resource libraries in one's fingertips

The MetroLab Network’s Data Governance Resource Library is a meticulously curated collection of resources designed for city officials, policymakers, and civic technologists dedicated to the ethical and effective management of civic data.

7. MetroLab Summit 2023

The annual summit invites city and university collaborators to share, discuss and facilitate conversations on the work they have been doing. It was an exceptional learning experience for me to learn about how close design research was to civic research and how we can imagine civic problems as design problems.

A big part of my internship was to support MetroLab Network conduct the Summit 2023 through designs, organizing, logistics, and hosting.

This year, the summit had the following goals:

  • Bring together key partners like federal + state agencies and philanthropy to share opportunities and new programming approaches;
  • Host conversations around ecosystem building at the regional level;
  • Highlight the work in communities that can take flight in other areas around the country

Figure 4.a. Exective Director of Metrolab Launching the Model Data Governance Policy & Practice guide in the Summit.

Figure 4.b. The MetroLab Summit hosting Keynote speaker Dr. Karen Marrongelle, COO, National Science Foundation

NSF Civic Innovation Challenge - Ideas Platform

Also work on a consolidated place where projects that are supported by the NSF Civic Grant could be archived for future grant cycles. It is also a place where user can read about a project and have a contact person to connect with in case of research utilisation.

Designed were made using the program manager's feedback and asking project participants what they'd want to tell, the main aim was to have an archive and a point of contact for anyone to reach out to.

7. Impact

1500+ visits to the guide through sharing within MetroLab Network, Civic network, MetroLab Summit and press.


8. Reflections

Reflecting on my internship at MetroLab Network, my main learnings on working with a non-profit organization in civic space were:

  1. Adapting to Resource Limitations: I was limited in the tools I could use. Wordpress was the default established and migration from Wordpress would mean overhauling every established page. Working within Wordpress and the Elementor Plugin limited the experiments I could do in design.
  2. Cross-functional Skills: Due to the small team size, I was required to take on multiple roles, which I loved doing. In addition to design, I worked with research, organizational help, and hosting. Being the only team member with design skills, it was amazing to work with political science majors, lawyers and admins.
  3. Civic Design Exposure: I was new to the civic design space. Working closely with city and county officials, lawyers and political science students provided me with a new perspective on the structures, challenges, and expectations within local governments. It was an invaluable lesson in how design research can intersect with public policy.
  4. Long-Term Thinking: I also had to keep in my how someone with a non-design background taking over from me would learn to use a structure.
  5. Direct Impact: The work reaching to a vast number of city and county officials and understanding the impact Realtime by talking to such folks made me appreciate more how simple design can be leveraged to create immediate impact.