GSA, Commerce partner on new innovation lab

A new innovation lab in San Francisco will bring together technology teams from academia, private industry and agencies from the federal, state and local levels to solve problems facing urban communities.

A new innovation lab in San Francisco will bring together tech teams from academia, private industry and agencies from federal, state and local governments to solve problems facing urban communities.

Announced Tuesday, the Superpublic collaborative workspace — located in the same federal building that currently houses the General Services Administration’s 18F and the U.S. Digital Service team members based in San Francisco, as well as employees from the departments of Education and Transportation — aims to break down the barriers between different levels of government, private technology firms, nonprofits and universities. 

“Superpublic presents a unique opportunity to solve common problems that persist at all levels of government and demonstrate a model for collaboration that can be replicated in other cities across the United States,” said Denise Turner Roth, administrator of GSA, which serves as the federal landlord to Superpublic. 

The lab will be managed by the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation, GSA, the Commerce Department and the City Innovate Foundation, a nonprofit focused on sparking public-private partnerships around smart cities technologies. In addition to the San Francisco-based federal teams, the lab will initially house groups from the University of California-Berkeley, the Center for Design Research at Stanford University, the MIT Media Lab, Microsoft, Deloitte, the Local Government Commission and others to be announced later this month. 


“We’re literally breaking down the walls to work together across state, federal and local agencies,” San Francisco Chief Innovation Officer Jay Nath said during a conference call.

Superpublic’s collaborative efforts will likely focus on modernizing government’s digital services, improving transportation, continuing innovation around smart cities and driving performance-based procurement. 

The Commerce Department will offer its technical support around data for the workspace’s overarching themes, the department’s Chief Data Officer Ian Kalin said. “You’re trying to solve traffic congestion? Well, we have some information that may help with that. You’re trying to figure out where to open up your new business? Maybe demographic information from the Census Bureau can be very helpful to this new initiative.” 

“Where would one bring these various parties together in one space to innovate, to build programs, and to provide solutions?” City Innovate Foundation Chairman Peter Hirshberg said on the call. “San Francisco has many open innovation facilities and incubators and co-working spaces, but there’s never really been one whose purpose has been to bring people together from different agencies … between federal, city and state government, and with both startups and companies to work together on problems.”  

With access to a variety public, private, academic and nonprofit entities — two of the world’s largest and most influential digital companies, Twitter and Uber, are located across the street from the new Superpublic space — Hirshberg and the team behind the project saw “there was an opportunity to do serious work … across government agencies.”


“This place, San Francisco right now, is the place to have these conversations,” he said.

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