We pursue innovative local policy solutions through human-centered design thinking.


About us

The McCourt School Policy Innovation Lab was launched in 2015 as a pilot project—an experiment to engage policy students and faculty in generating innovative solutions to intractable and seemingly insurmountable public dilemmas in their own back yard.

It has both teaching and experiential objectives aimed at exposing policy students to urban, community-based policy innovation and development. As an externally focused initiative of McCourt, the Lab's strength and uniqueness is its focus on innovation, its commitment to community engagement and voice, and its accountability to the community and to a group of partners who share a common goal. As the Lab has matured, its partner base has grown, which has helped the Lab become more embedded in the community and called upon to address more complex policy issues.


“Because the trick of public policy is that it’s not my voice. It’s not any of your individual voices. It’s the community’s voice. The public part of our craft means that all of our decisions or ideas are crafted in the full light of community involvement. Or at least they should be.”
— Michael Cohen, founding Lab member

Our Mission

The mission of the Policy Innovation Lab is to draw upon and convene the talents of students, professors, researchers, community leaders and activists to tackle urgent and emerging issues at the forefront of policy discussion and debate in the DC area, and to develop pioneering and forward-thinking solutions. It will do this by:

  • Tapping student ingenuity to tackle local policy challenges, emerging questions, and intractable dilemmas; 
  • Drawing upon the knowledge and creativity that exists in the DC community to help inform and design policy recommendations;
  • Connecting students, faculty, and research experts from multiple disciplines as university-community partners in the work of the Lab; and
  • Employing human-centered design thinking and other innovative approaches to policy prototyping.


The Lab operates under a clear set of values that frame all aspects of our work.

Racial Equity and Social Justice

The Policy Innovation Lab is committed to work and policies that promote racial equity and advance an agenda of inclusion, equitable opportunity, and social justice.

Systems and Human-Centered Design Thinking

In focusing on public policy, the Policy Innovation Lab specifically aims to tackle the systemic issues that inhibit a significant swath of local community members–many of whom live in Wards 7 and 8 east of the Anacostia River– from fully benefitting from the region’s economic success. To accomplish this, the Lab uses the established methodology of human-centered design thinking as its innovation framework for generating questions, ideas, and recommendations.  Through this process, the Lab works to put people at the center of policy.

Listening and Community Engagement

At the core of our work and human-centered design thinking is deep listening to people whose lives are most affected by policy and program decisions and then using that knowledge to shape our thinking.

. . . an exciting new opportunity for the McCourt School and a tangible example of Georgetown’s commitment to serving the common good.
— Edward Montgomery, Dean of the McCourt School of Public Policy

Our leadership

Margaret O'Bryon, Executive Director

Margaret O’Bryon is a Research Assistant Professor and Executive Director of the Policy Innovation Lab at the McCourt School of Public Policy, Georgetown University. She previously served as the Waldemar A. Nielsen Chair in Philanthropy from 2013-2015. In 2013, O’Bryon stepped down as founding president and CEO of the Consumer Health Foundation (CHF) after 14 years of building and growing the organization. CHF is the principal health philanthropy in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Under Margaret’s leadership, CHF built a regional and national reputation based on creative leadership, its activist approach to health grantmaking and policy reform, its pioneering work in the area of health and racial equity, as well as its ability to build funder and community coalitions to support its work. CHF was featured in the 2011 national publication, Do More Than Give: The Six Practices of Donors Who Change the World. She has recently launched Accelerating Change Group (ACG), an enterprise committed to transforming the way individuals, communities, and institutions think, innovate, and create breakthrough and lasting solutions to big questions and complex issues. Early in her career, Margaret spent over a decade working for the US House of Representatives.

Margaret is also past chair of Grantmakers in Health, which represents the field of health philanthropy in the United States. She received the Terrance Keenan Leadership Award from Grantmakers in Health. It honors outstanding individuals in health philanthropy whose work is distinguished by leadership, innovation and achievement. She also serves as a community council member of WAMU 88.5 public radio and as a member of the National Hispanic Council on Aging, as well as several other local boards.

Margaret received her bachelor’s degree from Hamilton College and her master’s degree in urban and regional planning from the George Washington University. She loves working with students of all ages, hiking, film festivals, and spending time at the Chesapeake Bay with her family.


Catherine Lyons - Co-Director

Catherine is a first-year Master's in Public Policy student at the McCourt School. She comes to Washington, DC from Los Angeles, California, where she was Southern California Director for FWD.us, a bipartisan nonprofit advocacy organization focused on passing immigration reform. Previously, she led the housing and community development policy work for a business-led nonprofit in the San Francisco Bay Area. She also served as an AmeriCorps member in New Orleans after graduating from the University of Southern California. 

More information

Our partners

Learn more about our partners at Georgetown and in the DC community.

Contact us

Questions? Comments? We'd love to connect.