photo of what do you do with an idea bookOur story

Innovation labs are common among technology and private sector organizations, but they are rare within government organizations, especially in the area of human services. Furthermore, the intentional focus on racial justice within a government institution underscores the unique nature of the MIL.  

Innovation results from linking ideas into complex systems with people at the core of the process. The MIL specifically focuses on the human experience at the intersection of poverty and race to develop work that influences local, regional, and state government.

The cornerstones to the MIL’s approach are a Human Centered Design (HCD) practice; Critical Thinking, engaging with others using a dynamic, systemic lens; and then using Applied Research to test ideas in the community.

The MIL has employed HCD in numerous projects, including the County’s Trans and Gender Diverse Workgroup, the City of Portland’s Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), and the Cities for Financial Empowerment (CFE) CityStart grant.

A large part of the MIL’s Critical Thinking examines the long range impacts of asset building through unconditional cash transfer as strategies such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Universal Basic Income+ (UBI+) to help individuals and families break intergenerational poverty cycles. By examining poverty with an intergenerational racial justice lens, policy and programs can build the potential to create financial stability and future asset wealth for working families.

A critical component of the MIL is the ability to use Applied Research to test ideas - testing it to understand the qualitative, in addition to the quantitative, outcomes. The goal is for the research to add value County-wide, and potentially inform and shape innovation and policy in governmental agencies elsewhere.

The MIL has received several grant awards and most recently was named as one of the 2018 Top 25 Innovations in American Government by the Harvard Kennedy School Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation.


Katherin Flower

Research and Evaluation Analyst, Sr

I am the granddaughter of Cora and Jack and loved to sew with my grandmother and go to Syracuse games with my grandfather. I spent most of my childhood in upstate New York, and miss family and friends, New York pizza and buffalo wings. But I do not miss the upstate New York winters.

My formal education includes studying Spanish and Sociology.  When I couldn’t pay back my student loans from undergrad, I went on to grad school where I focused on Sociology and then completed a post-doc and did extensive training on the life-course and trauma informed care. I have used my training and passion for social justice work in a range of areas, including child welfare, criminal justice, early learning and child development. 

When I am not working on a research and evaluation project for the County, I am probably listening to Latin music and wishing I could dance, hiking or baking with my daughter or working toward my encore career as a comedy writer for Trevor Noah.

Julie Latimer

Executive Specialist

Julie Latimer brings with her many years of government experience.  Throughout her career with Multnomah County, she’s worked in a variety of capacities within Department of Social Services, the Chair’s Office, the Health Department, and back to what is now called County Human Services!

Julie is a Portland, OR/Multnomah County native, and fourth generation Oregonian.  Outside of the office, Julie most treasures time with her family, home, and the outdoors.

Mary Li


Mary has worked for the County since 1990, and describes herself as a proud bureaucrat!  She believes that it's an absolute responsibility for government to address the role that policies, practices, and investments have played in creating the inequities experienced by our communities today.  By intentionally centering race in our work, we can take action that makes a difference in the journey towards justice.

Steve van Eck

Research Evaluation Analyst, Sr.

Steve van Eck was a co-founder of the MIL.  


Twitter: @MultCoMIL