What we mean by Applied Innovation

Our work is mission-driven.

Applied Innovation identifes, creates, and applies innovations focused on improving the economic, social, cultural and overall health of the communities we serve by expanding access to educational and economic opportunity. Other private, academic, and nonprofit entities may be motivated by basic discovery, publication, and commercial success. Our office emphasizes and prioritizes applications for social good.

Beyond new ideas, our work often involves new contexts and new applications of existing ideas.

Innovation may involve truly new ideas. It may also (and often does) involve applying existing ideas, technologies, science, policies, and practices in new contexts and towards solving problems for which the innovation wasn’t previously intended.

Our work is socially embedded.

Our projects are designed to address real community needs, often through mutually beneficial partnerships within and beyond ASU. In each project, we ask ourselves: Who might we learn from and collaborate with? Who will benefit and how? How might we partner to ensure our innovations advance our shared values of equity, inclusion, and equal opportunity in education, housing, careers and economic conditions?

Strategic Areas of Priority and Ways of Working

The following are current strategic areas of priority in our office, driven by our office mission and ASU’s Charter. This list is dynamic and only a sample of our ongoing work.

Shared Prosperity

Shared Prosperity

Median wages have stagnated in recent decades, costs are rapidly rising across foundational elements of life – housing and education, health care and child care – and for the first time in modern history, it’s a coin flip whether Americans coming of age will be better off than their parents. These challenges aren’t just isolated to Arizona; they affect individuals and families across the country.

The Office of Applied Innovation, in service of ASU’s charter, responds to these conditions by designing, implementing, and executing on projects, initiatives, policies, and partnerships to improve the economic conditions of families in Arizona and beyond.

For example, the Office of Applied Innovation is responsible for managing the Alliance for the American Dream, a Schmidt Futures initiative, through which ASU committed to developing a pipeline of idea teams to increase by 10% the net income of 10,000 local middle class households by December 2022.

Future of Teaching and Learning

Future of Teaching and Learning

Education is the key to unlocking economic opportunity in the United States. ASU is committed to building a system of education that achieves academic excellence while remaining accessible to all. Our commitment to inclusivity in access demands a parallel commitment to inclusivity in ensuring student and learner success. The Office of Applied Innovation supports the realization of ASU’s vision through the development and implementation of programs and projects that expand the number and types of learners served by ASU and that ensure all learners have the opportunity to succeed, especially those who are historically underrepresented.

ASU’s Teaching and Learning mission demands technology-enabled solutions – to be inclusive, to be learner-centered, to scale, and to reimagine education as an immersive, exploratory process. Our office identifies and connects with leaders and newcomers alike in the education technology field to explore how those offerings might be leveraged to advance ASU’s Charter.

Emerging Science and Technology for Social Good

Emerging Science and Technology for Social Good

We search for and identify opportunities to apply emerging science and technology innovations—including those that are historically or likely to be commercialized—toward use or adaptations to serve public needs and to deliver public outcomes. Emerging science and technology innovations are not always new; innovations can also involve applications of existing science and technology in new contexts, at greater scales, or in service of different questions from the ones they were invented to answer.

Public Interest Technology (PIT) is one framework our office uses to drive our work in this area: PIT is concerned with the design, development, and application of technology to serve the public good. This requires understanding complex systems, non-linear relationships, user-centered design, and responsible, inclusive, equitable innovation practices. Examples include: striving for equitable use of technology in educational systems, exploring ethical uses of data to inform decisions, and identifying and mitigating challenges in applications of AI and machine learning to government processes and systems.

Data-Informed Innovation

Data-Informed Innovation

Data-informed innovation can result in better design. We can identify historical inequities or disparities perpetuated by particular programs or policies. And we can track metrics that contribute to iterative design practices and hold organizations accountable for promised outcomes. However, data can also be misused, misread, and misunderstood—both intentionally and unintentionally. Data-informed innovation requires critical attention to responsible and equitable collection, use, and sharing of data, whether it’s being applied to the adoption of education technologies or to the expansion and assessment of smart city infrastructures.

Across our areas of focus, data plays an increasingly important role in informing decisions, approaches, and solutions. In our own work, we examine data to build historical context, understand who we are serving, and track project and program progress and outcomes. The Decision Center for Education Excellence brings together data and convenes stakeholders to examine the Arizona education system and model the impact of innovation solutions on education outcomes. The Office of Applied Innovation also pursues projects in which we can create opportunities, processes, and platforms for ASU units and community partners to access, examine, use, and critically question data to understand, model, visualize, and analyze challenges and opportunities related to our mission.

Supporting Institutional Alliances

Supporting Institutional Alliances

Office leadership and staff support ASU’s membership in various institutional alliances and partnerships to share and scale our work with peers and partners.

Currently, the Office of Applied Innovation is leading ASU’s participation in the Rework America Alliance, a nationwide collaboration led by the Markle Foundations. Members of the Alliance include organizations like the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta; major companies including Google, IBM, Microsoft, McKinsey, and Walmart; the National Building Trades Union, and some of the nation’s largest public interest groups, including the National Urban League and UnidosUS; and educators like Arizona State University. ASU is partnering with the Rework America Alliance to provide training and learning opportunities that will ensure student success and help workers emerge resilient amidst the ongoing health, social justice, and economic crises. We collaborate with the Alliance to design equitable and data-informed structural and education solutions that connect people from all socioeconomic backgrounds to the training and job opportunities they need to become master learners and thrive in the digital economy.

We also lead ASU's membership in the Taskforce on Higher Education and Opportunity, a collective of 38 organizations including 4-year, 2-year, public, private, and HBCU institutions. Each taskforce member commits to taking action through three intiatives: (1) preparing our most vulberable students for security and success in the post-pandemic economy, (2) supporting and partnering with our communities in an inclusive recovery effort through and after COVID-19, and (3) re-imagining the future of higher education in terms of how we deliver quality and accessible education. Contact us for more information on ASU's contributions. 

Social Embeddedness and Responsiveness

Social Embeddedness and Responsiveness

ASU believes that universities must serve as pillars of the community, committed not only to student success but also to the overall well-being and success of the communities we are embedded within. Our office executes on that commitment by connecting with community expertise and being responsive to community needs. We listen to and engage with diverse voices to track and contextualize community challenges and opportunities related to expanding access to educational and economic opportunity. Through that process, we identify emerging areas of focus and strategic priorities for our office.

We initiate and maintain mutually beneficial collaborations with community partners who align with our mission.