C-Lab: The Path to Policy Reform Is Paved in Partnership

Aug. 7, 2020
This guest post comes from Taylor Kendal, chief program officer at the Learning Economy Foundation (LEF) and Spencer Ellis, director of innovation at the Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE). Views expressed in guest posts are those of the author.

While innovation, policy reform and infrastructure development historically happen alongside — but more often without — students, the current crisis created by COVID-19 is an opportunity to elevate and integrate student voices into collective efforts and decision-making.

Pilot projects exploring student-owned/controlled digital wallets and learner-centric ecosystem designs can enable a more inclusive social structure that elevates all voices, not just those in positions of privilege or power. How can policymakers empower students to shape policy? What new infrastructure might be imagined if students owned and controlled their own data? How can policymakers create a truly equitable and socially responsible digital democracy?

A good starting place is public-private partnerships like C-Lab, a collaboration between CDHE and LEF.

C-Lab was launched in 2019 to catalyze new conversations at the intersection of technology and policy. Inspired by the CDHE’s involvement with Colorado’s Council for the Advancement of Blockchain Technology, as well as the department’s goals of fostering innovation in education, this statewide community provides Colorado educators and state policymakers with a unified but decentralized ecosystem for innovation, pilots, research and collaboration for the future of education and work. As a practical example, the Colorado Cybersecurity Opportunity Coalition (CO3) has recently emerged out of C-Lab, bringing together a broad network of partners with the shared goal of providing more Colorado students the skills and employer-valued credentials needed to fill the most in-demand cybersecurity jobs in the state.

By taking a community-first approach, co-labs enable cohesion and coherence among otherwise disconnected state pilot networks. For example, the C-Lab Kickoff Event, Monthly Pulse and Stakeholder Action Guide are direct outputs that help to address Gov. Jared Polis’ priority of ensuring all Coloradans have access to opportunities connected to the future of work. While these resources and resulting pilots required a year of community development, Colorado now has a durable foundation from which to responsibly approach infrastructure improvements and policy reform.

In addition to advancing and supporting state goals, ecosystem hubs such as C-Lab can act as a social nucleus and catalyst for a range of complementary regional or state efforts. In Colorado, these efforts include, but are not limited to, My Colorado Journey, the Denver Education Attainment Network, TalentFOUND and OnwardCO. C-Lab has become a neutral hub for these distinct but complementary initiatives to connect, align, learn and work towards elevating shared stories and achieving common interests and goals — namely, to prepare Coloradans to meet the ever-shifting demands of the new economy.

Having established a collaborative community and pilot-project network with shared goals, Colorado is entering an era of technical innovation and progressive policy, grounded in agency, partnerships, collaboration and care.

Author profile

Spencer Ellis

Author profile

Taylor Kendal

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