Previous IdeaStarters

Below you will find past IdeaStarter projects and the people who developed them. A very special thank you to all the IdeaStarter project mentors, who continue to play an essential role in supporting IdeaStarter project developments and participant morale! As the IdeaStarter community continues to grow, it’s not only a space to innovate, but to get to know each other while creatively learning and problem solving. IdeaStarter wouldn’t be what it is without all of the people involved, and we're excited about the years of innovation yet to come. 

Past and current project mentors: Shannon Delaney, Ovie Ruffin, Ryan Smith, Shari Metcalf, Emily Rhode (alum), Toney Thompson, Nathalie Floyd, Josh Edwards, Mariel Klein (alum), Sean Doig (alum), Erin Parish


With physical distancing recommendations continuing well into 2021, this was the first cohort developed to run entirely online. Idea Starters leveraged this remote environment in the innovations they developed.

Read the 2021 Ideastarter Annual Report here.

Project TitleDetailsIdea Starters

City website usability testing

Set out to answer these questions: How can we capture and use feedback from website users to help improve their experience? How might we work usability testing into our web development/content creation process? 

Watch a usability test.
View project overview slides.
Katy Dillard, Communications

Herbicide system trackerLeveraged advances in technology to simplify compliance with City protocols, enabling the City to track herbicide use and better protect natural waterways, without severely undermining the efficiency of maintenance companies.

View the new herbicide notification app. *Please do not fill out and submit, as this is now a working form utilized by the Public Works team. 
Sam Jackson and Bill Hailey, Public Works 

Collaborative green resource calendar 

Website showcasing environmental resources, including a list of presentation topics, a form to request a City speaker and and a calendar detailing upcoming environmentally-related events.

Visit the current pilot’s webpage.

Erin Harrison, Water Management 

Futureproof work / outdoor workspace
Set out to retain the positive outcomes realized through the City's response to the pandemic, when the elasticity of paradigms threaten to bring things “back to normal”

An offshoot idea leveraged growing interest in developing more productive outdoor spaces to work and gather.
Dan Vallero and Sean Doig, Public Works 

Arborist trainingSet out to improve the way we identify, engage and train a diverse group of future Durham arborists, in hopes of yielding good-paying arborist jobs filled by diverse, skilled workers and healthy trees in all of our communities.Alex Johnson, General Services 

City & County collaboration 

What began as an idea to create a collaborative policy database, embedding collaboration into existing an process was found to be a more effective starting point. The Capital Improvement Program (CIP) process emerged as a possibility to bring together a cross-departmental group of staff focused on increasing collaboration within the work of equitable CIP project funding. 

Lisa Miller, Planning


The Covid-19 pandemic entered in the first half of the Ideastarter season. While some projects were able to pivot, others were put on hold. We appreciate the creative ideas of all 2020 IdeaStarter Fellows and believe they’re worth sharing and returning to.


Sustainable City Hall
Watch the Compost Training Video with Durham Solid Waste's Muriel Williman

Watch their final presentation

View their pilot materials

Mariel Klein, City Manager’s Office;
Tania Dautlick, General Services 

Grow Your Garden, Grow Your Community This project recruited new and experienced gardeners from 3 departments and explored how we could create a virtual community to support and encourage one another.

Watch his final presentation
Sean Doig, Public Works

GoDurham EngageView their infographicDarin Johnson, Budget and Management Services;
Nathalie Floyd, City/County ICMA Fellow

Mobile Charging StationPeople are becoming dependent on a charge device in order to perform their duties using mobile devices. We can solve this problem by buying a 6-8 count USB “Technology Solutions Mobile Device Charging Station.” [Due to COVID-19, this initiative is on hold indefinitely. This project can easily be implemented once City Hall reopens at its normal capacity.]Frederick Ravin, Technology Solutions

Connecting Microbusinesses to Small-Scale Retail OpportunitiesThis project's goal is to pilot a new small-scale retail opportunity for microbusinesses within a targeted community development area. These small-scale opportunities can help businesses build capacity and move toward self-sufficiency while minimizing initial startup costs. [Due to COVID-19, this project was put on hold and is on track to being integrated into future work plans.]Brian Smith, Office of Economic and Workforce Development


Read the 2019 Ideastarter Annual Report here.


The ExchangeThe Exchange is a series of quarterly opportunities for pairs of employees to meet at a time and location that works best for their schedules. It gives employees from all departments and levels of management a chance to meet and create connections with those around them.Emily Rhode and Miguel Torres, Public Works

City Hall Cars for All
City Hall Cars for All aims to provide employees with access to City vehicles parked at City Hall by creating a pool to allow City employees to reserve and use them, and streamlining the reservation process by loading an inventory of vehicles to be reserved following the same flow as a meeting invite.John Stinson, Technology Solutions

Diccionario Geográfico de Durham 
In alignment with the City of Durham’s commitment to make City services available to all residents regardless of English proficiency, Diccionario Geográfico de Durham is an interactive, responsive web mapping application that utilizes the City’s GIS data to provide up-to-date resource information to our Spanish speaking community.

Quaye Trimble, Technology Solutions

Tech Yeah!
What if Durham could provide a safe space to try these technologies without the associated perceived risk? Durham can with Tech Yeah!: a safe-space “sandbox” governed by tech-enthusiast City employees, funded and supported by City administration, where employees with tech-solvable problems and tech solutions gather and formulate pilot programs.

Daniel Vallero, Public Works


Read the 2018 Ideastarter Annual Report here


Tactical UrbanismDeveloped a “Tactical Urbanism Library,” where different departments and neighborhood groups could “rent out” materials to test ways to calm traffic, set up temporary play spaces, or even pop up shops.Bryan Poole, Transportation; Laura Biediger, Neighborhood Improvement Services

Durham Station Placemaking
Improve the landscape of Durham Station by installing a series of art stencils to brighten the area and engage transit customers.Annette Smith, Parks and Rec; Bill Judge, Transportation; Sara Young, Planning; Kevin Lilley, Stacey Poston and Rod Florence, General Services

Plastic Film Recycling
Tested adding plastic film collection to the array of responsible waste disposal already available in City department buildings, to reduce material sent to the landfill.Dawn Keyser, General Services (Keep Durham Beautiful)

Mail Courier Services
Explored providing mail courier services for the City to save time spent traveling, parking, and returning to satellite locations, which detracts from other primary duties of staff.Jina Propst, General Services

Optimizing Building Inspection Routes
Developed a route planning system that will equally distribute workload among building inspectors and optimize inspection routes by utilizing existing ESRI technology. Currently, inspections are assigned to inspectors by outdated geographical territories and then divided up through a manual process every morning.
Randy Stewart, Inspections


Read the 2017 Ideastarter Annual Report here

Project TitleDetailsIdea Starters

Populating Urban Spaces
Test movable furniture in Black Wall Street Gardens on West Main Street to address under-utilized green space in high pedestrian locations. The three non-movable picnic benches located in this space were outdated, uncomfortable, and did not encourage visitors to spend extended periods of time there.Brian Smith, Office of Economic and Workforce Development

Innovate Durham
Pilot a program for entrepreneurs to apply to develop, test, and scale innovative solutions with the support of Durham data and infrastructure to solve community problems and improve City operations.Ben Kittelson, Budget Management Services

Custodial Door Hanger
Pilot a door hanger that would be designed to allow customers to notify the custodial staff when these items are needed. The backs of the door hangers would also spell out work details that the custodial staff performs in our facilities.Floyd Hood, General Services

Durham Wood Yard
Pilot a Durham Wood Yard in order to make wood material available to residents instead of paying to dispose of it.Alex Johnson, Urban Forestry

Bike Trail Patrol
Test whether using bicycles decreases maintenance hours while increasing the number of trail miles that can be covered in a day. Additionally, the bicycles could help increase the maintenance team's presence on the trails and provide an extra healthy option to maintain trails.Daniel Austin, General Services