Keren Perla

Top 40 Under 40 2017

Photography Daniel Wood

Age: 36

Job Title: Director, Alberta CoLab

Why She’s Top 40: Her innovative, creative approaches to problem-solving have changed how provincial government ministries plan for the future

Keren Perla’s office is full of visuals like Play-Doh and Lego; they’re all part of the unorthodox methods she and her team use to get government employees thinking about multi-faceted, inclusive solutions to complex challenges.

Perla worked in the public sector for seven years when some senior officials wanted to create a full-time, internal initiative that would address design and systems thinking, and she was chosen to lead the team. Now, the four-year-old Alberta CoLab is a customized studio space used by government employees to generate and test out new policies and strategies with diverse feedback. Perla’s team also provides training so that ministries can develop their own spaces using similar approaches internally. The team has been so effective at helping employees re-evaluate government practices they’ve trained over 1,200 ministry employees, have worked on projects in almost every ministry and are a major driver of design and systems thinking for the Alberta Public Service.

“It was the opportunity to do something really different in government,” Perla says. “Introducing something new isn’t about creating the tension between ‘this is awesome’ and ‘the old ways don’t work.’ This is about showing [government ministries] how this can help them continue to do what they’re already doing, but in different ways. It doesn’t matter whether you’re working in energy policy, education, health – these [out-of-the-box] methodologies were high-value and they merited people paying attention to them and learning from them.”

Incubators similar to the CoLab have been adapted internationally, and Perla has spoken about her work with governments from Yukon to Australia.

“The worst thing we can do is feel that the way we’re working is the way we should work forever, or that we can cut and paste solutions,” Perla says. “The concepts and the tools we’re using should be constantly evolving, just being open to trying new things and bringing them into government consciousness and saying ‘hey this is worth looking at and trying.’ I think it’s just pushing people to try and be innovative on a daily basis.”

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