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Stephanie Wade

Founder and CEO, Ascendant

Stephanie Wade

Stephanie Wade joined the Institute of Design (ID) as an Adjunct Faculty member in 2021 and co-teaches Civic Design. A world leader in civic innovation, she helps public and social organizations create bold new ideas that dramatically improve peoples’ lives globally through program, service, and user-experience (UX) design-based innovation projects. She applies human-centered design, data analytics, and behavioral economics to uncover and better understand complex problems and user interaction experiences, rigorous and insightful analysis to synthesize and evaluate the data, and creativity to quickly develop and implement innovative solutions. Stephanie served as Adjunct Professor and Innovator in Residence at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy from 2016 to 2018.

She holds a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, a bachelor’s from Boston College with an honors degree in sociology and minor in studio arts, and a practitioner’s certificate in Design, Design Thinking, Coaching and Facilitation from the Austin Center for Design.

Industry Experience

Stephanie is the founder and CEO of Ascendant (2021). Through her role there, she helps public and social organizations generate and implement innovative concepts to improve the lives of people globally. Previously, she was Lead for Innovation and Design at Bloomberg Philanthropies (2016–21), heading teams that used design-based innovation, data analytics, and behavioral economics to equip more than a hundred city mayors and staff to build a culture of innovation and tackle significant problems, delivering better results for their residents. Prior to that, Stephanie served as Director of the Innovation Lab at the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM), guiding public-sector staff to drive design-led innovation across the Federal government (2014–16). She also was a design researcher and strategic planner at Booz Allen Hamilton as (2006–14), where she played critical business and methodology development roles. In 2015, Stephanie received the Design Value Award from the Design Management Institute for her team’s work with USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service to apply human-centered design to address longstanding challenges with managing the program that helps children from low-income families get access to healthy meals at school.

Speaking and Publishing

Stephanie has been an invited speaker at national and international events. Her presentations include “Innovation in the City” (International Association of Science Parks Global Virtual Conference, 2021), “Innovation in Government” (Experimentation By Design, Copenhagen, 2020), “What It Takes to Create Impact Inside City Government” (Wonder Woman Tech, Long Beach, CA, 2019), “Innovation Teams: Small but Mighty” (Design For America, Chicago, 2019); “What Does It Mean to Design in Government?” (World Design Week, San Francisco, 2018), and “The Future of Government Innovation” (City Lab, Paris, 2017). Her work has appeared in outlets such as Bloomberg Cities online, and she also appeared on the Fluid Hive podcast to discuss design thinking for the public sector.

Select Work

Journal articles

Wade, Stephanie. 2019. “How to Make Innovation Capacity Stick for the Long Haul,” Bloomberg Cities,, June 5.
Wade, Stephanie. 2018. “Five Qualities Designers Need to Succeed in the Public Sector,” Bloomberg Cities,, July 1.


Wade, Stephanie. 2018. “Design Thinking for the Public Sector,” Fluid Hive, October 8.