Harvard announces top 25 in government innovation


The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University has announced its Top 25 programs in this year’s Innovations in American Government Award competition. These government initiatives represent the dedicated efforts of city, state, federal, and tribal governments and address a host of policy issues including crime prevention, economic development, environmental and community revitalization, employment, education, and health care. Selected by a cohort of policy experts, researchers, and practitioners, four finalists and one winner of the Innovations in American Government Award will be announced in the fall.

“We are trying to foster a culture of risk taking and innovation in government,” explains Stephen Goldsmith, Director of the Innovations in Government Program, Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Harvard Kennedy School in an interview with CivSource.

The Innovations in American Government Awards was created by the Ford Foundation in 1985 to shine a light on effective government programs. Since its inception, over 400 government innovations across all jurisdiction levels have been recognized and have collectively received more than $20 million in grants to support dissemination efforts. Such models of good governance also inform research and academic study. The Center also recently announced 13 programs as Bright Ideas, an initiative of the broader Innovations in American Government Awards program.

“So far, over 85% of these programs have been replicated or served as a model for other governments nationwide,” said Kara O’Sullivan, Associate Director of the Innovations in Government Program, Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Harvard Kennedy School.

One of the more well-known examples of this replication effort is CompStat. CompStat was an Innovations in American Government Award winner in 1996. Created by the NYC Police Department, CompStat uses crime statistics to push precinct commanders to greater awareness and command of the immediate on-the-ground crime situation. This program is now part of law enforcement across the country, Goldsmith explains. Homebase,(a 2013 Top 25) follows a similar evidence-based model to target and aid families at imminent risk for homelessness.

This year, the Ash Center received over 600 applications and asked these 25 to submit a more detailed account of their work. From that, a jury of experts will then choose the top five. Projects included in the top 25 come from all over the country, and tackle issues ranging from arts programs, to human services. Federal projects include Challenge.gov and National Coordination of Health IT from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

A number of this year’s Top 25 programs foster a new culture of innovation through online collaboration and crowdsourcing. Signaling a new trend in government, these programs encourage the generation of smart solutions to existing and seemingly intractable public policy problems. LAUNCH—a partnership among NASA, USAID, the State Department, and NIKE—identifies and scales up promising global sustainability innovations created by individual citizens and organizations. The General Services Administration’s Challenge.gov uses crowdsourcing contests to solve government issues: government agencies post challenges, and the broader American public is awarded for submitting winning ideas. The Department of Transportation’s IdeaHub also uses an online platform to encourage its employees to communicate new ideas for making the department more adaptable and enterprising.

In addition to the top 25 awards, Goldsmith has recently launched Data-Smart City Solutions – a new site designed to catalyze local government efforts to implement data, analytics, and civic engagement technologies that transform the way government operates. He says that through this website, they will explore the ways cities are starting to upgrade and use new technologies to improve government service delivery.

“We want to show people that government is not all bad by highlighting examples of when it works and what government can do for people,” he says. “Citizens have the highest levels of efficacy for their local governments, and this is a way to point out more of what they are doing.”