Harvard’s Ash Center Launches Government Efficiency Studies Platform


The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government has launched a new website that brings together a repository of government efficiency studies in order to make them useful for policymakers.

The Operational Excellence Project is supported by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and conducted in partnership with United States Common Sense. The project will be directed by Stephen Goldsmith, Director of the Innovations in American Government Awards program and Professor at Harvard Kennedy School.

The Operational Excellence Project identifies service improvement themes across state and local governments by analyzing reports already created by governments and government consultants across the US. The project surveyed thousands of recommendations from over 200 reports and identified the 30 best studies, and then highlighted and analyzed trends and challenges across jurisdictions.

The website represents the first component of the Ash Center’s Laura and John Arnold Foundation grant related to government excellence. Future phases will expand this platform with additional tools for policymakers.

“The goal of this work is really to be a resource for governments before they start calling consultants,” explains Jane Weisman, an Innovations in American Government Fellow at the Ash Center in an interview with CivSource. “If government is considering a new study before they move forward on an initiative, they may be able to find a relevant study that has already been completed on the website. The platform has the potential to remove the first hurdle of a new initiative, such that when governments reach out to consultants they can start with implementation strategies instead of yet another study.”

Weisman, who was involved with curating the reports, says that the first 30 studies made it to the top of the heap because they deal with transformational change at a government-wide level. Another 200 reports will be added over the next few months organized by keyword and theme. These reports will be more granular in nature. Weisman is also open to adding reports submitted to the Ash Center from state and local governments that are interested in sharing their own research.

According to Weisman, many of the topics covered on the platform are evergreen, which gives the findings a pretty long shelf life. “The issues we’re looking at aren’t like technology where if you don’t have the latest thing you’re obsolete. We’ve got a report up about strategic purchasing, for example. Only half of state and local governments use strategic purchasing, so if you’re in the group that hasn’t started yet, this report is going to be helpful to you whenever you begin.”

Weisman estimates that if state and local governments used all of the efficiency recommendations included in the platform, it would lead to approximately $30 billion in net benefits to taxpayers in terms of operational improvements, better services, and a more streamlined government.

“These reports have always been available, but you would have had to know where to find them spread across any number of websites and government agencies,” Weisman says. “We hope that by bringing them together we can create a platform where policymakers interact and can easily find information about best practices instead of having to start from zero.”