Better, Faster, Cheaper

A Shared Space for Operational Excellence

Most state and local officials, perhaps contrary to the usual portrayal of government, constantly push to find better ways to accomplish the public's work at lower costs. In doing so, they often look to consulting groups to produce reports that expertly evaluate performance and recommend strategies for operational advancements. Over the last six months, a team of experts at the Harvard Kennedy School has been collecting and analyzing these reports so that a high-quality review from one jurisdiction can be helpful in another.

While each jurisdiction harbors its own localized nuances, governments face the same trials in modernizing. Many challenges -- such as successfully merging departments, providing effective technology structures and maintaining proper staffing levels -- are universal across governments. A consultant's recommendations to the state of Iowa about emergency service dispatch consolidation might, for instance, convey principles that can be applied to the same service in California. READ MORE

Kick-Starting Data-Driven Government

As the civic data field matures, more cities are discovering the value of data to improve government and asking how they can more fully join the movement. The path a public-sector leader should take to move from analog government to analytics-driven decision-making requires following sound advice and proven examples. Purchasing or building a data solution is only worth the investment when accompanied by the right planning, staffing and support to ensure that the tools not only solve an immediate civic problem but will generate long-term improvement.

One source of advice is provided by What Works Cities (WWC), a Bloomberg Philanthropies initiative to help mid-sized cities leverage the power of data and evidence to improve outcomes such as increased public safety and a healthier fiscal bottom line. By working with 100 mid-sized cities in varying stages of their data journeys, the Johns Hopkins' Center for Government Excellence (GovEx), one of the WWC partners, is helping them build capacity for more advanced analytics. And for a small group of qualifying cities, GovEx is piloting an Analytics Kick Start service to identify those that are ready to complete an advanced project and sustain an advanced analytics program. READ MORE

Social Media's Growing Utility for Government

Anyone who doubts that creativity is abundant in the public sector need only scroll through the lists of semifinalists and "Bright Ideas" recognized by the Harvard Kennedy School's Innovations in American Government awards program. The programs being highlighted for this year signal a growing trend of utilizing existing technology platforms, and particularly social media, to reduce program costs and improve services. More often than not, these innovations tap into the practical know-how of digitally savvy public employees to address difficult challenges.

Blighted properties certainly qualify as that kind of challenge, one that many cities struggle to deal with effectively. Mobile, Ala., faced a growing blight problem compounded by incomplete data that relied only on residents' complaints to identify problem properties. So the city's innovation team turned to Instagram. Relying on the GPS information embedded in photos posted on the site, code-enforcement officers snapped and uploaded pictures of blighted properties to a shared account and then transferred the data to a mapping application to create a visual inventory. READ MORE

How Cities Can Help Local Institutions Monetize Their Data

Beyond its promise of transparency and accountability, open data has become a hallmark of good government because of its well documented return on investment for the public. In New York, where I work on implementing the city's vision of "Open Data for All", it is proving to be valuable information resource helping local small businesses compete with large companies.

Government data is an asset whose value otherwise is capped at the operational value it produces internally. Opening it to the public redeploys this asset to encourage entrepreneurialism and innovation outside the four corners of city hall. Recently, the city of Copenhagen used the same logic to drive the value proposition of its open data program to the next level. The city is moving beyond simply making government-collected data available toward spurring the Danish capital's residents, businesses and universities to monetize their own latent information assets. READ MORE

The Nexus Between Data and Public Health

In the not-so-distant past, government's involvement in community health generally was limited to providing services for treating illness. Today, we increasingly define public health in terms of improving wellness. Guided by data-driven insights, cities and counties are moving as never before to address the root causes of illnesses that disproportionately affect their jurisdictions, allowing for more focused prevention and treatment.

Some policymakers have already had notable success with wellness-based approaches to public health. Oklahoma City famously went from the "fattest" to the "fittest" list in 2012 when its residents, led by the once-portly Mayor Mick Cornett, collectively shed a million pounds and recorded their progress on a website devoted to the project. In 2014, Austin, Texas, worked with Children's Optimal Health, an Austin-based nonprofit, to map body mass index and cardiovascular fitness scores and convene educators, health experts and community members. Other interventions in communities around the country -- such as soda taxes, calorie "nudges" and bike-sharing programs --- have shown tremendous promise for improving public health. READ MORE