Better, Faster, Cheaper

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

Why Big Data Is a Big Deal for Cities

We hear a lot about "big data" and its potential value to government. But is it really fulfilling the high expectations that advocates have assigned to it? Is it really producing better public-sector decisions? It may be years before we have definitive answers to those questions, but new research suggests that it's worth paying a lot of attention to.

University of Kansas Prof. Alfred Ho recently surveyed 65 mid-size and large cities to learn what is going on, on the front line, with the use of big data in making decisions. He found that big data has made it possible to "change the time span of a decision-making cycle by allowing real-time analysis of data to instantly inform decision-making." This decision-making occurs in areas as diverse as program management, strategic planning, budgeting, performance reporting and citizen engagement. READ MORE

The Chief Operating Officer That Every State Needs

As state governments respond to increasing demands for accountability and efficiency, a new job title is popping up in the capitol. More and more, governors are drawing on the experience of the private sector and creating the position of chief operating officer (COO). For advocates of effectiveness in government, it's a trend that ought to be welcome.

So what can a COO do to justify adding another layer of executive management? READ MORE