Better, Faster, Cheaper

Is It Worth Spending $111,000 to Create One Job?

Recent headlines and new research remind us that when state and local governments bet on specific industries or companies, taxpayers usually lose.

In 2008, Massachusetts launched an initiative that authorized the state's Life Sciences Center to invest $1 billion over a decade ($500 million in grants, $250 million in loans and another $250 million in tax credits) to expand life-sciences-related employment and support research, development, manufacturing and commercialization. READ MORE

The Temptation to Make Somebody Else Pay for Roads

We all enjoy the benefits of things that cost money, but we often have an irresistible desire to pass the expense on to someone else. It rarely ends well when we indulge that particular slice of human nature, which seems to be the path Texas is taking when it comes to highway funding.

For years, Texas was a leader in innovations such as using public-private partnerships to build, operate and maintain new toll roads and developing express lanes that cost more to use but guarantee shorter travel times. These approaches attracted private capital and provided a sustainable way for the fast-growing state to pay for its burgeoning highway needs. They also created a system under which roadways are funded primarily by those who benefit from them instead of from broad-based tax revenues. READ MORE

A $42 Million Bet on Cities and the Power of Data

There is an emerging attention toward performance in city government. But that means we have to create the tools, culture and human infrastructure necessary to drive that performance. The movement to lay this groundwork got an important boost this week when Bloomberg Philanthropies announced its What Works Cities initiative, an integrated set of reforms that aims to transform the effectiveness of local government.

The central innovation of the foundation's $42 million program is to weave together individual components of high-performance governing into a unified picture of how cities can use data and evidence to govern effectively and responsively. The initiative draws attention to the pillars of what works in cities: a focus on public value, a focus on using data relentlessly, a focus on repurposing money from projects that don't work to those that do. In parallel, the program plans to recognize and quantify the success of those cities that are excelling and provide a roadmap for what other cities can do to succeed. READ MORE

The Special Skills an Innovation Team Leader Needs

One is a seasoned businesswoman who's back in her native Mobile, Ala., fighting neighborhood blight. Another is a Peoria, Ill., architect committed to curbing the city's sewer overflows into the Illinois River. Still another is a mayor's aide tasked with leveraging the skills he brought to helping build an open-data portal to revitalizing the commercial districts in Jersey City, N.J.

These are snapshots of just three of the directors who've been chosen to kick-start innovation in 12 cities in the United States and two in Israel. They were hired recently as part of Bloomberg Philanthropies' $45 million expansion of its "i-team" initiative, which funds innovation teams operating out of city halls to creatively tackle seemingly intractable challenges unique to each city. READ MORE

Where There's Smoke, There’s Data

If, as predicted, the tough fiscal times for state and local governments don't end anytime soon, the pressure to embrace innovation will increase. A New Orleans plan that uses data analytics to identify structures that are most vulnerable to fires and distribute smoke alarms to their residents is an example of how local leaders can find ways to do more with less.

New Orleans, like other cities that have responded to the ongoing fiscal challenge by establishing units focused on innovation, developed an Office of Performance and Accountability (OPA). In March the city took the next step, unveiling NOLAlytics, a cross-departmental unit focused on using data to improve government performance. Its first program is Targeted Smoke Alarm Outreach, a joint effort between OPA and the New Orleans Fire Department (NOFD). READ MORE