State and Local Leaders are Setting an Agenda for the Country’s Biggest Challenges

To overcome hurdles, leaders need a solid framework to help implement successful policies and the right mix of collaboration and innovation.
January 29, 2018
David Kidd
By Debbie Cox Bultan  |  Executive Director of The NewDEAL
Data-Driven Dynamically Planned Race-Informed Resident-Involved

In today’s tumultuous times it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture -- that America is fundamentally at a crossroads. The pace of change in our economy and nearly every facet of our lives is accelerating due to unstoppable forces: globalization and technological innovation. These forces have left many Americans behind and will continue to stifle opportunity unless we adapt.

Consider the ongoing impact of automation: Even if technology stopped advancing today, according to McKinsey we could automate 45 percent of activities people are paid to do. That is before further development of driverless cars, drones and artificial intelligence. The new job landscape, which includes a growing “gig” economy of part-time workers and independent contractors, also threatens the stable work environments on which families have long relied to support necessities from health care to retirement savings. Meanwhile, fiscal constraints require government to be more efficient than ever.

Fortunately, these tremendous challenges also come with the chance to harness technology and innovation, solving tough societal problems and creating more opportunities for more people. Productive tools like smarter education and big data have the power to transform communities, but it will take forward-thinking leaders with fresh ideas to make government more effective in taking advantage of these opportunities.

That’s why my organization, NewDEAL (Developing Exceptional American Leaders), is working with 150 state and local leaders from across the country who have proven that such an approach can transform lives for the better. Their work does not fit neatly into the traditional left, center and right divisions of American politics. Instead, they are united by the belief that progress today requires embracing the keys to prosperity in the 21st century, as opposed to trying to turn back the clock to the way America used to be. From their efforts, we know that successful implementation of the right policies requires the type of integrated, collaborative efforts encouraged by Governing’s “Equipt to Innovate” initiative.

Elements of the Equipt framework are reflected in any worthwhile initiative to modernize government. “Data Driven” and “Dynamically Planned” efforts are found in programs through which health inspectors find high-risk restaurants, government provides smoke alarms to households most likely to suffer fatal fires, and, as demonstrated by Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer of NewDEAL, a city tracks locations of breathing problems to help asthma patients and address pollution. Other leaders are using data to engage in better and more sustainable urban planning. And still others like NewDEAL Leader and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg are implementing additional Equipt elements, like engaging residents and addressing historic inequities by making performance data about city services easier to consume, understand and share. His S. Bend Reports data portal has resulted in community discussions about improving city services and has made it possible to measure the impact of services on residents.

To tap into the combined wisdom of innovative leaders, and set a policy agenda for communities across the country, we started NewDEAL’s Ideas Challenge – a competition among our members for their best policy solutions. This year’s honorees include Nebraska Senator Kate Bolz, whose proposal addresses the future of our workforce – and advances the goals of improving equality and using resources effectively -- by providing financial aid to lower-income students taking non-credit courses at community colleges to gain employment in expanding industries. The assistance fills the gap in federal aid and helps strategically address labor shortages.

Rhode Island Treasurer Seth Magaziner is making millions of dollars available to banks and credit unions for small business loans by using existing cash held by state agencies. This effort is a defining example of “smartly resourced” government as it has made capital available to start-ups and innovators without asking taxpayers for any more money.

And Troy Singleton, a state Senator in New Jersey, has responded to the needs of workers in the gig economy by proposing portable benefits that recognize the growing number of temporary and contract employment opportunities who would be helped by keeping their health insurance and retirement savings as they transition among different types of jobs.

The dozens of submissions from leaders across the country included ideas to unify communities around common values and results-oriented policies. The top honorees and finalists represent the most forward-thinking solutions to some of the most intractable public policy challenges: providing access to high-quality education, from early childhood through postsecondary education; spurring innovation and entrepreneurship that creates new products and industries; modernizing the social safety net to reflect the changing nature of work; revitalizing economies in declining rural areas;

and delivering government services in smarter, more effective ways.

These ideas help validate and advance Equipt’s essential elements of good governance and are a “to-do” list for officials across the country, providing a blueprint for those who want to rise above the partisan fray and overcome society’s divisions to move our nation in the right direction.