Feather O'Connor Houstoun, who has held positions at every level of government, is a senior adviser to the Wyncote Foundation on public media and journalism and a former president of the William Penn Foundation. She was a member of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission from December 2011 to October 2016.

Houstoun served as Pennsylvania's secretary of public welfare during Gov. Tom Ridge's administration, New Jersey state treasurer under Gov. Tom Kean, chief financial officer of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, and in a number of senior positions with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Feather O'Connor Houstoun
May 15, 2019

Criminal Justice Reform Done Right

In turning its bail system around, New Jersey has shown a capacity for evidence-based policy innovation that's likely to serve as a national model.
January 29, 2019

Meeting the Management Challenges of Reunifying Families

Timely housing assistance is crucial, but it can be tricky to overcome institutional barriers.
October 10, 2018

Philanthropy’s Real Value to the Public Sector

It can catalyze government to take risks, move quickly and pay attention to neglected issues.
June 27, 2018

Lessons for Program Design From a Food-as-Medicine Experiment

The spread of an innovative program piloted in Philadelphia is the result of persistence, rigorous study and evaluation, along with efforts to avoid common pitfalls.
March 14, 2018

A Powerful Tool for Getting Citizens Involved

By engaging residents on issues of climate and weather, it demonstrates how program design can be improved and strengthened.
December 6, 2017

Shaking Up Sleepy Bureaucratic Processes

It's called 'service design.' The idea is to combine behavioral science with a participatory approach to making public services work better.
August 30, 2017

A Transformative Shift for Juvenile Justice

The accelerating move away from punitive detention recognizes a critical factor: Adolescent brains are different.
February 21, 2017

The Promise and Perils of ‘Moving the Boxes’

Reorganizing a government's agencies and services -- whether consolidating them or breaking them up -- isn't easy. There are some important things to keep in mind.
November 2, 2016

What Plumbers Can Teach Public Managers

When a program is dysfunctional, the problem is often in the pipes and valves it flows through.
July 27, 2016

Public Policy and the Blame Game

Instead of working to solve problems like underfunded pensions, too often we spend our time and energy pointing fingers.
April 20, 2016

The Complex Challenges of Measuring the Impact of Social Programs

As efforts to evaluate housing programs illustrate, it's difficult to make precise comparisons. But it's worth the effort.
January 20, 2016

Public Leadership and the Gift of Time Well Spent

Civic innovation can improve the way government works, but it needs a long runway.
September 30, 2015

How Philadelphia Is Watering Community Creativity

A project to fix the city's stormwater problems has blossomed into so much more.
June 23, 2015

Can Comprehensive Collaboration Improve Outcomes for Students?

Experiments in the Seattle area that involve an array of organizations have ambitious goals.
April 1, 2015

An Intriguing New Approach to Funding Social Programs

Pay-for-success programs seem to hold promise as a way to find the up-front investments for programs that save money in the long run.
December 17, 2014

The Public-Administration Quandary: ‘Who’ vs. ‘What’

In the end, it's usually better to define what a service should be before deciding who should deliver it.
September 10, 2014

When a Public Agency Is Badly Broken

What happened to the VA can happen to any government institution. New leadership is just the first step on the road to reform.
May 14, 2014

How a Community's Culture Can Make or Break Government Reform

The story of Italy's effort to decentralize its governmental functions offers lessons for innovators everywhere.
February 24, 2014

Government Programs and the Challenge of Proving Downstream Savings

The assertion that a program will save more money than it costs in the long term is a difficult one to demonstrate.
November 13, 2013

When Connection is the Innovation in Human Services

A journal launched by two Philadelphia social services entrepreneurs is going a long way toward spreading the word about what works and what doesn't.
August 7, 2013

Harnessing Flexibility in the Delivery of Human Services

Despite an accompanying funding cut, a block-granting experiment in Pennsylvania is showing promise for improving the way vulnerable populations are helped.
May 15, 2013

Public Management and the Challenge of the Last Mile

Sometimes even the best program design and execution fail to get a government service to a recipient who needs it. There are ways to overcome those final hurdles.
February 27, 2013

How Two Princetons Became One

Taking advantage of a state law encouraging local-government consolidations, the two New Jersey municipalities found a path that other places might follow.
November 28, 2012

Can 'Talent Injection' Remake Social Services?

A foundation's experiment with providing experts to public agencies is showing promise as a way to make a big difference at a relatively modest cost.
September 26, 2012

Shared Services and the Velveteen Rabbit Factor

One of the biggest barriers to consolidating service delivery is a jurisdiction's fear that it will lose its individual identity. There are ways to deal with that.
July 25, 2012

Harnessing the Strength of Teams

Talk of teamwork in public agencies is often just that — a lot of talk. Making them work is about getting the framework right.
May 9, 2012

Collective Impact and the Modern City

Tireless collaboration led to a revamped development process that promises to help revitalize Philadelphia.
February 29, 2012

A Portfolio of Schools

Treating district-run schools and charters the same promises to turn traditional education administration inside out.
December 7, 2011

Moneyball Government

The way evidence-based analysis—rather than what ‘passes for wisdom’—turned a losing baseball team into a winner has powerful lessons for government decision-making.
September 28, 2011

The Fiscal Conversation We Need

The budget stress that governments face now is structural, not cyclical. What’s called for is an examination of the entire public enterprise.
July 20, 2011

Collaboration Done Right

A public-private coalition of adoption services in Texas is getting many more kids into homes and saving money in the process.
May 25, 2011

Collaboration's Collective Impact

A successful program is one that effectively captures the interest of public and private entities.
March 30, 2011

Increase Transparency and Efficiency in Government

How? Foster transparency initiatives that make data actionable.
February 2, 2011

Knowing What Works: Evaluating Evidence-Based Programs

What if a program is not producing the results desired? Should state and local officials immediately scrap it?
December 22, 2010

Transforming Juvenile Justice

In these times of crisis, juvenile justice reform is politically saleable, cost effective and smart.
October 6, 2010

Telling the Electorate a Story

A smart communicator tells a story that sets the stage for policy decisions.
October 6, 2010

Persuading an Audience

A good narrative sells any policy decision.
September 1, 2010

Technology: Infrastructure's Savior

Technology is helping public officials make more safety-informed decisions that stretch public dollars.
September 1, 2010

Proposed Stormwater Plan in Philadelphia Emphasizes Green Infrastructure

A plan in Philadelphia to build a greener, more sustainable stormwater system may well blast green infrastructure into the mainstream.
September 1, 2010

New Technology Tells Whether Bridges are "Dead or Alive"

Evolving bridge sensor technology offers tools to far more accurately assess the structural health of existing bridges.
July 21, 2010

Green City, Clean Water

An unprecedented plan to tackle stormwater runoff hits the streets of Philadelphia.
July 21, 2010

From Grey to Green in the Concrete Jungle

A plan in Philadelphia to build a greener, more sustainable stormwater system may well blast green infrastructure into the mainstream.

Broke, Broken or Both

How to discern clues that a public-sector program is out of money and underperforming.
May 26, 2010

Clues to a Broke, Broken Program

How to discern clues that a public-sector program is out of money and underperforming.

Three Envelopes and the Challenge of Long-Term Planning

Obvious but rarely used strategies to good governance and future decision-making.

Why Magic Bullets May Miss the Mark

Promising social programs can fail. A simple framework can vet the ones doomed to failure and primed for success.

Mending Safety Nets with Technology

How a nonprofit start-up turned a process full of vertical hurdles into a client-centric safety net.

The Wrong Kind of Silos for Rural America

When goals are in conflict, it's time look for common interests. A non-governmental initiative offers lessons for public managers.

The Need for a Stimulus Speed Bump

The rush to spend stimulus money as quickly as possible is fraught with management risks.

Leaky Roofs and Windows

There's no time like hard times to take a close look at duplicative programs.

Fighting Fires by Lighting Fires

A paradigm shift provides a valuable lesson for public management.

Sipping from the Broadband Fire Hose

It's become clear that a fast Internet connection does not necessarily equal fast access to opportunity.

When 'Stat' Programs Meet the Ossified Enterprise

All the measurements and accountability sessions in the world can miss the boat, writes Feather O'Connor Houstoun, if they don't inspire the redesign of broken systems.

As the Boomers Ebb, What Will the Tide Bring In?

If the public sector has lost its appeal to new generations, writes Feather O'Connor Houstoun, then surely its reinvention should be approached with an opportunistic mindset.

Mixing Cocktails for School Reform

It takes all kinds and types of approaches to close the achievement gap, writes Feather O'Connor Houstoun.

Smart Growth and the Herding of Cats

Without strong executive leadership and teamwork, cross-agency acceptance of a smart growth agenda is a long shot.