Cambridge, MA – Today, the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University announced the finalists for the 2018 Innovations in American Government Award. Seven programs, listed below, will compete for a $50,000 grand prize this fall in Cambridge.

For over 30 years, the Innovations in American Government Award has recognized public-sector programs that make American government, at all levels, more efficient, creative, and effective at addressing social problems and providing services to the public. The award recently restructured its broad-based policy outlook to focus an annual award cycle on a single, intractable problem in American society.

“Income inequality is one of the defining issues of our time,” said Tony Saich, Ash Center director and Daewoo Professor of International Affairs. “For much of its history, America has been an engine of mobility as successive generations have risen up the economic and social ladder, and that promise is in peril.”

“Our goal was to profile programs and approaches that had a demonstrated impact in improving opportunity and wealth-creation for groups that had historically been left behind,” said Stephen Goldsmith, Daniel Paul Professor of the Practice of Government and the director of the Innovations in American Government Program. “This year's finalists prove that government at all levels can have a profoundly positive effect on social and economic mobility.”

This year, the award looked for initiatives that had success in increasing the prosperity of communities, particularly programs that expanded opportunities to groups that had been historically excluded from access.

Selected by a team of policy experts, researchers, and practitioners, the finalists were chosen for their novelty, effectiveness, significance, and transferability, as well as their impact on issues of economic and social mobility, inequity, and stratification. In honor of their achievement all finalists will receive a monetary grant.

Representatives from each finalist program will present to the National Selection Committee of the Innovations in American Government Awards on Thursday, September 27, with the winner to be announced later this year. Further information on the presentations, including video livestream details, will be released in the coming month.

About the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation

The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation advances excellence in governance and strengthens democratic institutions worldwide. Through its research, education, international programs, and government innovations awards, the center fosters creative and effective government problem-solving and serves as a catalyst for addressing many of the most pressing needs of the world’s citizens. For more information, visit

The 2018 Innovations in American Government Award Program Finalists

Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program
State of Alaska

Alaska natives, more than any other demographic in the state, have historically been less likely to pass standardized tests and more likely to drop out of school. In 2014, only 5 percent of Alaska native graduating seniors met all four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks. As a result, a majority of Alaska natives are unable to pursue careers reliant on a college education and, specifically, are underrepresented in the science and engineering professions.

The Alaskan Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP) works with indigenous youth in some of the most remote areas of the country to encourage the development of STEM skills to prepare them for future job opportunities. The program starts working with students as early as kindergarten and engages with them every year all the way through PhD programs. Program components include a residential science and engineering experience for middle school students and a full-time ANSEP Acceleration High School where students learn from university faculty and STEM practitioners to earn high school and university credits simultaneously.

Arches Transformative Mentoring
City of New York, New York

A criminal conviction can have a crippling effect on an individual’s economic mobility. To facilitate the economic advancement of young adult probation clients and reduce recidivism, the New York City Department of Probation, Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity, and Young Men’s Initiative launched the Arches Transformative Mentoring program in 2011. The program, targeted to youths aged 16–24 with low education levels and minimal employment histories who live in communities that offer limited access to economic advancement opportunities, is centered on community-based mentoring, job training, and social skills development.

Arches Transformative Mentoring works with young people in their own neighborhoods, connecting them with “credible messenger” mentors—individuals who have backgrounds similar to the participants, including prior involvement with the justice system. Each mentor works with a maximum of four program participants and leads small group meetings guided by a 48-session evidence-based curriculum that employs cognitive behavioral interventions. Mentors are available around the clock for support outside of sessions and, alongside probation officers, help these youths make better and safer decisions, pursue their goals, and connect to educational and employment opportunities.

Army Career Skills Program
U.S. Army

In 2013, the Army paid $432 million in unemployment compensation to veterans. Soldiers are known for their work ethic and soft skills, but upon leaving the Army many were entering the civilian sector without the expertise needed to obtain in-demand jobs like those in the skilled trades or in technical services. To close this skills gaps and help soldiers land rewarding jobs, the Department of Defense and the Army launched the Army Career Skills Program.

Through the program, up to 180 days prior to separation from the Army, soldiers are able to participate in apprenticeships, on-the-job training, job shadowing, internships, and employment-skills training. By participating in various sub-programs, soldiers can earn industry-recognized credentials, and corporate partners guarantee interviews for future job opportunities to soldiers that complete specialized training.

Crisis Intervention Response Unit
City of Denver, Colorado

In 2015, Denver city leaders from key health and public safety departments recognized that law enforcement officers were increasingly being dispatched to respond to individuals with mental health issues or in crisis, and that the criminal justice system is not designed to adequately address their needs. To address this critical gap, the Denver Police Department created the Crisis Intervention Response Unit (CIRU).

CIRU pairs licensed clinicians with police officers responding to calls for service involving individuals with suspected or known mental health needs. Since the program’s inception, clinicians have also been deployed to support Denver’s Downtown Detention Center and Harm Reduction Action Center, assist at-risk adult and intellectually/developmentally delayed victims involved in Special Victims Unit investigations, and aid the Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team.

San Francisco Financial Justice Project
City and County of San Francisco, California

Local fines and fees are common tools to disincentivize behavior and supplement public budgets. However, in 2016, the City and County of San Francisco realized that leveraging these tools had unintended consequences: pushing residents into, or further into, poverty. In response, the city launched the San Francisco Financial Justice Project, and from it convened the San Francisco Fines and Fees Task Force, to assess and reform how fines and fees impact its most vulnerable residents.

In 2017, the task force released over 30 recommended reforms across six policy areas, including reforms targeting traffic and criminal justice fines and fees, and child support debt owed to the government. Today, the project has successfully launched and implemented policy and administrative changes across the City and County of San Francisco that hold people accountable but do not push them into financial distress. For example, San Francisco is eliminating all locally controlled administrative fees charged to people exiting the criminal justice system. The project has also worked with the San Francisco courts to base fines and fees on people’s ability to pay.

Supervised Release
City of New York, New York

The money-bail system was originally created to enable the accused to return to their families and continue working while awaiting trial. Yet today, the inability to pay bail has become the sole reason many individuals remain in jail. To remove this financial burden while ensuring individuals return to court, New York City created an alternative: Supervised Release.

A tool developed specifically for the city analyzes individuals awaiting criminal court arraignment and identifies, based on criminal history, warrant history, and other data, those who have a low or medium risk of reoffending or fleeing before trial. Judges can then choose to release these individuals into the Supervised Release program where they will be monitored in their community using evidence-driven tactics, ranging from text message and phone call reminders in advance of court days to in-person meetings with a social worker. While awaiting trial, released individuals are referred to services that can help prevent future contact with the criminal justice system.

Works Wonders
State of Rhode Island

An increasing amount of data shows that youths in, and aging out of, the foster care system are at greater risk for incarceration, unemployment, low educational attainment, poverty, mental health problems, and homelessness. Key stakeholders in the Rhode Island foster care system, from both the public and nonprofit sectors, worked together to create Works Wonders, a program that enables foster-care youth to attain job skills and training.

Works Wonders’ youths, ages 16 to 24, are connected to a network of employers; training, certification, and education programs; and laddering opportunities, and are met where they are in terms of their skill level, needs, and life circumstances. Works Wonders does not simply place these foster care youths in jobs, but works to help them connect with a career, building the social competencies that are necessary for positive, productive relationships.


Daniel Harsha
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