Confidence in local government continues to be higher than in the federal government, according to recent polling, and the COVID-19 pandemic emphasized the importance of municipal leaders in managing complex problems. Which is why Americans are increasingly looking to mayors and other city officials for effective governance and to truly get things done.

Through the Bloomberg Center for Cities fellowships, Harvard Kennedy School students and recent graduates are applying the expertise they are gaining through their coursework to real-world scenarios. The Bloomberg Center’s Summer and new City Hall Fellowships match students with municipalities in the hope of driving change and innovation. The Bloomberg Harvard City Hall Fellowships are for graduates of Harvard’s graduate degree programs and involve supporting cities for two years. Bloomberg Harvard Summer Fellowships are open to graduate students who are eager to spend the summer embedded in local government.

We looked at three cities in which fellowship recipients are working in collaboration with city leaders to solve pressing challenges.

People in a conference room.

Three cities, three novel approaches

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Mehraan Keval.When Patrick Lyoya, a Congolese refugee, was shot by the police department in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in April 2022, the pre-existing distrust between some city residents and police intensified. The city recognized that it was essential to build stronger partnerships between police and community members, increase the transparency of police actions, and ensure the most-affected communities were involved.

Mehraan Keval MPP 2022, in just the first year of his City Hall Fellowship, is developing a traffic stop study to assess the disparate impacts of Grand Rapids Police Department traffic stops to work towards greater transparency. In addition, Keval is developing a series of community engagement efforts, to begin to rebuild trust between the New American community and law enforcement in Grand Rapids.

“The fellowship in Grand Rapids has been deeply rewarding for me, both personally and professionally,” Keval said. “On a personal level, my father and mother are both naturalized citizens of the United States. My dad was a refugee in Florence for two years before being sponsored by a Lutheran community in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, and my mother came to Fremont, California, to live with her aunt in pursuit of education. I am grateful for the opportunity to leverage my own lived experiences and honor that of my parents at a time where the trust between the New American community and law enforcement is critical in Grand Rapids.”

Tshwane, South Africa

Paul Dingus.The city of Tshwane, South Africa, suffers from extreme water loss, losing more than 30% of their water through leaks, under-billing, and illegal connections. When Paul Dingus MPP 2023 assessed the problem last year during his Bloomberg Harvard Summer Fellowship, he used his experience in data management to assist in creating a solution.

Dingus analyzed Tshwane’s water data collection and storage systems to understand how systems and processes could be improved to better track water loss and create interventions. He also conducted expert interviews, analyzed data, collected research, and compiled resources to write a report that included high-priority interventions the city could act upon in the short term.

By improving the city’s data collection and management systems, Tshwane will be far better positioned to take data-driven and targeted approaches to reducing water leaks and improving delivery. If the city can significantly reduce water loss in the next few years, it would result in millions of dollars in savings and better water service delivery.

Boise, Idaho

Samantha Beck. Samantha Beck MPP 2022 is working with city officials in Boise, Idaho, to address the critical shortage of childcare facilities for its growing population. The city licenses the facilities, which require some of the most resource-intensive application processes for both applicants and city staff. Boise officials wanted to use innovative approaches to tackle challenges like this one and enlisted Beck and the Office of Innovation and Performance to improve the existing process.

With expert support, Beck led a workshop with cross-departmental staff, challenging them to take a customer-centered approach in addressing barriers and bottlenecks. Beck also worked with city leaders to reduce fees for small, in-home childcare providers and drafted an implementation plan with community partners and city leadership.

The City Council is likely to approve policies that will reduce time to issue a new license by 70% (60 days), cut fees by an additional $110 (30%), and reduce the burden on providers by combining city and state inspections. And due to the success of the project, the team is now working to make similar improvements to other licensing and permitting processes.

Through the Bloomberg Harvard City Hall Fellowship, Beck has another year to create more innovative solutions in Boise. And all the fellows have the potential to continue making a difference in communities for years to come.

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