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Today the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, announced the Top 25 Innovations in Government in competition for the Innovations in American Government Award. Such programs represent the creative problem solving of local, state, and federal municipalities around the country and were selected from a pool of over 560 qualified government applicants. Five finalists and one winner of the Innovations in American Government Award will be announced in the fall.
The Top 25 Innovations in Government offer unique solutions in health and wellness, social services delivery, the environment, economic development, and education policy areas.
In response to the national obesity epidemic, several municipalities have created successful initiatives to promote healthy eating and active living. Somerville, Massachusetts’ Shape Up Somerville has increased youth education on healthy eating and expanded opportunities for more active commuting. Arkansas’ Act 1220: Body Mass Index (BMI) initiative also seeks to curb obesity— through its annual BMI screening of public school students, the state is the first in the nation to successfully report a halt in the progression of childhood obesity. Other health care programs include Healthy San Francisco, which offers universal, affordable health care to San Francisco’s 60,000 uninsured, and the Massachusetts Child Psychiatry Access Project which provides timely psychiatric consultations to children with behavioral health issues.
Many of the Top 25 Innovations provide support to traditionally disadvantaged populations. The Massachusetts SoftSecond Loan Program helps low- to moderate-income residents finance their first home, while New York City’s Court-Based Homelessness Prevention Law Project helps families stay in their homes through anti-eviction legal advocacy support. New York City’s Center for Economic Opportunity funds a host of anti-poverty programs and through ongoing evaluation, expands those that are most effective. The city also coordinates volunteer opportunities that aid underserved communities through the NYC Service program.
A number of the Top 25 initiatives are improving the nation’s use of sustainable energy and the creation and conservation of green spaces. Louisville, Kentucky’s City of Parks is adding over 8,000 acres of parkland and trails to the region and creating alternative transport corridors and new recreation options for residents. While Louisville is creating new green spaces, Oregon’s Statewide Land Use Program focuses on conserving existing green spaces, by maintaining farm and forest lands to support rural agriculture and communities. Other programs such as Maryland’s Generating Clean Horizons and New York’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative are curbing CO2 emissions, introducing clean power utility alternatives, and fostering local job creation.
Much like Maryland and New York’s efforts to improve job growth, many other Top 25 Innovations are enhancing regional economic development efforts. The Department of Treasury’s New Markets Tax Credit Program encourages outside private sector investment in low-income communities through competitive tax credits, while Littleton, Colorado’s Economic Gardening initiative provides resources and support to entrepreneurs and industries native to the area. Additional economic development programs include the Civic Consulting Alliance, which links teams of business experts with government leaders through private-public projects to improve Chicago’s citizen services.
Several of the Top 25 offer smart solutions to tackling the high school dropout rate and retaining quality teachers. Ohio’s Improved Solutions for Urban Systems establishes career-focused charter schools for former dropout students to gain college credits and real-life experience. Similarly, Boston’s Responsive Education Alternatives Lab offers at risk and dropout students a competency-based curriculum with more flexible day and night options. Also in Boston, the Teacher Residency Program’s year-long residency program for aspiring teachers is increasing retention rates of high quality teachers and in turn improving academic outcomes of their students.
“This year’s Top 25 Innovations in Government demonstrate smart solutions to a range of social issues—from expanding green spaces in urban areas, aiding low-income residents with achieving home ownership, and better preparing our next generation of teachers, to fostering economic growth by scaling up home grown industry,” said Anthony Saich, director of the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. “These Top 25 Innovations show that innovation is indeed flourishing at all levels of government.”
The Innovations in American Government Awards was created by the Ford Foundation in 1985 in response to widespread pessimism and distrust in government’s effectiveness. Since its inception, over 400 government innovations across all jurisdiction levels have been recognized and have collectively received more than $20 million in grants to support dissemination efforts. Such models of good governance also inform research and academic study around key policy areas both at Harvard Kennedy School and academic institutions worldwide. Past Innovations winners have served as the basis of case studies taught in more than 450 Harvard courses and over 2,250 courses worldwide.
About the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation
The Roy and Lila Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation advances excellence and innovation in governance and public policy through research, education, and public discussion. Three major programs support our mission: the Program on Democratic Governance; the Innovations in Government Program; and the Rajawali Foundation Institute for Asia. For more information, visit www.ash.harvard.edu.