Below, we invite you to explore our 2015 finalists for the Harvard Ash Center's Innovation in American Government Award:
Clean Energy Partnership for Wastewater and Drinking Water Facilities
University of Massachusetts Lowell/US Environmental Protection Agency/Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection/Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources
The Massachusetts Clean Energy Partnership for Wastewater and Drinking Water Facilities addresses energy use, costs, greenhouse gas emissions, and air and water quality tradeoffs in wastewater and drinking water operations, issues that do not fit into traditional regulatory programs. In response to these challenges, federal, state, and municipal governments, energy utilities, professional trade associations, and an institution of higher learning worked together to integrate existing tools and resources (e.g., energy tracking, audits, technical assistance) while also creating new opportunities (e.g., peer learning, policy changes, new funding sources). This collaboration (1) reduced energy use and associated greenhouse gas emissions; (2) increased the on-site generation of renewable energy; and (3) supported a shift in the water sector’s identity from treatment/disposal to “water resource recovery” facilities that produce clean water and recover nutrients while efficiently managing and generating their own energy. What started as an experiment to gauge the potential for significant energy improvements in the water sector has been successfully used in all six New England states and 15 other states and US territories.
Creating Community Solutions
Department of Health and Human Services
In response to the Sandy Hook tragedy, President Barack Obama issued a January 2013 directive to the secretaries of the US Department of Health and Human Services and the US Department of Education to launch a national dialogue on mental health. Knowing these dialogues would require an innovative approach to public participation, the Obama administration reached out to experts in deliberative democracy. The result was a partnership of leading organizations in the field that convened a national participation process aimed at helping communities learn more about mental health issues, assess how mental health problems affect their communities and younger populations, and decide what actions to take to improve mental health in their families, schools, and communities. The initiative began with a series of community dialogues and has since extended to online and text-based support in order to reach the youth population often left out of traditional forms of public engagement.
Engaging Citizens and Problem-Solving Initiative
City of Eau Claire, WI
In 2007, the greater Eau Claire area confronted major fiscal and public-service decisions about funding for over $400 million in community facilities needs for schools, performing arts facilities, libraries, courthouse expansions, sewer plants, parks, and downtown revitalization. In an effort to address these needs, local government officials convened an ad hoc group of government, business, education, and nonprofit leaders in March of that year to discuss how the community could work together more effectively. Partnering with the National Civic League, the group embarked on an inclusive, citizen-centered community visioning and strategic planning process. Over 500 diverse stakeholders were invited to participate in the kickoff to the Clear Vision Eau Claire process, whose mission statement was “to engage our community for the common good.” Working also with the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College, Clear Vision created a model for civic engagement and public problem-solving that brings together everyday people and public leaders in collaborative work. The results in Eau Claire include a community homeless shelter, neighborhood community gardens, youth environmental action teams, and, most recently, approval of a $70 million, public-private joint venture performing arts center and downtown revitalization project, and future plans for a major events and recreation complex.
Five Keys Charter School
City and County of San Francisco, CA
With an unprecedented charter from the San Francisco Unified School District, the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department (SFSD) launched the Five Keys Charter School (5KCS) and began running a high school for adult inmates inside the county’s jails. The school is remarkable not just because of its location and student body, but because of the project’s mission: to decrease recidivism through education. The school was modeled around a unique mission, inspired by serving a population that had previously been unsuccessful in traditional education environments: run a school that inspires inmates to become students and sheriff's deputies to foster learning. Today, FKCS is an award-winning national model, serving 8,000 students annually across California. In contrast to jails where inmates are locked in cells most of the day, and are segregated by gang affiliation and race, Five Keys students spend the day in integrated classes studying for their high school diplomas and discussing the consequences of crime. The model has reduced inmate violence, decreased recidivism, and interrupted cycles of intergenerational incarceration. Ten years later, it remains unique: no other sheriff’s department operates its own charter school.
Kindergarten to College
City and County of San Francisco
San Francisco is the first city to automatically enroll every public school kindergartner in their own college savings account, with a $50 seed deposit and incentives to start saving for college early and often. Over 18,000 students have received accounts and savings participation rates are four times the national average of savings in 529 and Coverdell accounts. The program is designed to increase college enrollment for students from low-income families, reduce the exclusion of low-income families from financial products that produce wealth, and leverage private investment in San Francisco families through matching donations. The process is automatic, universal, scalable, and does not affect families’ eligibility for public benefits.
Medicaid Redesign Team
State of New York
The Medicaid Redesign Team (MRT) is a nationally recognized innovative effort that utilized an intensive stakeholder engagement process to reduce costs in New York’s Medicaid program while focusing on improving quality and implementing reforms. Over its first five years, MRT will save the state and federal governments a combined $34 billion. The MRT changed the political environment by bringing key stakeholders together to develop a multiyear plan for reform. While most observers predicted failure, the process succeeded in part due to strong support from the governor, and the stakeholders were able to come up with a plan to transform the program. Over 230 separate initiatives have been or are still being implemented.
Oregon’s Kitchen Table
State of Oregon
Oregon’s Kitchen Table helps connect elected officials and the public in Oregon in joint projects at nearly every scale (state, regional, local, and even individual) through public consultations, in-person events, civic crowdfunding, and Oregonian-to-Oregonian micro-lending. The program was founded in 2010 at Portland State University by a group of nonprofit community leaders and former elected officials in order to create a permanent civic infrastructure through which Oregonians can access a suite of different opportunities for civic engagement. Each Oregon’s Kitchen Table project includes organizing and outreach components to generate participation from Oregonians.
Participatory Budgeting in New York City
City of New York, NY
Participatory budgeting is a community-level democratic approach to public spending in which local people directly decide how to allocate public funding. Participatory Budgeting in New York City (PBNYC), called “revolutionary civics in action” by the New York Times, is the largest and the fastest-growing participatory budgeting process in the United States. PBNYC’s cycle lasts eight months, beginning with thousands of people attending hundreds of neighborhood assemblies to brainstorm spending ideas that could improve their communities. Hundreds become “budget delegates” and work with their neighbors, elected officials, city agencies and community organizations to create project proposals. This year, more than 40,000 people voted on the projects they want to see in their communities. Winning proposals — such as new computers for underserved public schools, public park renovations, and pedestrian safety improvements — are funded and implemented by the city.
Vacant Land Cleanup & Revitalization Initiative
City of New York, NY
The Vacant Land Cleanup & Revitalization Initiative (VLCRI) addresses social inequality by enabling cleanup and redevelopment of thousands of chronically vacant and abandoned contaminated properties (brownfields) in low- and moderate-income areas in New York City. The city has approximately 4,000 brownfield sites that remain vacant or underutilized because prospective developers fear the risks of environmental liability, construction delays, and cost overruns caused by contamination. Disproportionate occurrence of brownfields in low-income communities represents a profound and largely under-recognized source of social inequality. Since its launch in 2011, the VLCRI has become one of the most prolific cleanup and redevelopment programs in the nation with 310 cleanup projects on 560 tax lots now complete or in the pipeline — producing over 30 million square-feet of new building space, 4,600 new units of affordable housing, hundreds of small businesses, and over 8,000 permanent new jobs — most on chronically vacant land in historically disadvantaged neighborhoods. VLCRI also has a powerful return on investment, facilitating over $8 billion in new private investment and resulting in new, long-term tax revenue of over $1 billion each for the city and the state.