The Rise of Local Governance
Local governments are laboratories of innovation, spawning countless new ideas to solve the challenges of twenty first century governance. The Ash Center has grown into an intellectual home for scholars and practitioners prioritizing the study of local governance by rigorously examining the institutional, cultural, historical, and economic variables that have powerfully shaped governance outcomes -- from developed political economies like the United States to the less developed economies of Asia.
The Ash Center leverages regional depth to identify common frameworks, resources, and platforms of innovation to improve governance on a number of fronts, from enhancing the provision of public goods and services to local citizens, to strengthening national policy making capacity, to exploring mechanisms for increasing regional environmental sustainability. Advancing this research agenda comes with distinct challenges. Regional knowledge – knowledge of “place” – often requires expertise in local language, culture, norms, political institutions, and economics. Regional innovation models typically must be reframed to succeed in other contexts. The Ash Center rises to this challenge and shares the rich insights yielded from this local approach to governance.
In addition, the Ash Center has targeted initiatives to engage and promote innovation at the local level. Our Project on Municipal Innovation is a unique platform for cities to share and adapt best practices and innovative policy ideas that increase efficiency and improve the lives of citizens. Our Project on County Innovation provides leading county officials with a unique environment to share challenges and innovative solutions that can increase efficiencies and data-driven solutions to improve county residents’ quality of life. Our Project on State Innovation brings together governors’ chiefs of staff for in-depth conversations which merge policy and best practices. Our Data-Smart City Solutions project is working to catalyze adoption of data projects on the local government level by serving as a central resource for cities in this emerging field. Most recently, an award from the Arnold Foundation is allowing us to establish a network of Chief Data Officers in major cities through the U.S.
This approach to local governance has been powerfully modeled in China as well, through the Ash Center China Programs. A major partner of the Ash Center China Programs, the Central Translation Bureau of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), has established a similar national awards program for the past several years, entitled Innovations and Excellence in Chinese Local Governance Awards. These awardees in local government innovation have also provided case study materials for a major academic partner of Ash, Tsinghua University’s School of Public Policy and Management.
The Ash Center’s Innovations in American Government Awards and the Innovations and Excellence in Chinese Local Governance Awards are members of the Global Public Innovation Network, which was established in 2002 through support from the Ford Foundation as a means to enhance the collaboration among ten awards and recognition programs around the world for shared learning and global dissemination of individual and collective knowledge and experiences. Finally, innovative practices from across the globe are captured on the Ash Center’s Government Innovators Network, our online marketplace of ideas and examples of government innovation for policymakers and practitioners.
The Center's Myanmar and Indonesia Programs pursue a number of research projects which focus in whole or in part on policy solutions to challenges of local governance. In the case of Myanmar, the Myanmar Program and local partner Proximity Designs aim to develop a more systemic and sophisticated appreciation of the issues local actors as well as national institutions face as the country's evolving leadership faces key questions over Myanmar's future economic, political, and social development. In Indonesia, the Ash Center pursues research projects focusing on policy solutions to the local and regional challenges facing such a diverse and sprawling young democracy. The program works closely with Indonesian scholars, policymakers, and business leaders to strengthen policy education and research in Indonesia and to link Indonesia to regional and global knowledge networks.
Through an annual series of Asia Public Policy Forums, the Ash Center’s Rajawali Foundation Institute for Asia has sought to stimulate discussion of challenging policy issues, many with particular salience for local governments and communities across the region by convening senior practitioners, university faculty, and researchers from East and Southeast Asian and the United States. Since 2011, five APPFs have been held in Jakarta, Indonesia; Singapore; and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – each with a local partner university or co-sponsoring organization. Topics have included Energy, Innovation, and Sustainable Development; Disaster Management in Asia; Poverty, Inequality, and Social Protection; Urban Transport and Land Use in Rapidly Growing Asian Cities; and Financing and Delivery of Public Health Services.