Publications

    BenePhilly, City of Philadelphia: Innovations in American Government Award Case Study

    Betsy Gardner, January 2022 

    The American social safety net exists to meet needs for: unemployment assistance, supplemental money for food, help with health care costs and medical expenses, and more. However, the process of signing up for these services is often time-consuming, confusing, repetitive, and frustrating.

    To address these challenges, the Philadelphia-based nonprofit Benefits Data Trust (BDT) developed BenePhilly, in partnership with the City of Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Departments of Aging and Human Services, to inform people of their eligibility for benefits and assist them in quickly and efficiently enrolling. This paper is a case study of the BenePhilly program and will serve as a guide to replicate its success. By using proven, data-driven methods, the program connects high-need, eligible individuals with up to 19 different benefits, all while reducing overall poverty, providing a better application experience, and increasing trust in local government.

    BenePhilly is a network of government agencies, nonprofits, and community-based organizations connecting Philadelphians to benefits through targeted, data-driven outreach, referrals from a network of organizations, and in-person and telephone application assistance. The trained staff at both BDT and the nonprofit organizations embedded in the communities they serve help individuals easily find and enroll in benefits. According to BDT’s Chief Strategy Officer Pauline Abernathy, BenePhilly has helped more than 125,000 Philadelphia residents secure over $1.6 billion in benefits as of January 2021.

    Toward a Smarter Future: Building Back Better with Intelligent Civil Infrastructure -- Smart Sensors and Self-Monitoring Civil Works

    Stephen Goldsmith, Betsy Gardner, and Jill Jamieson; September 2021 

     

    The United States needs to build better infrastructure. The current repairs and replacements are disorganized and patchwork, resulting in unsafe, costly, and inequitable roads, bridges, dams, sidewalks, and water systems. A strategic, smart infrastructure plan that integrates digital technology, sensors, and data not only addresses these issues but can mitigate risks and even improve the conditions and structures that shape our daily lives.

     

    By applying data analysis to intelligent infrastructure, which integrates digital technology and smart sensors, we can identify issues with the country’s roadways, buildings, and bridges before they become acute dangers. First, by identifying infrastructure weaknesses, smart infrastructure systems can address decades of deferred maintenance, a practice that has left many structures in perilous conditions. Sensors in pavement, bridges, vehicles, and sewer systems can target where these problems exist, allowing governments to allocate funding toward the neediest projects.

    From there, these sensors and other smart technologies will alert leaders to changes or issues before they pose a danger—and often before a human inspector can even see them. The many infrastructure emergencies in the U.S. cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars each year, so identifying and fixing these issues is a pressing security issue. Further, as the changing climate leads to more extreme weather and natural disasters, the safety and resiliency of the country’s infrastructure is an immediate concern. Sensor systems and other intelligent infrastructure technology can identify and mitigate these problems, saving money and lives.

    In addition, intelligent infrastructure can be layered onto existing infrastructure to address public health concerns, like monitoring sewer water for COVID-19 and other pathogens or installing smart sensors along dangerous interstates to automatically lower speed limits and reduce accidents. It can also be used to improve materials, like concrete, to reduce the carbon footprint of a project, ultimately contributing to better health and environmental outcomes.

    Finally, addressing inequities is a major reason to utilize intelligent infrastructure. Research shows that people of color in the U.S. are exposed to more pollutants, toxic chemicals, and physical danger through excess car emissions, aging water pipes, and poor road conditions. The implementation and funding of these intelligent infrastructure projects must consider where—and to whom—harm has traditionally been done and how building back better can measurably improve the quality of life in marginalized and vulnerable communities.

    While there are challenges to implementing a sweeping intelligent infrastructure plan, including upfront costs and security concerns, all levels of government play a role in achieving a safer society. At the federal level, with infrastructure funding bills being debated at this moment, the government must look beyond roads and bridges and consider that intelligent infrastructure is a system: upheld, connected, and integrated by data. Through grants, incentives, and authorized funding, the federal government can effect monumental change that will improve how all residents experience their daily lives. At the state level, budgeting with intelligent infrastructure in mind will encourage innovative approaches to local infrastructure. And on a municipal level, cities and towns can invest in comprehensive asset management systems and training for local workers to best utilize the intelligent infrastructure data.

    Getting Value from Workforce Stimulus Investments: What Works in Youth Workforce Programs and How to Grow the Evidence Base

    Jane Wiseman, November 2020 

    The current economic crisis will likely inspire federal investment in training for unemployed and underemployed Americans. When funds are made available for youth workforce development, transparent reporting and publication of results data should be required. User-friendly reports should be created that enable unemployed and underemployed Americans to see which training providers achieve the best results, much as the current College Scorecard helps youth and their families evaluate colleges. This will benefit program recipients, the taxpayer, and society at large. Evidence about what works for youth workforce development is still in an early stage of maturity, so upcoming investments present an opportunity to advance the state of knowledge. With this data and insight, future investments can continue to fund effective programs and ineffective ones can be discontinued.

    Henson, Eric, Miriam R. Jorgensen, Joseph Kalt, and Megan Hill. 2020. “Federal COVID‐19 Response Funding for Tribal Governments: Lessons from the CARES Act”. Read the full report Abstract

    Eric C. Henson, Megan M. Hill, Miriam R. Jorgensen & Joseph P. Kalt; July 2020 

    The federal response to the COVID‐19 pandemic has played out in varied ways over the past several months.  For Native nations, the CARES Act (i.e., the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) has been the most prominent component of this response to date. Title V of the Act earmarked $8 billion for tribes and was allocated in two rounds, with many disbursements taking place in May and June of this year.

    This federal response has been critical for many tribes because of the lower socio‐economic starting points for their community members as compared to non‐Indians. Even before the pandemic, the average income of a reservation‐resident Native American household was barely half that of the average U.S. household. Low average incomes, chronically high unemployment rates, and dilapidated or non‐existent infrastructure are persistent challenges for tribal communities and tribal leaders. Layering extremely high coronavirus incidence rates (and the effective closure of many tribal nations’ entire economies) on top of these already challenging circumstances presented tribal governments with a host of new concerns. In other words, at the same time tribal governments’ primary resources were decimated (i.e., the earnings of tribal governmental gaming and non‐gaming enterprises dried up), the demands on tribes increased. They needed these resources to fight the pandemic and to continue to meet the needs of tribal citizens.

    Eric C. Henson, Megan M. Hill, Miriam R. Jorgensen & Joseph P. Kalt; July 2020 

    In this policy brief, we offer guidelines for federal policy reform that can fulfill the United States’ trust responsibility to tribes, adhere to the deepest principles of self‐governance upon which the country is founded, respect and build the governing capacities of tribes, and in the process, enable tribal nations to emerge from this pandemic stronger than they were before. We believe that the most‐needed federal actions are an expansion of tribal control over tribal affairs and territories and increased funding for key investments in tribal communities. 

    Fiscal Strategies to Help Cities Recover—And Prosper
    Goldsmith, Stephen, and Charles “Skip” Stitt. 2020. “Fiscal Strategies to Help Cities Recover—And Prosper.” Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. Read the full report Abstract

    Stephen Goldsmith and Charles "Skip" Stitt, May 2020 

    Despite robust economies, many local officials entered 2020 already worried about budget balances that looked fragile in the short term and problematic in the long term due to enormous pension and health-care issues. Today, in the wake of COVID-19, clearly federal support is necessary, but it is also apparent that it cannot alleviate all the pressures on communities as responsibilities related to the pandemic skyrocket while revenues plummet.

    While many public managers will rightly deploy a host of tactical cost-cutting measures, the most creative among them will explore deeper and more strategic changes, such as those presented herein, which will help address the current crisis while preparing their cities for the future. This paper suggests a transition to a culture deeply focused on data, incentives for city workers to produce internal reforms, public-private partnerships that monetize operational excellence, and rapid adoption of both new technologies and good ideas borrowed from other jurisdictions. These more deliberate and strategic approaches may be harder to implement but those offered here need not harm incumbent public employees nor negatively impact cities’ efforts to ensure access and equity. Rather, the strategies we outline should strengthen the efficiency and mandates of existing government offices while helping make cities more resilient and better prepared for tomorrow’s challenges.

    Randall K.Q. Akee, Eric C. Henson, Miriam R. Jorgensen, and Joseph P. Kalt; May 2020 

    Title V of the CARES Act requires that the Act’s funds earmarked for tribal governments be released immediately and that they be used for actions taken to respond to the COVID‐19 pandemic. These may include costs incurred by tribal governments to respond directly to the crisis, such as medical or public health expenditures by tribal health departments. Eligible costs may also include burdens associated with what the U.S. Treasury Department calls “second‐order effects,” such as having to provide economic support to those suffering from employment or business interruptions due to pandemic‐driven business closures. Determining eligible costs is problematic.

    Title V of the CARES Act instructs that the costs to be covered are those incurred between March 1, 2020 and December 30, 2020. Not only does this create the need for some means of approximating expenditures that are not yet incurred or known, but the Act’s emphasis on the rapid release of funds to tribes also makes it imperative that a fair and feasible formula be devised to allocate the funds across 574 tribes without imposing undue delay and costs on either the federal government or the tribes.

    Recognizing the need for reasonable estimation of the burdens of the pandemic on tribes, the authors of this report propose an allocation formula that uses data‐ready drivers of those burdens.  Specifically, they propose a three‐part formula that puts 60% weight on each tribe’s population of enrolled citizens, 20% weight on each tribe’s total of tribal government and tribal enterprise employees, and 20% weight on each tribe’s background rate of coronavirus infections (as predicted by available, peer‐reviewed incidence models for Indian Country).

    Jane Wiseman, March 2017

    This paper describes findings and recommendations from 30 existing studies of government efficiency. The reports catalog a staggering number of recommendations, 2,021 in total, to improve the operations of government. Of the 30 studies, 23 include specific dollar-savings amounts that could be achieved as a result of implementing the recommendations. Annual dollar savings identified in the reports range from $18 million in Albany County, New York, to $7.3 billion in California. The total amount of savings identified in these 23 studies is nearly $17 billion in yearly value to the taxpayers of those cities and states. We estimate that if recommendations such as these were implemented across state and local government, a total of $30 billion in value could be returned to taxpayers each year.

    Jane Wiseman, February 2017 

    A Chief Data Officer (CDO) can lead a city or state toward greater data-driven government. Data-driven executive leadership in government is relatively new, with just over a dozen cities and a handful of states having named a CDO as of late 2016. Leveraging data enables more responsive and rational allocation of government resources to address priority public needs. There is growing momentum and increasingly frequent news of the next government CDO appointment. While there is a growing proliferation of CDOs in government, there are few resources that describe the landscape, either for the benefit of the chief executive appointing a CDO or the new CDO taking office. This paper intends to help new entrants by documenting selected current practices, including advice shared by existing government CDOs, observations by the author, and analysis from government technology and analytics experts.

    The City of Boulder and Code for America partnered on “Housing Boulder,” the community engagement process that would inform Boulder’s 2015/2016 Housing Action Plan. While this case study documents our work on a housing-related project, we believe our engagement tactics are relevant to a much broader audience. As a result, this case study also offers a series of recommendations to help governments begin using 21st-century civic engagement strategies that creatively combine in-person and digital channels.
    The City of Boulder and Code for America partnered on “Housing Boulder,” the community engagement process that would inform Boulder’s 2015/2016 Housing Action Plan. While this case study documents our work on a housing-related project, we believe our engagement tactics are relevant to a much broader audience. As a result, this case study also offers a series of recommendations to help governments begin using 21st-century civic engagement strategies that creatively combine in-person and digital channels.
    In this report, Innovations in American Government Fellow Charles Chieppo outlines a number of reforms intended to put the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s (MBTA) fiscal house in order.  Specifically, Chieppo notes that the MBTA Fiscal Management and Control Board found that the T is looking at a $170 million shortfall for the current fiscal year, which is projected to grow to $427 million by fiscal year 2020. With increases in expenses far outpacing revenue growth, absent reform, the T’s financial problems will continue to compound in future years leading to deteriorating infrastructure and faltering service levels. 
    Goldsmith, Stephen, Chris Pineda, and William B. Eimicke. 2005. “How City Hall Can Invigorate the Faith Community Around a Citywide Agenda”. Read the full report Abstract

    Stephen Goldsmith, Chris Pineda, William B. Eimicke, 2005 

    This paper examines how city governments can collaborate with faith-based organizations, and invigorate these partners, around a citywide housing agenda. Specifically, the paper explores: (1) why city hall/FBO collaborations are important; (2) what FBOs bring to housing efforts; (3) how cities can more effectively collaborate with FBOs; (4) lessons on collaboration from the various 'Unlocking Doors' cities; and, (5) a case study on city hall/FBO collaboration in the city of Nashville. The goal of this paper is to fill the gap of practical knowledge on collaborations with the faith community by presenting a framework to help city halls more intentionally leverage successful partnerships, based on lessons learned from other local cases.