Local Innovation

The Rise of Local Governance

Innovation in Local Governance
Strengthening Local Governance in Asia
Local Leadership During Times of Crisis


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.

Innovation in Local Governance

Innovations Award Ceremony
New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito accepts the Innovations in American Government Award on behalf of the City Council's Participatory Budgeting New York program.
The Ash Center leads the Innovations in American Government Awards, which is the nation's preeminent program devoted to recognizing and promoting excellence and creativity in the public sector. The program highlights exemplary models of government innovation and advances efforts to address the nation's most pressing public concerns. Teaching case studies are developed in partnership with the most innovative awardees to diversify the HKS curriculum, while the Ash Summer Fellowship in Innovation places HKS students in operational roles with past winners of the Awards program -- most often local or regional government entities.

The Responsive City
Professor Stephen Goldsmith's book on data analytics, The Responsive City, provides municipal officials with a roadmap for using data and technology to strengthen city services.

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.

Strengthening Local Governance in Asia

Fulbright Economics and Teaching Program
The Fulbright Economics and Teaching Program will become the nucleus of the new Fulbright University Vietnam.
The Ash Center's Vietnam Program, a recognized leader in the study of Vietnam’s socioeconomic development, draws on the intellectual capital of its Fulbright Economic and Teaching Program (FETP), which has helped train a generation of practitioners, academics, and local government officials to examine an array of policy issues centered around local governance. Building on the Fulbright School’s path-breaking trajectory, the Vietnam Program is currently helping to establish Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV), Vietnam’s first independent not-for-profit university, which will serve as the country's preeminent academic research institution and continue FETP's decades-long impact on Vietnam's governance and development at the local level.

Aung San Suu Kyi
The Myanmar Program examines how local officials in Myanmar are taking steps to help pave the way towards a more democratic future for the country.

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.

Local Leadership During Times of Crisis

The Program on Crisis Leadership focuses on innovation in crisis management and disaster relief and recovery with a focus on local preparedness and response, as well as the linkages among localities and higher levels of government and the international system. Recent research initiatives and education programs have focused on such issues as the local response to the Boston marathon bombings; advancing community based recovery following Chile's 2010 earthquake and tsunami; and the Broadmoor project in New Orleans, which works work with neighborhood partners on repopulation, education, housing, and economic development as part of the city's ongoing recovery efforts.