By Data-Smart City Solutions • May 2, 2017

The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, announced the Top 25 programs in this year’s Innovations in American Government Awards competition, including the seven finalists who will compete for the $100,000 grand prize on May 17 in Cambridge.

Selected by a team of policy experts, researchers, and practitioners, these initiatives represent the dedicated efforts of city, state, and federal governments, and address such policy issues as economic development, environmental and community revitalization, public health, equal access to education, criminal justice, and health care.

Those programs named as finalists will be making presentations to the National Selection Committee of the Innovations in American Government Awards on Wednesday, May 17, with the winner to be announced this summer. The presentations will be livestreamed on the Ash Center website at

Below is a list of programs in the Top 25 that have leveraged the power of data and analytics to better serve residents.

Arkansas Payment Improvement Initiative, State of Arkansas

Confronted with a ballooning budget and potential shortfall in 2011, Arkansas Medicaid formed a unique public-private collaborative to design new financial incentives to reward effective stewardship by health-care providers in concert with patients, policymakers, and payers. They designed a mandatory, retrospective reconciliation payment process that offered shared savings or cost sharing with a principal accountable provider (PAP), either a physician or hospital, based on risk-adjusted average cost per case. The design and implementation process involved broad outreach to facilitate stakeholder input and engagement. Extensive data mining of administrative data created innovative report cards posted on a new internet portal that gave providers meaningful data about the patient journey and resource consumption during their acute episode. The program launched its first five episodes in July 2012; several episodes of care have completed payment and rewards cycles, which have shown costs decreasing or maintaining. In 2013, Arkansas Medicaid designed a patient-centered medical home program to reinvigorate primary care and promote preventive and chronic disease management, which would in turn reward effective total cost of care and quality performance. It also invested in a risk-adjusted $5 per member per month to the practices with the expectation of achievement of specific practice transformation goals such as 24/7 live voice access and care plans for high-risk patients. The program offered substantial savings for achievement in managing total cost of care. In addition, it provided practice coaches to assist clinical sites in transformation planning. In January 2014, the program launched with 100 practice sites and over 600 physicians. In its third year, there are now have 180 practice sites, nearly 900 physicians, and enrollment of 85 percent of eligible Medicaid beneficiaries. It has become a popular and highly accepted facet of Arkansas health care with replication by private payers. Since the start of the program, Arkansas Medicaid has analyzed nearly 1.5 billion claims to create 35,000 quarterly reports for 2,500 PAPs.

Computer Vision for Conservation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

There are only around 500 North Atlantic right whales alive today, making them one of the most endangered animals on the planet. Individuals can be identified by photographs taken from vessels and airplanes, and then compared to the North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog run by the New England Aquarium. Knowing the individual identity of a whale opens up many possible avenues of research and conservation management including demographics, social structure, and informed disentanglement operations. The process of matching a photograph to the catalog can be time-consuming, and finding a way to automate this process using the latest in image-recognition technology would free up valuable time and resources so that scientists have more time and energy to devote towards the conservation of these endangered whales. In November 2014, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) contracted with Kaggle, a platform for predictive modelling and analytics competitions, to crowdsource a technology solution. The competition ran from August 2015 through January 2016 with a $10,000 prize pool sponsored by MathWorks, and NOAA Fisheries provided the right whale aerial photographs and associated data set. Data scientists competed to create an algorithm to match a photograph of a right whale to its unique individual identity. The winning solution by software company relied heavily on convolutional neural networks in their solution to achieve 87% accuracy. This is very different than other approaches to image recognition that typically seek to count the number of individuals in the photograph and classify them to species. This solution actually classifies the whales to their unique individual identity. NOAA plans to use this algorithm to create software to automate the process of identifying whales, thereby freeing up valuable time and resources.

Fiscal Stress Monitoring System, State of New York

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's Fiscal Stress Monitoring System (FSMS) provides an objective and transparent fiscal stress assessment annually for 2,300 local governments in the state, using self-reported financial data. Scores and reports published annually give local stakeholders robust tools for decision-making on budgets and service delivery. Interest in this project grew out of the numerous municipal fiscal crises across the country in the late 2000s and concern from New Yorkers that a similar crisis could happen in their municipality or school district. Given their role in overseeing the fiscal affairs of local governments, the Comptroller’s office convened an internal workgroup, with the charge to develop a statewide, objective process to examine local government financial condition without new reporting requirements. After months of research, consulting with experts and constituents, statistical testing and public comment, FSMS was introduced. Prior to implementation, some local officials voiced concerns that rating agency downgrades might result, along with public discord and political grandstanding, leading the FSMS team to work to ease concerns and emphasize the benefits of the program through regular stakeholder meetings, informational webinars, a dedicated webpage, and a self-assessment tool. To date the office has conducted 11 webinars for 1,300 local officials and 36 in-person FSMS trainings for 2,800 local officials. Internally, FSMS has led to more efficient and time-sensitive reviews of municipal reporting, and more robust verification. The communication process evolved, enhancing the way the Comptroller’s office communicates with all local officials (even for non-FSMS purposes) to reduce costs and provide more timely information.

Investing in Innovation (i3), Department of Education

The Investing in Innovation (i3) program is the flagship "tiered-evidence" grant program within the federal government, linking grant funding in core education reform areas to rigorous evidence of effectiveness. Its core innovation — smaller grants for projects that are innovative but have less evidence and larger grants to scale up proven approaches — is a model for other federal departments and could significantly improve the results produced by the federal government. The central component of i3, and how it addresses the twin challenges of too few proven effective interventions in education and multiple barriers for even effective interventions to spread substantially, is its three-tier, evidence-based structure. That structure links the funding amount that an applicant can receive to the rigor of the evidence that an applicant provides to support the proposed practice or strategy. Applicants that present only a little evidence can receive small grants (up to $3 million) that support the development and initial evaluation of promising practices, while applicants that present the most rigorous evidence, often large randomized controlled trials, can receive large grants (up to $20 million) that support nation-wide expansion. Since 2010, the program has received over 4,000 applications, and has awarded 157 grants and over $1.3 billion, matched by more than $200 million in private-sector matching funds, to schools and nonprofit partners working in all 50 states. The focus on rigorous evaluation, and the incentives for generating such evidence, has had an impact in education and beyond. Some grantees are already using the evidence generated from their i3 evaluations to move up the tiers and apply for larger grants, and other federal programs are using i3's evidence framework, including the Social Innovation Fund and a major community college grant program at the Department of Labor.

LinkNYC, City of New York, NY

LinkNYC is a first-of-its-kind program that is transforming payphones into Wi-Fi kiosks to create the world’s largest and fastest free Wi-Fi network. Links provide fast and secure gigabit Wi-Fi, free domestic calling, USB charging ports, tablets to access wayfinding and city services, and access to contact emergency services. The five-borough network is funded entirely through advertising revenues and is being built at no cost to taxpayers. LinkNYC has already created more than 155 local jobs and will generate more than $500 million in revenue for the city of New York over the next 12 years. LinkNYC offers an encrypted network for HotSpot 2.0-enabled devices, making it the first encrypted public Wi-Fi network of this scale to add a critical layer of protection to personal data. The Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DOITT), the Mayor’s Office and CityBridge have also created a customer-first privacy policy that ensures personal information is never shared or sold for third-party use. Each Link will have at least 24 hours of back-up battery power to enable 911 calling capability in the event of the loss of commercial power. In February 2016, the partnership announced the public launch of LinkNYC, and now there are more than 500 active LinkNYC kiosks spread across the five boroughs, with plans for thousands more over the next 8 years. Link deployment follows the installation of high-speed fiber optic cables along “corridors” through the city. When completed, users will be able to stay continuously connected with superfast Wi-Fi as they move throughout the five boroughs. The administration worked closely with the borough presidents to determine a guaranteed number of Links in each borough — as outlined in the franchise agreement with CityBridge — to ensure this project would reach neighborhoods across the five boroughs.

Mobility Initiative, City of New York, NY

Begun in January 2014, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) committed to changing their approach to policing in the city, implementing a Plan of Action blueprint designed to deliver improved police services in the city of New York and break down the barriers between two parties who should be natural allies: the police and the people they serve. One essential and enabling element of this strategy involved a revolution in NYPD technology, making the police more accessible to the community, and delivering tailored information and analytics to police officers where they need it the most — in the field. To that end, the NYPD used the opportunity to build out its “Platform for Transformation” — a vision to put a smartphone in the hands of all 36,000 officers and place a tablet in every emergency response vehicle. By providing e-mail addresses and phone numbers to the entire uniformed workforce, the smartphones and tablets make officers, including the new Neighborhood Coordination Officers, directly accessible to the community. In addition, the devices come equipped with a number of custom-developed applications, which were created based on the ideas and feedback of officers in the field. These applications enhance the NYPD’s delivery of police services, including a 911 dispatching app, which alerts officers to 911 calls even before they come over the radio, with associated information about the location they are responding to and decreasing response times; a search app, which provides enterprise search of all NYPD and certain state and federal databases, streamlining investigations; form creation apps, which allows officers to take digital reports on scene in the field, and eventually provide them online to the public, paving the way for the NYPD to go paperless; blast messaging, which allows the NYPD to send critical informational bulletins, including officer safety alerts and pictures of missing persons direct to officers’ smartphones; and a training app, which allows for distance learning, which has the potential to fundamentally transform the Department’s approach to educating its workforce.

Nature in the City, City of Fort Collins, CO

With a 40-year history committed to protecting nature, the City of Fort Collins undertook a Strategic Planning process to ensure that as the community grows, high quality natural spaces will continue to be conserved to protect healthy ecosystems, wildlife habitat, and offer easy access to nature in the urban core. Phase I (2014) of the Nature in the City program (NIC) consisted of a citizen-driven planning process to identify strategies to further integrate nature into the City’s policies and programs. This phase included extensive data collection on the community’s environmental, social, and economic values regarding nature including community surveys and focus groups to understand diverse perspectives and needs; a visioning workshop to assess residents’ perceptions and values about nature; citywide bird, butterfly, and vegetation sampling; establishment of a Citizen Advisory Committee; analysis of economic benefits; and an online, interactive mapping tool to identify where residents access nature and where barriers exist. NIC utilizes a multifaceted, holistic approach including: public-private partnerships; restoring existing natural spaces to increase the natural quality of sites; implementing neighborhood-scale enhancement projects; establishing design guidelines to illustrate how nature can be incorporated into the urban environment; updated land use code requirements to offer developers guidance and flexibility in meeting NIC goals; education, incentives and resources for landowners, business owners and landscapers; tracking biodiversity trends through citizen science data collection; and targeted land acquisition to create a more connected open space network. As a result of the extensive community engagement efforts, there was significant stakeholder buy-in and political support for the planning process.

The resultant NIC Strategic Plan (Phase II) was adopted by the city council in March 2015, and the following month Fort Collins voters approved $3 million in sales tax to fund NIC initiatives over the next 10 years, demonstrating the community’s commitment to the NIC vision. With the dedicated sales tax funding, the City began implementation of NIC (Phase III) in 2016. Staff members in two departments, Natural Areas and Planning, were identified to collaboratively lead the initiative. Pilot projects identified for 2016 include identification of gaps in connectivity for both people and wildlife, installation of a Living Wall on a new City building, installation of a pollinator-friendly demonstration garden, expansion of the City’s tree canopy improvement program, and collaboration with the Poudre School District to create outdoor classrooms.

Regulatory Roadmap Initiative, State of Washington

When state of Washington businesses asked the state Department of Commerce (Commerce) to help simplify regulatory requirements, the agency set out to Lean state permitting processes. While businesses appreciated improvements at individual agencies, Commerce soon realized the problem was much more complex than any single regulation – businesses were spending large amounts of time researching all of the state and local regulations and then trying to navigate through them. For example, opening a restaurant can involve requirements from more than 17 different city, county and state regulatory agencies. Guided by businesses’ ideas of what would provide the most value, Commerce worked with the restaurant community, local jurisdictions and regulatory agencies to develop a better approach. The result was an online “roadmap” that distills all local and state requirements into easy-to-understand, sequential worksheets and checklists for opening a new restaurant. Examples of typical restaurant start-ups and planning tools that identify “trigger issues” help business owners avoid costly regulatory surprises. The pilot Restaurant Roadmap, started in Seattle in 2013, is saving prospective restaurateurs time, money and mistakes. The concept was adapted for other cities throughout 2015 and 2016. Building on this success, the roadmap approach is expanding into other industries. Commerce convened manufacturers to learn about their regulatory concerns, and heard once again that regulatory information was unpredictable and difficult to find. They wanted access to technical details to quickly make feasibility decisions – before hiring a consultant or architect. Based on the manufacturers’ input, Commerce produced a Manufacturing Roadmap that includes interactive tools to assess costs, timelines and overall feasibility of potential facility sites. Manufacturers reported that the roadmap could have saved them two months of combing through city codes and agency websites trying to understand if a potential site would pencil out. Like the restaurant pilot, the Manufacturing Roadmap is now being replicated in several other cities. A new roadmap for the construction sector is also under development.

Smartphones Enable Smart Supervision, State of Oregon

Outreach Smartphone Monitoring uses predictive technology to recognize changes in behavioral patterns by tapping into human/smartphone interaction. We believe that the smartphone is the perfect vehicle to distribute resources to individuals and collect the data needed to see what really reduces recidivism. Working with community supervision agencies, The Honorable District Judge Ann Aiken and Mark Sherman from the Federal Judicial Center, we designed an application that would replace the use of an ankle bracelet. This would be accomplished by incorporating a bluetooth biometric wrist band, remote blood alcohol testing using a bluetooth breathalyzer, providing rehabilitative resources and traditional electronic monitoring. The OSM smartphone and web application is now in use in over 20 states and customer groups include, Drug Courts, Pretrial Services, Probation, Reentry, Juvenile Supervision, Treatment Facilities and DUI law firms

Startup in Residence, City and County of San Francisco, CA

Startup in Residence (STIR) connects the public sector directly to innovative technology entrepreneurs to help solve challenges faced by City government, and make government more accountable, efficient and responsive. For 16 weeks, startups help departments unpack issues with data analysis and prototype solutions refined through user testing. Startups gain insight into civic needs to develop products that support critical community services. Announced in 2014, San Francisco, the first cohort had nearly 200 startups from 25 cities and countries apply to the program, from which the 6 most promising startups were selected to collaborate with government agencies across 16 weeks to build new products and services. All 6 of these collaborations resulted in innovative products for government. One of the most exciting outcomes from these collaborations was a solution to guide blind and visually impaired airport customers to their gate and other services. The application was built by a company from Vienna called in collaboration with our airport and in consultation with Lighthouse for the Blind, a SF-based non-profit that advocates for the blind and visually-impaired. The San Francisco International Airport installed nearly 500 ibeacons in Terminal 2 and shared detailed maps and resources down to the location of power outlets, and is planning to scale the technology and adapt the software into multiple languages. With the lessons learned from the initial cohort and a three year grant from the US Commerce Department, STIR was formally announced and expanded in January 2016 regionally with Oakland, San Leandro and West Sacramento. This multi-city collaborative has shared nearly 27 challenges for technologists and entrepreneurs to tackle. After the 16-week program, the government agencies and startups have the potential to enter into a commercial arrangement through the usual competitive process which means an RFP, and has been streamlined in San Francisco based upon our experience from 2014, reduced from months or years to weeks by having the call for startups be an RFP itself.

Women's Reentry Assessment & Programming Initiative, County of Chester, PA

In 2013, Chester County faced an increase in the number of women under community supervision (47-percent increase from 2011–2013) and the number incarcerated at the local jail (74-percent increase from 2005). Many of these women were cycling in and out of jail, which caused chaos and disruption in their lives and families without any real chance of addressing the causes of their criminality. Prior to implementation of the program, 30 percent of the women incarcerated were committed on violations of supervision. The 130 women eventually served by the program had experienced 692 separate commitments to the jail. Recognizing that business as usual was not working, and that the traditional male-centric justice system was not providing the connections and interventions that respect the life experiences women bring into the system, the county looked to the National Resource Center on Justice Involved Women and the National Institute of Corrections Justice Involved Women’s Initiative for resources and recommendations on evidence-based programming.

In January 2014, the first probation officer was assigned to the Women’s Reentry Assessment and Programming Initiative (WRAP). The program provides gender-responsive, evidence-based assessments, supervision, case management, and programming to at-risk women transitioning from jail or facing violations of supervision. For the first time in the county’s system, trauma — a prominent feature for justice-involved women — is screened. All staff receives training to understand the impact of trauma on behavior, which in turn drives trauma-informed approaches to supervision, services, and decision-making, allowing for better engagement and outcomes for the women. A gender-responsive risk assessment tool identifies women’s individual needs and strengths allowing for a strength-based model of case planning and supervision. Research has concluded that considering both gender-responsive and gender-neutral factors increases the accuracy of predicting reoffending and improves the quality of case management plans targeting the highest risk factors for women. Community Case Management, using the Collaborative Casework Model for Women, allows for women’s needs to be addressed holistically. Additionally, cognitive-based training and psycho-educational trauma groups are delivered to engage women in their own recovery-building skills, self-efficacy, and community connections. The WRAP program has transformed the traditional criminal justice paradigm of control and compliance, hierarchical relationships, and a focus on presenting problems, to a model where problems are seen as trauma-driven coping mechanisms and supervision emphasizes collaboration and relationships.