Harvard University is known for educating bright minds and fostering bold ideas. On Tuesday, Sept. 25, the university’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation combined those two missions in naming 111 Bright Ideas that are being implemented across the nation at all levels of government, from school districts to public-private partnerships.
The 111 chosen ideas demonstrate a creative range of solutions to issues such as urban and rural degradation, environmental problems, and the academic achievement of students.
According to the announcement, the program initiatives were evaluated and chosen by a team of policy experts from academia and the public sector.
“Government innovation does not require endless resources and generous budgets,” said Stephen Goldsmith, director of the Innovations in Government Program at the Ash Center, in a statement. “As exemplified by this year’s Bright Ideas, some of our country’s smartest innovations can in fact reduce government’s size while serving our citizens more efficiently and effectively.”
Of the 111 programs, technology played a significant role in most of them. The following projects (with project descriptions taken from Harvard) utilized technology and/or digitization:
Affordable Downtown Wi-Fi
To attract more customers to the downtown business district, support small businesses, encourage the use of public parks and facilities, and enable more citizens to access city services online, Newton developed a free, outdoor Wi-Fi network in the downtown business district, city facilities and parks.
Blight Reduction Strategy
With more than 50,000 vacant and dilapidated properties, New Orleans suffers from one of the biggest blight problems in America. The city’s Blight Reduction Strategy aims to significantly reduce blighted properties by prioritizing code lien foreclosure sales. Its BlightStat public performance management system aggressively manages and tracks the benchmarks outlined in the strategy.
Building Cybersafety through Community Partnerships
The Madison Police Department created a multi-disciplinary, community-based approach to promote greater understanding and knowledge about cybercrime and the safe use of digital media. The program includes local businesses, health organizations and local school districts that have joined together with the department to create a multitude of approaches to address cybersafety.
Business QuickStart makes it easier for entrepreneurs to quickly identify the regulatory forms needed to start a business in Rhode Island. The tool boasts a searchable form library with forms grouped by popular business types, and a business wizard that asks questions based on the entrepreneur’s individual business needs and suggests applicable state forms to complete.
Case Update Tracking and Eligibility
County of Sacramento, Calif.
The Sacramento County Department of Human Assistance developed an automated system that matches the welfare system against data sources from local, state and federal entities to help detect and prevent welfare assistance fraud and overpayments. This system has saved millions of dollars annually by preventing and reducing welfare assistance overpayments.
Chesapeake Bay Restoration With Green Infrastructure
City of Lancaster, Penn.
Heavy, wet weather events have overwhelmed Lancaster’s combined sewer system. Untreated storm water has overflowed into rivers and over 1 billion gallons of polluted water have emptied into the Chesapeake Bay. The city’s Green Infrastructure Plan reduces stormwater runoff and mitigates the negative impact of combined sewer overflows in a cost-effective way.
Clean Water Initiative
City of Indianapolis
Indianapolis applied value-engineering techniques to its storm water systems in an effort to find cost savings while speeding up efforts to clean the city’s water. As a result, Indianapolis will prevent 3.5 million gallons of sewage from polluting local waterways, while saving residents upward of $1 billion. Indianapolis also made significant upgrades to the city’s crumbling roads, bridges and sidewalks while incorporating sustainable technologies. Full implementation will entail creating economic development opportunities along Indianapolis’ waterways.
Collective Knowledge for Better Public Safety
City of Auburn, Ala.
Auburn, Ala., embarked on a multi-phase public safety system integrating internal and external data into a map-based application to aid daily and emergency operations both on the Auburn University campus and throughout the city. This Web-based solution leverages multiple, real-time data systems within an interactive map at minimal cost and without changing the data providers’ business practices.
Combined Sewer Overflow Control Technology
City of South Bend, Ind.
In order to meet federal environmental mandates on combined storm and sanitary sewer overflows, South Bend installed real-time monitoring and control “smart valves” technology. The program uses distributed sensing and control logic which optimizes performance of infrastructure already in place, saving the city an estimated $114 million over a conventional approach.
Community Choice Aggregation
Village of Oak Park, Ill.
Community Choice Aggregation, a triple, bottom-line, sustainability program, allows Oak Park to aggregate residential and small commercial electric accounts and seek a better power supply rate. In the first quarter, Oak Parkers saved more than $1 million. Oak Park’s aggregation went one step further by contracting for 100 percent wind RECs for the two-year contract, which will offset over 342,000 metric tons of CO2. More than 200 Illinois communities followed suit, representing one third of the utility’s customers.
Compressed Natural Gas Program
City of Nashua, N.H.
Nashua has made significant improvements in air quality and reductions in petroleum use through the purchase of its replacement vehicles to cleaner burning compressed natural gas engines. Reduced emissions allow engines to last 25 percent longer and create significant fuel savings.
Connection Benefit Portal
Washington’s more efficient service delivery model addresses the significant increase in demand for social services and benefits despite the decrease in state resources. Washington Connection is a Web-based benefit portal whereby low income families and individuals can access information, screen eligibility, and apply for up to 26 state and federal benefits, and social services online. Residents in the greater Seattle area can also apply for the city’s benefit programs using the same online application.
Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety
Baltimore County, Md.
Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety is a primary method of operational deployment combining crime and traffic analysis data to determine overlapping patterns of problems that can be addressed with high visibility enforcement and other countermeasures. In addition to reducing crime and accidents, the program data collected has helped supervisors monitor enforcement activity to ensure that personnel are operating in a purpose-driven manner.
City of Charlotte, N.C.
The Charlotte Land Development Division initiated an electronic plan submission and review process (EPLAN) in-lieu of paper plans. EPLAN reduces costs and allows the collaborative on-screen review of development plans and commenting by multiple reviewers on a single electronic file instead of many paper plan sets.
NASA Explorer Schools is a national education project stimulating science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in high schools and offering students unique opportunities to directly engage with expert STEM professionals and NASA’s missions. The program offers a revolving selection of the best of NASA’s educational products, including lesson plans and classroom activities that are aligned to national standards and support STEM subject areas.
Export-Import Bank of the United States
Export-Import Bank developed Express Insurance to provide U.S. small-business exporters with a user-friendly and cost-effective option to protect against foreign-buyer nonpayment and enhance access to foreign-receivables financing. Express Insurance helps small businesses compete with global suppliers, enter new markets, add buyers, and improve cash flow while extending more attractive payment terms. The policy features a streamlined application, complimentary policy quotation, foreign-buyer credit reports, and buyer credit-limit pre-approvals often in five working days.
Federal Register 2.0
National Archives and Records Administration
Federal Register 2.0, developed with free, open-source software, makes federal regulatory information available to the public in a Web newspaper format. This new edition of the Federal Register organizes material into six topical sections, offers notifications on virtually any topic or agency, makes it easier for citizens to understand the regulatory process and comment on proposed actions, and facilitates application developers in using the information.
Fuel Cleaning System
Navy Region Hawaii Port Operations, United States Department of Navy
Before a ship undergoes maintenance or repair at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, its fuel tanks must often be emptied of fuel and compensating seawater. If the fuel is contaminated and fails to meet military specifications, disposal is required. The Fuel Cleaning System uses filters and coalescers to clean the marine diesel fuel by removing particulate contaminants and seawater, enabling the fuel to meet specifications to be re-used or returned for full credit, resulting in millions of dollars in savings.
HabiMap and Wildlife Overpass
The Arizona Game and Fish Department developed HabiMap Arizona as a user-friendly, Web-based data viewer that puts wildlife data at your fingertips for early planning. It embodies breakthrough innovative technologies to solve complex environmental problems. The US93 highway project utilized GPS movement data for the identification of wildlife passage structure locations. Three overpass locations installed by ADOT (82 percent of recorded Desert Bighorn Sheep crossings) have successfully reduced wildlife-vehicle collisions, while enhancing habitat connectivity for wildlife.
Health and Human Services Video Interviewing
San Diego County
San Diego County’s Health and Human Services Agency launched video interviewing with community partners to improve customer service, enhance access to public assistance, and increase the efficiency of service delivery for clients who face transportation challenges or other barriers. Targeted populations include pregnant women, migrant farm workers, homeless clients, residents of battered women’s shelters and transitional housing, and both tribal and rural clients.
JeffClerk Alert and Mobile Apps
Jefferson Parish Clerk of Court, La.
Jefferson Parish allows courthouse patrons and the general public to customize their experience with the clerk of court. The legal community and public may register online for automatic e-mail alerts and download mobile applications regarding information on civil and criminal cases, election results and change orders to public works contracts. These tools provide a convenient way for the public to access the public record anytime and have increased productivity of court personnel and the legal community.
MassGrown & Fresher
The MassGrown & Fresher initiative is a project launched by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources to enhance the viability of local agriculture. The initiative leverages an interactive and data-rich “Agri-Google” map, social network media, and partnership opportunities within the private and public sectors to connect consumers to local agriculture.
Mobile Inmate Video Visitation Bus
Pinellas County, Fla.
The mobile inmate video visitation bus provides public access at remote sites throughout the county to facilitate visitations for residents with family and friends incarcerated at the Pinellas County Jail who otherwise would be unable to make the trip to the jail’s on-site visitation center. The program has improved waiting times for visits and eliminated missed appointments due to transportation hardships.
Mosaic Parcel Map Project
The New Hampshire Department of Revenue and the University of New Hampshire Technology Transfer Center have partnered to create a sustainable, statewide GIS Mosaic Parcel Map which contains detailed assessment information. The Mosaic increases efficiency in assessment, planning, disaster recovery, environmental conservation and economic development at all levels of government.
United States Department of Veterans Affairs
MyCareer@VA is an online career development program developed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to create a more engaged and productive workforce prepared to serve veterans and their families. Unlike anything else in the federal government, MyCareer@VA is a powerful suite of tools and resources that allow current and potential VA employees to discover jobs that match their interests, map out a long-term career path, and explore available jobs and development opportunities.
Neighborhood Resource Center
Allen County, Ind.
The Allen County Recorder’s Office Neighborhood Resource Center is a free, online toolkit for neighborhood associations, property owners, and businesses. It provides access to neighborhood networking and essential covenant information about acceptable uses of property throughout Allen County.
Open-Source Software for Public Health Agencies
Larimer County, Colo.
Larimer County developed and implemented two open-source software applications that have improved public health services to residents. The first is a Web-based registration system that supports the efficient staging and monitoring of mass health events, while the second provides the tools to operate public health clinics, including scheduling, cashiering and medical record modules.
Payment Score Calculator
The Child Support Enforcement Program aims to enhance the well-being of children through proactive case management strategies. Using predictive analytics, its Payment Score Calculator determines the likelihood that a noncustodial parent will make child support payments; workers coordinate with parents to ensure payments are not missed.
Permanent Electronics Recycling Program
Broome County, N.Y.
In order to address a rapidly growing waste stream of electronic devices and equipment, Broome County created an affordable and convenient program for residents to drop off unwanted electronics for recycling in a safe and environmentally-friendly manner. Originally a series of events, the program is now available to residents year round.
New Castle County, Del.
The police portal uses an electronic repository to centralize all the information needed by police officers to tend to their daily tour of duty. Information is passed on to the proper people within a timely manner and includes case management reports, officer contact/on-call registry, and direct access to computer aided dispatch data.
Private Sector Integration Project
The Illinois Emergency Management Agency through the Central United State Earthquake Consortium created a streamlined system in which the private and public sectors work together within the eight-state region and across the country. The program’s single, multi-jurisdictional platform for communications helps all parties seamlessly and effectively share disaster intelligence, and coordinates under a single operating picture.
Program Integrity Group
The Ohio Program Integrity Group fights Medicaid fraud by combining resources from several state agencies to identify and respond to providers who defraud the program. By analyzing patterns in known fraud cases, the group devises data mining strategies to identify fraudulent activities, prosecute crimes, and recover taxpayer dollars.
Property Information Map
City and County of San Francisco
The Property Information Map website allows the public to search for any property in San Francisco and access property reports integrating data from a dozen city departments. The site includes zoning, permitting history, historic preservation surveys, architectural surveys, assessor tax records, last sales price and planning commission documents.
Public Health Emergency Community Notification
Clark County, Wash.
Clark County Public Health has developed a program that uses the polling capability of an existing automated reverse-calling system (Emergency Community Notification System) to more accurately and efficiently conduct disease investigations. The polling capabilities of the system are applicable to environmental public health threats, food borne illness and other communicable diseases.
Public Health Information System
Otter Tail County in partnership with 26 counties, Minn.
As members of a county computer cooperative and partial owners of the PH-Doc Information System, 27 counties designed and developed an interoperable public health information system. The system provides access to bi-directional exchange of immunization records and continuity of care documents.
The 24-hour toll-free re-entry hotline provides customized information and referrals to offenders upon release from prison to assist them with their basic daily needs and ensure their success in their home community. This service is provided by the Department of Corrections and staffed by offenders that are housed in a therapeutic treatment community receiving substance abuse services.
Safe Routes to School
U.S. Department of Transportation
Seeking to engage communities in data collection and information-driven decision making, the National Center for Safe Routes to School offers communities a service that makes the collection and analysis of school travel information easy and useful at all project stages. Nationally, the data service allows users to identify trends, share successful practices and support research.
School Emergency Contact Cards and Foster Care Placements
Baltimore’s Department of Social Services entered into a partnership with local public schools to use information on emergency contact cards when placing a child into foster care. With the assistance of a centralized dispatch system, the agency can now quickly place a child in a familiar home with someone who knows and loves them, and the child does not have to change schools.
Science and Math Moving On
Stark County, Ohio
Science and Math Moving On is a countywide initiative that supplies high-tech equipment and high-quality professional development to 17 school districts, encompassing 111 school buildings and serving 65,000 students from preschool through grade 12. The program encourages 21st century education practices by providing sustained professional development and modeling best practices related to inquiry and tech integration with hands-on activities.
Security Integration Initiative
To reduce crime and improve public safety, Maryland created the Criminal Justice Dashboard and the Maryland Community Services Locator, both powerful data consolidation and search tools that serve as the cornerstones of Maryland’s Security Integration Initiative. By establishing secure data tunnels, participating agencies maintain control over their data and update information according to internal policies.
United States Environmental Protection Agency
SmartWay Transport addresses freight transportation greenhouse gas and pollutant emissions through a comprehensive program of market-based incentives, assessment tools, and technical assistance to help the shipping community identify and adopt cleaner, more efficient technologies and strategies. The program works in partnership with the freight industry associations and shipping, logistics and trucking partners.
United States Department of Energy
The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon is a student competition that challenges collegiate teams to design, build and operate sustainable, solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive. The winning team best demonstrates a solution that blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.
Special Needs Registry
The city developed a central, real-time database registry that provides access to critical information about special needs individuals of all ages. City agencies use this database to identify those individuals and facilities most severely affected during emergencies and to plan responses to public health needs, potential evacuation or sheltering situations and provision of services documentation.
Street Light Efficiency program
The Street Lighting Green Initiative is replacing 140,000 existing streetlight fixtures in Los Angeles with efficient Light Emitting Diode (LED) units that will save energy by a minimum of 50 percent, reduce carbon emissions by approximately 40,500 tons annually, and reduce maintenance. Each new fixture has a remote monitoring device, providing the means to confirm operation, status, energy savings, and control capabilities.
Technology Initiatives for Building Placards
The city of Roanoke Building Inspections Department has applied QR codes to permit placards for new building activity allowing contractors and applicants to view the daily inspections calendar online via smartphones or tablets. This program also links the customer to the Online Permit Center, where they can request inspections, view permit history and inspection results, as well as receive notification of required inspections to finalize the permit and complete the job.
The District of Columbia’s initiative to provide government transparency and accountability includes TrackDC, an auto-updated dashboard for government operations. The dashboard displays agency information, social media accounts, performance plans, spending, budget, customer service data, performance indicators, D.C. municipal regulations, notices, final rulemakings and agency data.
Virtual Interactive Planner
The town of Cary developed an interactive, Web-based tool designed to provide real-time information and reduce the confusion and intimidation associated with complex and comprehensive processes like land development. Through the use of video and animation, the program walks customers through each step in the development process, breaking down information and highlighting opportunities for public involvement. A more than 40 percent reduction in calls has increased staff productivity and allowed the town to re-allocate resources more effectively.
Virtual Interns "Moove" Leaders Up!
U.S. Department of Agriculture
The USDA’s Virtual Intern Program retains highly talented students and builds on experiences, knowledge, and diversity of multicultural students to become outstanding, global leaders. The program uses virtual communication tools to retain highly talented students located across the U.S. after their seasonal internship is over, and provides financial, social, and career support to strengthen on-time graduation and leadership skills which ultimately lead to a cohort of successful diverse professionals able to maneuver in an increasingly complex work environment.