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Harvard Grants $100,000 Awards to Innovative Programs

By Margaret W. Ho, Crimson Staff Writer

Five government programs won Innovations in American Government Awards from the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University and the Council for Excellence in Government last week.

The award, which the Ash Institute describes as the government equivalent of an Academy Award, grants $100,000 to each initiative for the dissemination and replication of its efforts in other states and localities.

Established 17 years ago, the awards “recognize quality and responsiveness in all levels of government” and strive to “restimulate innovations in government,” Kennedy School of Government Director of Communications Jesus Mena said.

This year’s recipients are CitiStat, ClinicalTrials.gov, Natural Drainage Systems Program, Performance-based Standards (PbS) for Juvenile Correction and Detention Facilities and Resolve to Stop the Violence Program (RSVP).

CitiStat, a Baltimore-based program, tracks “operational services and financial indicators across Baltimore’s municipal government,” said Director of CitiStat Matthew Gallagher.

The program measures the performances of municipal agencies and undergoes updates every 14 days, he added.

CitiStat allows Mayor Martin O’Malley to track the performance of the city with hard numbers at his fingertips, said Assistant Director of the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation Cathleen M. Sarkis.

Jane B. Griffith, acting deputy director at the National Library of Medicine, which was responsible for the development and implementation of ClinicalTrials.gov, said the program’s innovation lay in its comprehensive overview of available clinical trials.

“It is a registry of clinical trials that provides up-to-date information for people who are trying to locate both federally and privately supported trials for a wide range of diseases and conditions,” Griffith said. “It contains over 11,000 clinical studies that are sponsored by the National Institute of Health and other government agencies, as well as private industries.”

Griffith said the website averages around 16,000 visitors a day.

Natural Drainage Systems Program scored high marks for its environmentally sound approach to the run-off from storm water.

Susan M. Stolzfus, spokesperson for Seattle Public Utilities—which helped implement the program—described it as an environmentally friendly solution to the negative effects of storm water in an urban area.

“The Natural Drainage Systems is a way to convey storm water in an urban environment...by mimicking what nature would have provided before we paved the streets,” she said.

The initiative, she said, allows storm water to gradually flow back into the ground thanks to natural features such as “vegetated swales”—which uses vegetation to funnel runoff—instead of employing a traditional pipe system. The process is ultimately much easier on the creaks and streams, especially after a heavy storm, she added.

Meanwhile RSVP co-founder Sunny Schwartz emphasized her program’s efforts at “restoring, not rehabilitating,” everyone harmed by violence.

“RSVP is the first violence-prevention program of its kind in the nation incorporating victim impact, offender accountability and community involvement to reduce recidivism,” she said.

The program is designed not only to “empower” the survivors of violent crimes, but also to “pioneer efforts in the community by mobilizing public awareness initiatives,” she said.

She also noted that the program focuses on reshaping violent offenders’ attitudes.

“The program holds offenders accountable for violence by focusing on redefining and restructuring their attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that fuel male role violence and on repairing the harm caused to the victims and to the community,” she said.

Schwartz attributed RSVP’s success to its employment of ex-offenders and victims, as well as its “comprehensive restoration program.”

“An RSVP participant who participates in RSVP for four months or more had their violent rearrest rate reduced by 80 percent,” Schwartz said.

Rounding out the batch of winners is the Performance-based Standards (PbS) for Juvenile Correction and Detention Facilities program, which “collects information from juvenile facilities, tracks injuries, suicidal behaviors, assaults, time in isolation, and youth academic performance and make needed improvements,” according to a press release by the Ash Institute.

Kim Godfrey, the deputy director of the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators—the national non-profit organization that was awarded a grant to develop and implement PbS—said the program enables accountability for juvenile corrections facilities.

“Before this program, [juvenile corrections facilities] didn’t have any data that showed what was going on,” she said. “[PbS] brings transparency to government and restores confidence.”

Over 120 facilities in 26 states and in Washington D.C. have voluntarily chosen to participate in the PbS program, Godfrey said.

—Staff writer Margaret W. Ho can be reached at mwho@fas.harvard.edu.

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