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The Roy and Lila Ash Center Salutes Fresh Ideas

by Sherie Sanders on December 11, 2017
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Light bulb in an article about the Roy and Lila Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation AwardsWhen something works it should be rewarded! Harvard's Roy and Lila Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation affirms creative and innovative government programs with both national recognition and financial incentives. Since 1985, approximately 500 ground breaking government initiatives from over 27,000 applications have received commendations. In calling out these outstanding programs that tackle the most salient issues of our times, the hope is that the solutions they offer can be replicated by other municipalities facing the same challenges.

The Roy and Lila Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation

An endowment from the Ford Foundation first allowed the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University to establish an awards program for excellence in government innovation. In 2003, a generous gift from Roy and Lila Ash created the Roy and Lila Ash Center. Roy Ash is considered the founder of the Office of Management and Budget and was an ardent champion of government management techniques. The establishment of the Center brought further emphasis on the connection between democratic governance and innovation.

The Innovations in American Government Awards

The purpose of this program is to reward the most creative and effective government programs with press attention and financial compensation. The current program cycle focuses on the theme of economic and social mobility. The Center seeks to recognize programs that make government more effective, creative, and efficient at addressing economic inequality. Projects must address one or more of the following goals:

  • Increasing the prosperity of communities that have been historically excluded from access.
  • Breaking down barriers to individual wealth-building.
  • Expanding access to education, health care, job training, credit and other resources.
  • Positively impacting the geography of opportunity via social mobility, housing, etc.
  • Demonstrating proven outcomes on social mobility indicators such as employment rates, wages, standard of living etc.

Examples of projects may include:

  • Empowerment zones.
  • Welfare reform and innovation.
  • Economic development corporations.
  • Job training and assistance.
  • Free or affordable child care.
  • Affordable housing.
  • City accelerators.
  • Banking services for nontraditional clients.

Examples of Previous Winners and Semi-Finalists

Below are examples of previous winners. Each year may have a different central theme:

  • Central Puget Sound Resiliency Project in Washington State proactively addressed resiliency issues to protect their water supply, and prepare for earthquakes, drought, and climate change.
  • Tribal Defenders Office (TDO) for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes of Montana instituted holistic defense techniques, which address underlying causes of recidivism with culturally relevant case management.
  • Fort Collins, Co encouraged city workers to become climate ambassadors with its One Planet Program which also raised awareness of how different city departments function.
  • Houston, TX, committed to ending homelessness by appointing a Special Assistant to the Mayor for Homelessness Initiatives who gathered information on the most successful evidenced-based practices around the country.
  • The State of Minnesota raised awareness among state agency employees about the distinct cultures of the 11 sovereign tribal nations within Minnesota with the Tribal State Relations Training program.
  • Cambridge, MA, imprinted poetry on sidewalks to become a more playful, artistic city. Public works and the library were among the departments that collaborated on the project.
  • Fayetteville, AR, used the now famous greedy goats goats to help curb invasive species.

Applying for the Award

Eligible applicants are Native American tribes, state and local governments, and consortia. All projects must be administered under the authority of one or more governmental entities, have been implemented 12 months prior to date of application submission, and be currently in operation. The deadline to nominate a program is January 12, 2018. Five finalists will be selected. The winner is eligible for a $50 thousand grant and each finalist is eligible for a $10 thousand grant upon successful completion of a project proposal.

Further Resources

  • The Government Innovators Network curates what they consider to be some of the most promising ideas for government. You can even search or browse by topic. Learn More.
  • The Ash Center is also soliciting novel solutions to share. If you have a creative concept that works, consider submitting it to the Bright Ideas program. Learn more.


"No matter how awesome its size, government can be made more effective by using management techniques."

Roy Ash

Topics: Grant Articles & News

3 min read time