February 20, 2018

Partners in Policy: A New City O/S

past event


On February 20th, Penn IUR and the Fels Policy Research Initiative hosted a panel discussion with Penn faculty and Philadelphia leaders on the conversation of government innovation. At a time when the American government at the national level has fallen into a state of long-term, partisan-based gridlock, local government can still be effective—indeed more effective and even more responsive to the needs of its citizens. Hosted by University professor Neil Kleinman, co-author of the new book: A New City O/S, the talk referenced Kleinman’s proposals of a new operating system (O/S) for cities building on the giant leaps that have been made in technology, social engagement, and big data. Panelists included Anjali Chainani, director of policy for the City of Philadelphia, and of GovLabPHL, Dan Hopkins, Associate professor at UPenn’s department of Political Science, and Patrick Morgan, who served in the Nutter administration and now directs Knight Foundation’s Philadelphia program.

Kleinman initiated the discussion by underlining the basis of his new book: that the original operating system is outdated and operates in patches - working on their strengths in silos, as opposed to utilizing a more effective opportunity of integrating sectors to facilitate the collaboration of new data and technology initiatives. Kleinman, therefore, highlighted the substantial demand amongst local officials and questioned how we take on the complicated enterprise of government in order to make one cohesive and integrated framework that would allow local leaders to advance new strategies. By proposing a structure that is threaded and pieced together into one coherent framework, the four interchangeable aspects: UX Design, the Problem Solving Public Servant, Acting in Time, and Changing the Ecosystem, would provide the support needed to allow local leaders to advance and implement new strategies. However, Kleinman prompted that in order for this innovation to happen on a systemic level, there needs to be a strong leadership that drives the possibilities that new data technology presents by integrating anchor partnerships such as universities and institutions, empowering local citizen participation, and facilitating community engagement. 

The following panel further discussed variations of management processes and data integration techniques in order to innovate government, what that takes, and the lessons learned. Patrick Morgan of the Knight Foundation spoke of initiating Philadelphia’s 311 system in order to open the city and make it more ethical and transparent. With limited resources and in the midst of the great recession, under Kenny’s administration, Morgan successfully followed through with perseverance and iteration post-launch while simultaneously collaborating with outside organizations to initiate a job-training program. Anjali Chainani, Philadelphia’s Director of Policy, discussed the importance of multi-sector integration in order to bring together teams to excel project initiation, creating organizations such as GovLabPHL whose mission is to deepen the understanding of evidence-based data in daily decision making to govern effectively and legitimately.  Associate professor Dan Hopkins approach involved bringing behavioral science into policy making by identifying and testing in order to implement on both the federal and local government scale, such as Philadelphia’s initiative for litter removal on street corners that brought together an innovative task force that combined academics and governments to identify design experiments and data to transform public policy.

Many of the lessons learned, both through Kleinman’s new publication and the panelist’s professional experiences, delved deeper in defining ways in which local municipalities could better integrate systems, fundamentally changing the existing, but outdated, O/S. By creating a more distributed network, organizations could have the capacity to build leadership and create catalysts to amplify current and future initiatives, providing the tools to solve pertinent urban problems. 


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