State Programs Named Finalists for Innovation Awards

Five state programs ranging from a court interpreter service to an effort to help child welfare workers prioritize families-at-risk are finalists for a good government prize that rewards successful new approaches to tackling society's problems.

The state programs are among 15 finalists competing for an award for being the most innovative in American government. The awards are given annually by the Institute for Government Innovation at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government in conjunction with the Council for Excellence in Government.

On May 8, five winners chosen from 1,000 applicants will each get a $100,000 grant to promote and replicate their innovative efforts.

Gail Christopher, executive director of the Institute for Government Innovation, said, "The innovations winners are harbingers of reform and change strategies. These programs reflect a willingness on the part of states to tackle hard problems in spite of the budget challenges they are facing. These are forward-thinking, courageous moves on the parts of state governments, and we think people should pay attention for that reason."

State programs that made the short list include:

  • Michigan's Structured Decision Making program helps child services workers collect information in a consistent manner and provides tools to help workers determine risks and prioritize responses. The system has also been adopted by child welfare agencies in California, Georgia, Ohio, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin.
  • Four states -- Washington, New Jersey, Minnesota and Oregon--- founded the Consortium for Court Interpreter Certification, which helps ensure equal justice for non-English speakers by training and certifying skilled court interpreters.
  • Rhode Island's unusual partnership between a children's museum and child welfare system provides therapeutic visitation for children under 12 and parents separated by court order due to abuse and neglect. The program called Families Together offers family interaction at the Providence Children's Museum, rather than traditional settings for visitations such as government office buildings or fast-food restaurants.
  • Ohio's consortium of 10 colleges and universities helps rural Ohioans get a college education in an attempt to reverse assumptions about who is "college material." The consortium, the Ohio Appalachian Center for Higher Education, awards grants to colleges and Appalachian schools for projects that promote college attendance.
  • The New York Division of Parole's partnership with Manhattan's multicultural Loisaida community aims to decrease drug use and reduce re-arrests among drug offenders on parole. The program, La Bodega de la Familia, teams parole officers with the families of offenders to change the culture of community supervision.
  • Other contenders with state ties include: The Multi-State Clean Diesel Initiative, created by two national associations of air quality officials, helps states reduce pollution by adopting California's tough emission controls for diesel trucks. Vermont's Energy Investment Corp., a private nonprofit group that contracted with Vermont's Public Service Board, delivers energy efficiency services. The program called Efficiency Vermont has the statewide responsibility to deliver rebates for buying energy-efficient products and financial assistance for building energy-efficient homes.

The selection committee includes David Gergen, editor-at-large of U.S. News & World Report and director of Harvard's Center for Public Leadership; former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend; and former San Diego Mayor Susan Golding.