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Innovation and Accountability in Fighting Poverty

In 2006 New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg created the Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO). The purpose of CEO is to implement innovative ways to reduce poverty in New York City. With access to a $100 million innovation fund, CEO has financed 40 targeted performance based initiatives. The CEO operates out of the Mayor’s office, which allows it to work with 20 city agencies to target three populations: the working poor, young adults and children under 6.

What makes the CEO different is that it utilizes data analyzed by independent evaluation firms to determine whether programs are achieving specific targeted outcomes. In 2009 17 evaluations were completed and six programs were actually eliminated due to evaluations that determined they were not effective. It is not often that you see independent firms utilized to evaluate government services that result in programs being eliminated for not achieving outcomes!

Among CEO successes are:

  • A joint program with the City University of New York that provides students with support to earn an associate’s degree. The first cohort of students graduated at a rate that was more than twice that of a comparable group that did not receive the support.
  • The Young Adult Internship program, in which more than 90 percent of enrollees completed internships and nearly half of those were placed in employment or education.
  • An Office of Financial Empowerment is helping educate low-income New Yorkers on how to manage their household budgets.

Programs that didn’t work are:

  • Placing welfare recipients in entry-level jobs with city agencies.
  • A literacy program for young adults emerging from incarceration.
  • Efforts to promote online screening for city benefits.

Successful innovation requires experiments that don’t always work. Bloomberg has been willing to take chances by trying new ideas, we need more public leaders willing to take the same approach. What do you think?

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