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Government of the Future – How Competitions Create Innovation

Some of the most innovative ideas in government aren’t coming from the C-Suite, but from university students. Each year Governing Magazine hosts a competition for university students looking to change the way government works. It’s called thePublic Policy Challenge and it’s goal is to think through the entire process of an idea, from concept to budget to implementation.

Mark Funkhouser is the director of GOVERNING’s in-house think tank, the GOVERNING Institute, and former Mayor of Kansas City, Missouri. He told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that these competitions breed innovation.

What is the public policy challenge?

“The idea is like moot court or business case competitions. Teams of students from various colleges across the country, look at challenges in their own communities and come up with public policy solutions, to meet those challenges. They also developed at least the beginnings of a political strategy for the practical implementation of the idea. They also figure out a new and better way to deal with a problem, with things like energy costs or healthcare, they also have the begun to think about this as a wonderful idea to something that will actually change people’s lives. It’s the real march madness,” said Funkhouser.

Process they go through?

“The team that won this year was from the Fels Institute at the University of Pennsylvania. Four different students, each individually without knowing each other submitted an application to Penn. to compete in the challenge. They were each interested in healthcare so, the administrator matched the four of them up, and they met for the first time in November. They worked on their idea. They won, and advanced to the National Championship,” said Funkhouser.

The finalists?

“At the National Championship there were 9 teams from different universities. They do a round robin style of presentations for a panel of judges. Several panels of three judges each. Most of the judges are people that have won Governing magazine’s public official of the year in previous years,” said Funkhouser. “Those judges pick four finalists. The kids write a paper outlining their whole project and how it would work on a practical level. Where would you get the money. How would you get the votes. How would you make it work.”

Winning project is re:Mind?

“All these kids were interested in primary level healthcare and the social work student was passionately committed to adult mental health. What they found was the number one reason that people who are in a psychiatric facilities are released, the number one reason they get re-admitted is that they don’t make their first outpatient visit. The number one reason they miss that visit is because they simply forgot. There is so much going on in their lives when they are discharged they just simply forgot to make it. Research showed if you could get people to their first appointment they would make,” said Funkhouser.

  • The students came up with an application that would send a text message and email not only the patient themselves but to the people working with them, their spouse, children to help them make their appointment. It is a very simple thing.
  • Under the affordable care act the psych. hospitals are penalized for re-admissions so there is a real incentive on the hospitals part to find a way to keep the person out of the mental hospitals. So they were quick to sign on.

All the ideas were good ?

“Most of these kids are committed to the idea, they are going to go forward with this anyhow. There is an interesting entrepreneurial flair to all of this. The team that won last year created a little company. The company is moving forward with their idea. Almost all the teams that do well, have come up with almost an original idea that they tend to carry forward, it is their job,” said Funkhouser.

Better teams have?

“The top half that advance to the finals are all incredibly good. Secret sauce, the edge, is that they are interdisciplinary teams, I’m an old jock, and I will tell you, you don’t want a whole basketball team that is all made up of point guards. That’s the way these teams work. It sparks the most creativity and comprehensive solution,” said Funkhouser. “Oftentimes we get jaded and cynical, but this project just shows that this next generation will take care of us.

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