Mayors Meeting the Challenge: A Visit to Philly
The “actors” were people with real-world experience. Actual police officers and social workers role played along with teenagers. About 20 additional teenagers watched and offered their feedback after each scene. Their insights were incorporated into subsequent rounds of play acting, allowing organizers to fine-tune the Hub’s processes and procedures even as they were developing them.
Three things about my visit to Philadelphia really stood out. First, when government works with the people it serves to create a program, it results in more than just good policies. It also produces a sense of empowerment. The participating teenagers’ faces positively lit up when they heard that the Hub’s design would take their feedback into account. As one of them said, “You’re treating us like people.”
Second is that there’s great value in developing a program the way Philadelphia is doing it—through an iterative, adaptive, and fluid process. Too often, government programs are designed without engaging users until it’s too late. By contrast, Philadelphia’s prototyping produced immediate feedback, which allowed for real-time improvements.
Finally, what’s happening in Philadelphia is another example of how important mayoral leadership is to encouraging innovation in local government. Mayor Jim Kenney has made criminal justice reform and reducing discrimination against African-American men top priorities for his administration. When a mayor sets a bold and clear vision like this, it gives everyone—from department heads to front-line staff—the incentive to think creatively and the political cover to take chances. It’s no mistake that the idea for the Juvenile Justice Hub came from two police officers, who saw what was happening to children they arrested. They recognized that there had to be a better way.
And this is what’s happening in just one city. Right now, through the Mayors Challenge, 34 more cities are testing out their ideas, seeing what works, refining their plans, and making better public policy. I can’t wait to see what their revised proposals look like when they submit them later this August.