About

The Harvard Kennedy School Government Performance Lab (GPL), based in the School’s Taubman Center for State and Local Government, supports state and local governments across the country in designing and implementing solutions to pressing social problems.

The GPL works closely with governments to develop and test service reforms – from how governments spend money through procurement to how they incorporate community voice in reforms – and thereby build more just and effective service systems. The GPL has completed more than 200 projects in 35 states, which have helped government leaders improve results for their residents. An important part of the GPL’s research model involves capturing the insights, tools, and practices gained through these hands-on projects to share with government leaders across the country.

Mission

The Harvard Kennedy School Government Performance Lab (GPL) supports governments in building just and effective service systems by developing hands-on tools for the design and implementation of reforms. We do this by working closely with state and local governments to develop and test ways to successfully design, manage, and sustain reforms. We then spread these practices to communities across the country.

 

The Challenge

Governments and communities want to build new systems that shift from punishment to prevention, provide supports that work, and create equitable access to resources.

 

Yet communities that stand to gain the most from social services, particularly communities of color, continue to be poorly served by systems meant to support them, disproportionately ensnared in punitive and harmful interventions, and shut out from the services that build economic mobility and power. While there are many resources available to help governments initiate reforms to address these challenges, they often trail off right at the point governments are ready to implement a reform – a critical point that can determine whether reforms are successful and sustainable. Governments need on-the-ground help in building, designing, and implementing just and effective service reforms through the full life cycle of a project. 

Punitive and Harmful Interventions

Individuals incarcerated, state and federal institutions

Graph of people incarcerated in the US

Lack of Access to Effective Supports

Adults with substance use disorders, receiving treatment (millions)

Graph of SUD

Shut Out from Economic Mobility and Power-Bulding Institutions

Children earning more than their parents
 

Economic mobility graph trending downwards

"What we’ve been able to do with the support of the GPL is break down existing processes, systems, and procedures, and change the behavior of employees and of the nonprofits that we fund. So what has changed? Virtually everything [...]

These changes are monumental for us and, with the GPL’s help, we were able to make that change in a way that is deeper and more lasting than any individual."  

– Lisa Morrison Butler, Chicago Department of Children and Family Support Services

Approach

Andrew Bentley

“The GPL is uniquely successful at co-implementing policy with governments because of the incredible talent we hire to become our fellows, as well as our research- and team-based approach to addressing key challenges. Many of our projects are at the cutting edge of the policy areas we cover – from transforming public safety systems to making procurement systems more equitable. I’m proud that our innovative projects address foundational needs across society and often work with and for historically marginalized communities.”

- Andrew Bentley, GPL Project Leader

The GPL hires and trains talented fellows to work with governments on intensive technical assistance projects over the course of 12-36 months, developing and testing ways to successfully design, manage, and sustain reforms. Through these hands-on engagements with practitioners, we gain insights into innovative approaches that improve government performance and produce better outcomes for residents. We then spread these practices to communities across the country through our publications, trainings, communities of practice, and more. By helping governments come to the table ready to implement promising reforms, we help unlock the investments of communities, advocates, and providers working to bring about systems change. 

Policy Areas

The GPL’s portfolio of work supports governments in building just and effective service systems across the following policy areas

Tools

Making progress in building just and effective service systems requires close attention to implementation and outcomes

 

Our Impact

Icon - Project

200+
intensive projects completed

Icon - Jurisdiction

89
Jurisdictions served

stairs icon going up

$6B+
in funds redirected towards outcomes

"Every time I have a question about a broader systemic challenge we’re facing, the GPL provides concrete advice and examples of solutions from other jurisdictions that are highly relevant to our work."

—Vickie Ybarra, Director of the Office of Innovation, Alignment, and Accountability
at Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families

History

In 2011, the Government Performance Lab was created with a small team but a big ambition: help state and local governments make more rapid progress in addressing difficult social problems.

 

The GPL began with a small team of fellows pioneering the use of social impact bonds to launch pay for success projects. These early engagements allowed the GPL to develop its model of embedding recent graduates of policy, law, and business schools in government agencies to provide pro bono technical assistance on innovative projects. From there, the GPL has grown over the past decade from a team of two to a team of 50, worked with 89 jurisdictions spanning 35 states, shifted over $6 billion in state and local funding towards results, and improved services reaching more than 490,000 residents. The GPL has helped dozens of governments make measurable progress – reducing homelessness in Denver, increasing substance use treatment in Tampa, keeping families intact in Michigan, and reducing pre-trial incarceration in Harris County (Houston), among many other examples. See a snapshot of our history below:

 

More about the GPL Story

Over the past decade, the GPL has grown from a team of 2 to a team of 50, worked with 89 jurisdictions spanning 35 states, shifted over $6 billion in state and local funding towards results, and improved services reaching more than 490,000 residents.

The GPL has helped dozens of governments make measurable progress – reducing homelessness in Denver, increasing substance use treatment in Tampa, keeping families intact in Michigan, and reducing pre-trial incarceration in Harris County (Houston), among many other examples. See a snapshot of our history below:

chart