The Government Performance Lab

The Harvard Kennedy School Government Performance Lab conducts research on how governments can improve the results they achieve for their citizens. An important part of our research model involves providing pro bono technical assistance to state and local governments. Through this hands-on involvement, we gain insights into the barriers that governments face and the solutions that can overcome these barriers. By engaging current students and recent graduates in this effort, we are able to provide experiential learning as well.

Our technical assistance model generally involves placing a full time government innovation fellow on location with the government he or she is serving.  We also provide some less intensive forms of technical assistance.  Our fellows tend to be recent graduates with public policy, law, or business degrees.

The Government Performance Lab grew out of our Social Impact Bond Technical Assistance Lab (SIB Lab).  The SIB Lab was established in 2011 with support from the Rockefeller Foundation and helped Massachusetts and New York State become the first two states to use the Pay for Success model.  In 2013, we held a national competition to select additional government partners and awarded technical assistance to eight additional governments: Chicago, Colorado, Connecticut, Denver, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and South Carolina. In 2014 we again held a national competition and awarded technical assistance to twelve governments including a cohort of three governments receiving behavioral health-related technical assistance: Arkansas, Baltimore, California, DC Water, Louisville, Nevada, Olmstead Cohort (New Mexico, New York, Washington), Pennsylvania, San Francisco, and Vermont.  As of June 2017, eleven of the GPL’s TA-recipient jurisdictions have launched PFS projects, accounting for nearly two-thirds of the seventeen launched projects in the nation. Project policy areas include reducing recidivism, providing supportive housing to homeless individuals, increasing kindergarten readiness through high quality pre-K provision, reducing substance use-driven removals to the child welfare system, expanding home visitation programs to improve child and maternal health, and providing adult basic education services to improve employment outcomes. 

In 2015, we decided to test whether our model of technical assistance could be applied to help government agencies improve the results they achieve with their core government spending – without using social impact bond financing.  We created the Government Performance Lab to encompass both our social impact bond work and our new work.

Through Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities Initiative, we began supporting cities in improving the results they achieve with their contracted dollars.

With support from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, we began piloting a model of intensive technical assistance for jurisdictions interested in improving the results they achieve with their core human services spending. In these projects, we are embedding teams of 4-6 GPL fellows within a jurisdiction and working with multiple agencies simultaneously.

We currently have three types of projects:

  1. Pay for Success (PFS) social impact bond (SIB) projects supporting governments exploring the use of Pay for Success contracting. 
  2. Results-driven contracting projects that are part of Bloomberg Philanthropy’s What Works Cities initiative in which we will help 20 cities improve their procurement practices over the three years.
  3. Performance improvement projects in which we help governments improve the results they achieve with their core spending.

For more information about our projects, see Our Projects

For more information on our approach, see descriptions of our Performance Improvement, Results-Driven Contracting, and Pay for Success models.

To apply for technical assistance or read about our technical assistance model, see our Application for Technical Assistance.

To apply to become a GPL fellow, visit Employment.