Foundations Supporting Government Innovation?

INNOVATION. Vector illustration. foundations supporting government innovationHow do we tackle America’s big problems—wealth disparity, long-term unemployment, lack of social mobility? New tech gadgets or even massive investments from foundations aren’t going to solve them. As Mark Funkhouser, publisher of Governing magazine, writes, only effective and accountable government can do the job. And he writes about a conversation he had with Hilary Pennington of the Ford Foundation, who thinks foundations can help government innovate:

She thinks that the degree of attention paid by foundations and the public to individual social entrepreneurs is problematic because they tend to position government as the problem. She wishes that foundations would devote as much attention to social entrepreneurs within government. Yes, government needs to change, but I agree with her that the path to scale, especially on issues of social justice, is indeed through government because there are limits to what the market will do. …

So if it must fall to government to tackle the “wicked problems,” then what should be the role of foundations? For Pennington, the answer depends on the relationship between government and the governed, since it is the public that should determine public priorities. Foundations can help governments be more effective and accountable. They can fund experimentation and then help government make wiser decisions about what programs it should fund. And foundations can rally attention to neglected problems or unifying goals.

It’s an interesting take on the role of foundations. In our Public Works newsletter, we often write about communities finding innovative ways to engage citizens and address problems. But innovation costs money. With the support of foundations behind them, towns and states—guided by the expertise of knowledgeable public servants—could try new strategies to tackle those big problems.

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