As we celebrate our third birthday, we asked our Executive Director, Beth Blauer, to reflect on our scrappy beginnings and meteoric rise (if we do say so ourselves).
1. How did GovEx get started and become a part of Johns Hopkins University?
Back in 2015, Mike Bloomberg launched the What Works Cities initiative with the ambitious goal to advance the use of data and evidence in 100 mid-sized cities across the US by 2018. He understood there needed to be an organization dedicated to supporting mid-sized cities as they thought about data and how it could help solve problems. As a result, Bloomberg Philanthropies provided very generous startup funding to establish what is now GovEx at his alma mater, Johns Hopkins University. I was working at Socrata at the time and was asked to take the helm. I quickly drafted Sharon Paley, our Deputy Director, as co-founder. It is now the coolest place on the Hopkins campus!
2. What sets GovEx apart from other organizations that work with data and government?
There are four ways that set us apart. First, we know the importance of meeting governments that we work with where they are, without making assumptions. Secondly, we are focused on supporting the work of other government practitioners with a staff that is almost entirely made up of former government employees. So GovEx has a deep understanding of our city partners, their challenges and goals. Additionally, GovEx is strategically trying to close the data skills gap in government in ways that are inexpensive, scalable, and immediately useful. Finally, because our goal is to help governments improve their programs so that they can improve lives of residents, the majority of our resources are free so that any government can use or repurpose them to fit their own needs.
3. Were the last three years what you expected them to be? What were your greatest successes?
I know it sounds hokey, but it’s been even better than I ever could have imagined! I thought it was a long shot that we would work in 100 cities in three years, but we did (actually 106) and trained over 2,000 people on top of that. We got to work all over the world and discover excellence in every city we came in contact with. We built a better team that I could have dreamed of, all of whom are seriously committed to improving the way government works. And, there are so many successes from our cities — from Indianapolis finding innovative solutions to hunger, to Las Vegas reducing its ambulance deployment while getting residents the critical social services they need, to making streets safer for cyclists in Florence, Italy. The stories of how cities are empowered to make life better for their residents is what really makes me proudest.
4. What does the future hold for GovEx and would you do it all over again?
Earlier this year we launched our an applied research initiative, which connects local governments to the latest research and helps them apply it to their own policies. We are also creating a new training center. Since our very first engagements, we have seen that a deep investment in the public sector workforce is a key to success for government. We will be announcing news about GovEx shortly, so stay tuned.
And absolutely, I would do it again. A hundred times over.