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NEW @ THE ACADEMY

Meet our Fellows: Stephen Goldsmith (‘06)

Stephen Goldsmith is the Daniel Paul Professor of the Practice of Government and the Director of the Innovations in American Government Program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. He currently directs Data-Smart City Solutions, a project to highlight local government efforts to use new technologies that connect breakthroughs in the use of big data analytics with community input to reshape the relationship between government and citizen. He previously served as Deputy Mayor of New York and Mayor of Indianapolis, where he earned a reputation as one of the country's leaders in public-private partnerships, competition, and privatization. Stephen was also the chief domestic policy advisor to the George W. Bush campaign in 2000, the Chair of the Corporation for National and Community Service, and the district attorney for Marion County, Indiana from 1979 to 1990. He has written The Power of Social InnovationGoverning by Network: the New Shape of the Public SectorPutting Faith in Neighborhoods: Making Cities Work through Grassroots CitizenshipThe Twenty-First Century City: Resurrecting Urban America, The Responsive City: Engaging Communities Through Data-Smart Governance; and, most recently, A New City O/S: The Power of Open, Collaborative, and Distributed Governance.

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Here is a recent interview with Stephen:

  1. What do you enjoy most about the work you do?

I spend most of my time helping develop and translate policy into practice, particularly at the local level.  I manage executive sessions and communities of practice involving senior elected leaders and appointed officials who almost uniformly demonstrate their commitment to high quality public service.  The sense of pragmatism, willingness to innovate, and humor that permeates these sessions is both gratifying and encouraging.  I enjoy writing as I have some hope that people will want to access what I’ve written, apply the concepts I’ve suggested, and then relay their findings back to my program, thus creating a productive feedback cycle.

  1. How did you get involved in public service and what motivates you to continue your work?

Since the time I was in high school, I was interested in public service; former Senator Richard Lugar played a part in my pre-professional days.  As a school board member, he sent a letter congratulating me on my election to student council president—a letter I retained for decades.  Then he became mayor while I was in college, and that further motivated me to run for office.  I am committed to improving the quality of urban life, and my work at Harvard Kennedy School allows me to continue that in a range of ways.  I am now focused on applying digital tools to improve governance in such areas as economic opportunity and transit mobility.

  1. What advice would you give someone entering the Public Administration field?

Be selective about your first boss! Bring your ideas and dedication to a department that provides enough space to make a difference. Talent and hard work will always produce results in the right environment.

  1. Looking at the present and into the future, what do you think a public administration “Grand Challenge” is or might be?

I believe THE grand challenge of our time is to improve the living conditions and economic mobility of citizens who are not able to realize the American Dream.  The associated public administration challenge is that we have magnificent new technologies that can help us produce broadly better governance, but we are operating with obsolete management systems that were designed more or less a century ago.

  1. Reflecting on your career, is there a highlight, a greatest accomplishment or a funny story you’d like to share?

I have little tolerance for time consuming bureaucracy, and as a lawyer myself, even less tolerance for armies of public sector lawyers telling officials what they cannot do. As mayor I wanted constant action. But one day in my haste to tear down an abandoned house-turned-crack-den, I rented a bulldozer and hopped on the seat with the driver only to have the city lawyer catch up with us right before the shovel hit the porch yelling that the correct house was the one next door!

  1. What was your first job?

Digging ditches on a construction site, which perhaps precipitated the aforementioned story!  My first public service job was working in a county clerk’s office filing papers. Luckily, I’ve moved away from paper-based systems since then.

  1. What is the best part about where you live?

Cambridge is wonderful because of the overarching interest in learning, analyzing, testing, and improving.  Indianapolis is a great place because of the inherent friendliness of its residents and its flexibility to become what it needs to become.

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