Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation

Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation Blog

  • The BRAIN Like You've Never Seen It Before!

    The most mysterious biological organ in the universe is located right between your ears: your brain -- a non-stop multitasking marvel.  Your brain controls your thinking, voluntary behaviors, and critical aspects of your physiology, such as breathing.

    Although brain research has advanced in recent years, no one has yet cracked the code of healthy brain function. An improved understanding of the healthy brain may open new avenues for treating traumatic brain injuries and brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

    That’s why the National Science Foundation (NSF) -- the only Federal agency that funds basic research across almost all science and engineering fields -- supports basic research on how healthy brains work.  NSF is also one of the five Federal agencies supporting The BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative, an initiative launched by President Obama in 2013 that aims to develop and apply technologies to help revolutionize our understanding of the human brain.

    Advanced technologies and techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), bionic limbs, and laser eye surgery were all initially grounded NSF-funded basic research. Basic research on the healthy brain could lead to equally profound advances.

    NSF-funded brain research comes to life in a new video series -- “Mysteries of the Brain” -- produced by NBC Learn in partnership with NSF. “Mysteries of the Brain” uses special effects, simulations, interviews, and animations to show, not just tell, what we know about how the brain works in various species, including humans, and the creative techniques being used by cutting-edge brain researchers to learn more. 

  • OSHA Launches New Version of its Heat Safety Tool App to Keep Workers Safe in Summer Weather

    Last month, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released a new version of its Heat Safety Tool mobile app for iOS just in time for the summer heat.

    OSHA’s Heat Safety Tool was initially launched in 2011 as a key part of OSHA’s campaign to help outdoor workers prevent heat illness, which sickens thousands and results in the deaths of more than 30 workers each year. The app tells employers and workers about the current conditions outside, the forecasted temperature maximum for the day, and provides information to help users plan work schedules accordingly and take other precautions to help prepare for extreme heat. With nearly 200,000 downloads since its launch, the app has been one of the most successful mobile apps developed by the Federal government. However, the app had not received a major update or new features in the last four years. Because of this, the Presidential Innovation Fellows program began working with OSHA to help modernize the app.

    Screenshots from the OSHA Heat app.

  • Using Data and Technology to Advance Community Policing

    We’ve launched a Police Data Initiative that’s helping … innovative cities use data to strengthen their work and hold themselves accountable by sharing it with the public.

    -President Obama

    Two weeks ago, in Camden, NJ, the President announced the launch of the Police Data Initiative. The effort is a fast response from the White House, working with 21 leading police departments across the country, to the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which made recommendations encouraging better use of data and technology to build community trust and reduce inappropriate uses of force. 

  • Launching the Police Data Initiative

    Today, the President is in Camden to talk about the promising progress that city is making in enhancing community policing. Last December, President Obama launched the Task Force on 21st Century Policing to better understand specific policing challenges and help communities identify actions they can take to improve law enforcement and enhance community engagement. Since that time, we have seen law enforcement agencies around the country working harder than ever to make the promise of community policing real.

    Many of the Task Force’s recommendations emphasize the opportunity for departments to better use data and technology to build community trust. As a response, the White House has launched the Police Data Initiative, which has mobilized 21 leading jurisdictions across the country to take fast action on concrete deliverables responding to these Task Force recommendations in the area of data and technology. Camden is one such jurisdiction. 

    By finding innovative work already underway in these diverse communities and bringing their leaders together with top technologists, researchers, data scientists and design experts, the Police Data Initiative is helping accelerate progress around data transparency and analysis, toward the goal of increased trust and impact. Through the Initiative, key stakeholders are establishing a community of practice that will allow for knowledge sharing, community-sourced problem solving, and the establishment of documented best practices that can serve as examples for police departments nationwide.

  • Philanthropic Leaders Launch New Data and Evidence Initiatives to Advance What Works

    Data-driven, evidence-based policy can be a game changer for people and communities in need. When we know what works best and act on it, we achieve better results – increase reading levels, decrease homelessness, help more working families join the middle class – while making smarter use of taxpayer dollars.

    The Obama administration has doubled down on efforts to advance the use of rigorous evidence to drive smart policy decisions and to scale what works. Our social innovation agenda involves a two-step approach: using data and evidence to identify solutions that work better and then, once we’ve found measurably better solutions, replicating and scaling what works. 

    Philanthropy has been an essential partner to government in surfacing the tools, programs and approaches that work, providing grant and risk capital that enables replication, and connecting communities with the talent and resources they need to make change. Philanthropy’s role will continue to be critical along a spectrum from helping make data open to the public and enabling local government to make data-driven decisions to using data to support rigorous evaluations of social programs. That’s why I’m excited about two new philanthropic initiatives launching this week:

    • Bloomberg Philanthropies recently announced What Works Cities, a major new initiative designed to enable mayors and city leaders to accelerate their use of data and evidence to improve the quality of life for residents. Former Mayor Bloomberg has brought together experts from Johns Hopkins, Harvard, the Sunlight Foundation, Results for America and the Behavioral Insights Center to work with cities directly with the goal of improving access to useable data, driving stronger performance by city governments, and learning how to evaluate impact in low-cost ways. 
    • The Laura and John Arnold Foundation is launching a new Evidence-Based Policy and Innovation Division that will support rigorous analysis of social programs across issues areas, build and share knowledge of what works, and aims to give policy makers tools to move the needle on our most pressing social challenges. 

    We look forward to following these and similar philanthropic endeavors and to engaging with the foundation community, cities, states, and service providers to identify and help scale evidence and data-driven solutions that support communities in need and make more efficient use of public resources.

  • New Pay for Success Grants Help Communities Advance What Works

    Government supports social programs to help foster better outcomes in people’s lives. We invest in workforce training programs to help people develop the skills they need to find good jobs and support their families; we invest in child welfare to provide stability in the lives of children who may be victims of abuse or neglect; we invest in early learning programs to set kids on a path for educational and life success.

    Too often, however, we don’t create the best incentives for nonprofit service providers and for that reason we don’t always see the outcomes we’d like for our public investment.  For instance, in the case of workforce training, we often compensate programs for how many people receive training, rather than how many trainees get jobs that pay family wages. 

    To be sure, we may get good results by funding proxies for success (training) rather than success itself (jobs). But logic and experience tell us that we get better results when we simply pay for the outcomes we want, when we pay for success. Enabling us to do just that is an innovative approach to social service funding appropriately called Pay for Success.