Our Story

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After being selected for the City Accelerator, an initiative of Living Cities and the Citi Foundation to advance and promote innovation in cities, The City of Philadelphia set out to find more efficient and effective means of enrolling our most vulnerable residents in our utility and taxpayer assistance programs. We employed randomized control trials, developed partnerships and pilot programs with academics, and employed human-centered design, behavioral science, and a trauma-informed approach to customer service. Hundreds of individuals have been enrolled into these programs thanks to this effort.

To keep up the momentum and spread the benefits to an array of public policy challenges, we developed a strategy to educate others about the work, with the goal of embedding these practices into day-to-day operations, and empowering employees across government to explore innovative techniques to solve the problems they face. What started as a group of fewer than 10 people involved with the City Accelerator project, has turned into more than 100 people applying behavioral science, human-centered design, and trauma-informed service delivery methods to in an array of policy areas. 

The encouraging results from the City Accelerator, a project which started in the Nutter Administration and concluded during the beginning of the Kenney Administration, led to the creation of a broader citywide effort known as a the Philadelphia Behavioral Science Initiative in mid-2016 co-led by the Mayor’s Policy Office and local academics. 

In addition to piloting low-cost interventions, the Mayor’s Policy Office wants to further the use of evidence-based practices across city government, and provide more support for city agencies who do use data to drive decisions. By early 2017, the Mayor launched GovLabPHL, a a community of City employees and academic researchers dedicated to creating opportunities to learn and practice evidence-based methods. The initiative collaboratively explores ways in which government can best serve residents by supporting City agencies looking to address challenges through the practical use of data and research. GovLabPHL is a local, national and international leader in this space.


Letter from Mayor James F. Kenney

City of Philadelphia

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Philadelphia is a city that aims to foster an environment where innovative policies and programming can flourish and positively effect people who live, work, and visit. We are constantly looking at efficient and effective ways in which we can better serve our communities, visitors, and businesses. The application of behavioral science methods has allowed the City to address resident needs in equitable, creative ways.

Through our partnership with researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, Swarthmore College, Temple University, Princeton University, and other local colleges and universities, the City has been fortunate enough to explore cross-departmental efforts to determine what actually encourages certain behaviors to improve outcomes. While there is no easy fix for any of the challenges that we face as a municipality, behavioral science gives us the tools to be innovative in how we approach them.

As Mayor, it is rewarding to be able to continue the pattern of innovation that previous administrations have passed down and effect positive change in how our City government serves constituents. By taking steps to better analyze our engagement with the residents we serve and improve upon our approach to challenges, we’re creating effective data-informed outcomes. I am confident that the projects designed through the behavioral science initiative will rewrite the playbook on innovation in government.

This website allows the City of Philadelphia and our academic partners to share the full scope of our behavioral science partnership. We owe it to our citizens to create the most cutting edge solutions to our challenges and behavioral science gives us the tools to do so. I am proud of the work of this administration and the many partners who have made this possible.