July 03, 2016
As Philadelphia's Director of Policy, Anjali Chainani operates with an expectation that the city's greatest challenges can be overcome with innovative solutions. From educational funding shortfalls to crippling homelessness and energy management, the best ideas are only as valuable as the evidence out there to support them and the feasibility of putting them into practice.
That's why Chainani will join 14 other senior local government officials in the United States to take part in Results for America's year-long Fellowship to Advance the Use of Evidence and Data to Improve Outcomes for Residents.
It may sound like a bit of an abstract exercise, but the program brings together some of the most talented local officials from diverse cities around the country to evaluate how to use the information we have to better direct resources, increase government efficiency and improve community access.
In recent years, that's been one of Philadelphia's strong suits. Late in 2015 the Center for Digital government ranked Philadelphia the best city in the United States for technology utilization, praising our "infrastructure of innovation" that harnesses the power of civic apps and data analytics to help reach underserved populations and collaborate with students on STEM initiatives.
CIO Magazine also last year recognized Philadelphia for creating opendataphilly.org — a collection of more than 190 open data sets to mine city statistics — and the Philadelphia Property Search and AVI calculator tools to analyze property valuation and real estate tax information.
Some might insist that if it's not broken, don't fix it, but the Kenney administration decided early on to shake up the city's Office of Innovation and Technology by combining it with the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer. Together, they now comprise the Office of Open Data and Digital Transformation, led by Chief Data Officer Tim Wisniewski.
The insights Chainani picks up during her fellowship will undoubtedly find their way Wisniewski's team and serve as a roadmap for a variety of new initiatives.
Under the program, Chainani will develop a 2- to 3-year policy roadmap aimed at improving outcomes on a specific policy challenge still to be determined. She'll also partner with an external research or academic institution to assess a major government-funded program investment to inform decision making.
If history is any indication, Chainani's experience with the Philadelphia-based New Leaders Council (NLC) points toward in the direction of health and wellness, although fellows can also tackle crime, education, poverty and energy issues.
"The issues that are closest to me are health and wellness," she said in a recent Q & A prior to joining NLC in 2016.
Four years ago, she transitioned into a plant-based lifestyle after examining how food directly impacts physical and emotional health.
"In addition to being mindful about what I eat, I have learned to how to manage sleeping well, and having a regular exercise routine," Chainani added. "I fit everything else I have to do, inside this lifestyle, rather than trying to fit this lifestyle into my life. As a person who was never athletic, ate fast food everyday, and struggled with diets, I have a new life now."
In 2014, under then-Mayor Michael Nutter, former Policy Director Maia Jachimowicz participated in the fellowship and delivered several lasting accomplishments to Philadelphia. The city now has a database of best practices for public and private professionals to consult across an array of industries. A new collaboration between the city, workforce development partners and the University of Pennsylvania was implemented to grade outcomes on Philadelphia's youth summer jobs program. And at all levels of government, city leaders received briefing on the importance of rigorous external evaluations and research partnerships.
Under Kenney's watch, Chainani is a figure to keep an eye on in the coming years. Jim Engler, Deputy Mayor of Policy and Legislation, looked forward with anticipation in announcing her participation.
“I’m thrilled that Philadelphia is once again being nationally recognized as a leader in using evidence and data to transform the lives of our residents,” said Deputy Mayor Engler. “I am also proud to congratulate Anjali on being chosen to represent Philadelphia in the second cohort of Results for America’s Local Government Fellowship Program. I look forward to working with her to ensure that high-quality data and evidence are informing our policy decisions and providing better results for our residents.”
Chainani will be joined by 14 other fellows from the local governments of Albuquerque (NM), Atlanta (GA), Baltimore (MD), Cook County (IL), Dallas (TX), King County (WA), Los Angeles (CA), Louisville (KY), Montgomery County (MD) New Orleans (LA), New York (NY), Salt Lake County (UT), Seattle (WA) and Washington, D.C.
in 2018, at the conclusion of the fellowship, the work and findings from all participating fellows will be published in Results for America's Invest in What Works Policy Series.
As for Chainani's appreciation of Philadelphia — and how we'll be represented — the Temple University graduate has a flawless read on what makes us who we are.
"Every neighborhood has it's own distinct character, and inside those neighborhoods are people who love, work, struggle, fight, find a way, mess up, show-up and care a lot about all the things they care about," she said. "There's history here, people's history, and other people come from all over the world to get enriched from what happened here, and what is going to happen here. It's all about Philly. How can you not love that?"