State’s Regulatory Roadmap Named Semifinalist in Harvard’s 2017 Innovations in American Government Awards Competition

The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, recognized today the Washington State Department of Commerce’s Regulatory Roadmap initiative as part of the 100 programs named as semifinalists in this year’s Innovations in American Government Awards competition. The Regulatory Roadmap will compete to be named a finalist in the competition and have the chance to be awarded the $100,000 grand prize in Cambridge this spring.

The Regulatory Roadmap initiative advanced from a pool of more than 500 applications from all 50 states, and was selected by the Innovations Award evaluators as an example of novel and effective action whose work has had significant impact, and which they believe can be replicated across the country and the world.

When Washington businesses asked the state Department of Commerce to help simplify regulation, Commerce set out to streamline state permitting processes. Businesses welcomed these improvements at individual agencies, and feedback led Commerce to realize the bigger problem was the time investment needed to research and understand all the regulations and then navigate through them to completion.

For example, opening a restaurant involves requirements from as many as 17 different city, county and state regulatory agencies. Guided by businesses’ vision of what would provide the most help, Commerce worked with the restaurant community, local jurisdictions, and state agencies to develop online roadmaps that distill all local and state requirements into easy-to-understand sequential worksheets and checklists for opening a new facility. Scenarios and planning tools identify “trigger issues” to help business owners avoid regulatory surprises.

The pilot Restaurant Roadmap, started in Seattle in 2013, is helping save prospective restaurateurs time, money, and mistakes, and was then adapted for the cities of Spokane Valley and Spokane throughout 2015 and 2016. Building on this success, Commerce expanded the roadmap approach into the manufacturing sector upon hearing once again that regulatory information was unpredictable and difficult to find. Manufacturers, brought together by Economic Alliance Snohomish County and Impact Washington, want access to technical details to quickly make feasibility decisions before hiring a consultant or architect. Based on their input, Commerce produced a Manufacturing Roadmap that includes interactive tools to assess costs, timelines, and overall feasibility of potential facility sites.

Manufacturers reported that the Roadmap could have saved them up to two months of combing through city codes and agency websites, trying to understand if a potential site would pencil out. The Manufacturing Regulatory Roadmap has been launched in the cities of Arlington and Marysville, and is launching shortly in Lynnwood, with several other cities to follow.  A new Roadmap for the construction sector also is underway.

“These programs demonstrate that there are no prerequisites for doing the good work of governing,” said Stephen Goldsmith, director of the Innovations in American Government Program at the Ash Center. “Small towns and massive cities, huge federal agencies and local school districts, large budgets or no budgets at all — what makes government work best is the drive to do better, and this group proves that drive can be found anywhere.”

The semifinalist programs represent a cross-section of jurisdictions and policy areas, and embody one of the most diverse and sophisticated groups that have advanced to this stage in the competition’s 30-year history. They were invited to complete a supplementary application last fall, answering in-depth questions about their work, the process of creating and sustaining their programs, and how they believe they can teach others to do what they do. The Ash Center expects to announce 10 programs that will be named finalists and be invited to Cambridge to present to the Innovation Awards Program’s National Selection Committee in March, with the grand prize winners to be named in June.

Please visit the Government Innovators Network at for the full list of Semifinalists, and for more information regarding the Innovations in American Government Awards.

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