The SC2 experience provided team members with a deeper understanding of the needs, priorities, and concerns of city government. SC2 teams also observed the effects of city governments’ staffing challenges, with staff being responsible for very large amounts of work. This staffing burden coupled with cities’ general lack of knowledge about federal programs hindered their ability to take advantage of federal resources.
Team members gained an appreciation for how local officials must juggle a wide range of responsibilities and compliance with different federal program requirements. They also became aware of how cities can feel disconnected from the federal government and this can make it difficult for cities to figure out what questions they should be asking about federal resources and how to go access those resources. Team members came to understand that it is unrealistic to expect city government officials to be aware of all of the very specific requirements and opportunities of each federal program.
With this new appreciation of city challenges and perspectives, team members recalibrated their expectations of what cities might be able to achieve and the federal support they might need to achieve it. They also saw an opportunity to provide city officials with direct assistance on how to interpret federal program guidelines and identify federal grant opportunities.
Promising Practice: Actively listen to cities’ goals and objectives to help them identify the most efficient and effective path forward.
As an example, one team member described how her interactions with cities changed after participating in the pilot. For example, when city officials come to her asking, “Can we do activities X or Y with this particular type of federal funding?” she no longer automatically answers “no” if the activities proposed are not permitted under that funding program. Instead, she begins a dialogue with the city officials to understand more broadly what they are trying to achieve with the proposed activities. She then works with them to figure out how they might achieve their objectives in other ways that are a better fit with federal funding sources. She now focuses on helping city staff identify strategies to reach the outcome they are trying to achieve, strategies which often look nothing like those envisioned originally by the city.
Team members report that this type of specific, comprehensive assistance helps cities generate new strategies for achieving community development goals and builds capacity in city government, as well as facilitating more access to federal resources. “Knowledge is power,” one team member from New Orleans explained. This individual found that helping cities is sometimes as easy as getting the message out that there are specific ways the federal government can help them.