Evaluation of the Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) Teams Pilot: Final Report. 1.1 Study and Report Overview


Beginning in 2011, the White House Council on Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) implemented a comprehensive pilot initiative designed to partner with local leaders to encourage economic stabilization and recovery in some of the most economically distressed U.S. cities. With this initiative, the Domestic Policy Council (DPC) and 14 federal agencies launched “a new model of federal-local collaboration to improve how the federal government invests in and offers technical assistance to support locally driven economic development and job creation goals, while helping to coordinate funds at the local, state, and federal level.”5 The goals of SC2 are improving the relationship between local and federal government, providing coordination and support among federal programs, partnering for economic growth, enhancing local capacity, and encouraging regional collaboration. 6

Chapter 1 Highlights

  • Beginning in 2011, the White House Council on Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) implemented a comprehensive pilot initiative designed to partner federal agencies with local leaders to encourage economic stabilization and recovery in some of the most economically distressed U.S. cities.
  • The DPC and senior leadership from participating agencies chose six cities to participate in the pilot: Chester, PA; Cleveland, OH; Detroit, MI; Fresno, CA; Memphis, TN; and New Orleans, LA.
  • The pilot was organized around SC2 Teams made up of federal government employees from 17 federal agencies. These teams, one per city, partnered with local leaders to further the cities’ economic development priorities.
  • The SC2 pilot was unique among federal initiatives in that:
    •  It operated in a collaborative, interagency fashion to devise comprehensive, responsive solutions.
    • A small team of federal government employees co-located with local leaders, working closely with city hall and in some cases physically moving to partner cities.
  • Throughout the engagements, SC2 teams focused their work on five activity areas consistent with the design and goals of the pilot:
    • Providing responsive, transactional assistance to address specific problems.
    • Building relationships between local stakeholders and non-SC2 federal employees.
    • Brokering local or regional partnerships.
    • Adding temporary technical capacity.
    • Developing programs and plans.


One component of SC2 is SC2 teams. 7 SC2 teams are interagency groups of federal employees mandated to partner with cities to meet the goals of the SC2 initiative. The focus of this evaluation is the first round of SC2 teams (referred to henceforth as the SC2 pilot or the pilot), deployed in six cities: Chester, PA; Cleveland, OH; Detroit, MI; Fresno, CA; Memphis, TN; and New Orleans, LA.8 The SC2 pilot began implementation in September 2011 and finished in September 2013. SC2 teams in the pilot cities provided direct support to city leadership, tailoring technical assistance and planning resources to focus on issues that cities perceived as vital to their economic development.

In 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in partnership with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Education (ED), contracted with Abt Associates and Mt. Auburn Associates to evaluate the SC2 pilot.9 HHS and its study partners asked Abt to investigate three primary research questions:

  • How are SC2 teams’ activities being implemented?
  • How have participants experienced SC2?
  • What has been learned that can be used to enhance future program implementation? 10

The evaluation is designed to provide informative feedback to SC2 staff and to the federal agencies involved in the initiative. The study focuses on the activities implemented between September 2011 and March 2013. Data for the study was collected through site visits conducted in March and April 2013 and key informant interviews and focus groups conducted in spring and fall 2013.

The evaluation was not intended to rigorously evaluate program outcomes, but rather to evaluate how the pilot was implemented and factors associated with its success. We define success as the ability of the SC2 teams to assist pilot cities in addressing their priorities for economic revitalization. Our analysis focused on identifying factors that contributed to or hindered the SC2 teams’ effectiveness at addressing pilot cities’ priorities for economic revitalization. To conduct the analysis, we drew on the qualitative data collected through site visits, interviews, and focus groups, as well as background documents about the SC2 teams and the engagement.

This report summarizes the results of our research on the pilot. It proceeds as follows:

  • The remainder of the introduction provides further discussion of the design of the Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative and the evaluation team’s data collection methods.
  • Chapter 2 describes how federal agencies were identified for the pilot, and how pilot cities and team members were selected.
  • Chapter 3 outlines the roles of key players in the pilot, how activities were selected, what activities were implemented, and briefly summarizes key accomplishments.
  • Chapter 4 presents findings about what fostered and hindered the SC2 teams’ ability to address city priorities, including characteristics of the teams, the role of federal agencies, the role of pilot cities, and how SC2 teams and pilot cities worked together.
  • Chapter 5 discusses lessons learned from the pilot, including strengths and challenges of the approach, and implications for future rounds of SC2 or other federal programs.
  • Chapter 6 summarizes the key observations and findings discussed in this report.

5  White House Council on Strong Cities, Strong Communities, Strong Cities, Strong Communities First Annual Report, April 2013, pp. 6.

6  HHS Program Support Center, Request for Task Order Proposals: Evaluation of the Strong Cities, Strong Communities Pilot Initiative; Solicitation # 12-233-SOL-00501, pp. 2-3.

7  In addition to the SC2 teams, SC2 includes three additional components: The Fellowship Program, in which mid-career professionals are selected to work as fellows in targeted communities; the Economic Visioning Challenge, a national grant competition to enable cities to implement innovative economic development strategies; and the National Resource Network, a single portal for accessing technical experts available to cities across the country. This evaluation only focuses on the SC2 team component of SC2.

8  In October 2012, after the contract for this evaluation was executed, Youngstown, OH also became a pilot site.

9  As this evaluation covers the implementation of the SC2 pilot, activities that occurred prior to implementation, such as city selection and assessment, are not being evaluated directly and are only discussed when they have been identified as impacting the SC2 pilot implementation itself.

10  Secondary research questions are listed in Appendix B.

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