Agency leadership’s commitment to the pilot was seen in the number of agency staff and amount of staff time dedicated to the pilot, how many members were embedded in cities (vs. working remotely), the level of access the SC2 team and city had to senior-level agency officials, and the leadership’s support for SC2’s bottom-up approach to assisting cities. Each of these characteristics was important in addressing cities’ priorities.
As noted earlier, agency commitment to the pilot was most evident among agencies with a traditional place-based focus or those with an increasing interest in pursuing place-based strategies. Those agencies in general committed the most staff to the engagement and the highest share of embedded team members and were thus able to provide SC2 team support to more cities and to more projects. Given how important embedded members were to the success of the engagement, due primarily to their ability to build strong relationships with local city stakeholders, those agencies with the most embedded team members were especially valuable to the pilot.
By contrast, agencies that exhibited less commitment to the pilot primarily assigned staff to part-time or advisory positions. While part-time team members certainly made significant contributions to the engagement, especially in terms of providing transactional, responsive assistance to cities, a subset of part-time members described a struggle to manage the expectations of their federal supervisors and colleagues in terms of what they could accomplish in their typical role with their home agency versus what they could accomplish for their assigned pilot city. Many of the part-time team members we talked with described feeling unsure about how to divide their time between their established work and SC2
team activities. In some cases, members described receiving only nominal support for their SC2 pilot participation, with no decrease in their prior workload or active encouragement to spend time on SC2 team activities. For example, two team members assigned to the same city, both from regional offices but different agencies, mentioned that they had been told by their supervisors to continue “business as usual,” providing the same services to the city as they had before their SC2 assignment. Not surprisingly, city stakeholders expressed disappointment about the lack of progress made on issues related to both of those particular agencies. A team member in a different city said that he had little time to contribute to the SC2 team because he was overloaded with his responsibilities as head of an agency field office. He added that part-time team members found it more challenging to contribute because they still had to perform their regularly assigned duties and that their performance evaluations did not take the SC2 pilot work into consideration.
SC2 team accomplishments depended not only on the contributions of individual team members, but also on access to senior level agency officials who could answer critical questions and make final decisions for cities. Among the most committed agencies, the secretaries made clear their support for the engagement internally, by communicating its importance to agency staff, or externally, by visiting pilot cities or championing SC2 team accomplishments. By contrast, a team member in an agency that exhibited little commitment to the pilot questioned whether the secretary of her agency even knew the SC2 initiative existed. Team members were keenly aware of their agencies’ leadership’s support or lack of support for SC2 and the pilot and this awareness appeared to influence how much effort the members invested in the work.