SC2 team leads, more so than any other partners in the pilot, were given a role with high levels of both uncertainty and responsibility. SC2 team leads found themselves working in a new environment in which they were required to quickly establish relationships with city stakeholders and federal colleagues. In cities marked by limited capacity and near-daily crises, SC2 team leads were tasked with advancing the work of the team members to address city needs while the SC2 pilot was but one of many priorities competing for city leaderships’ attention. Additionally, in a number of the pilot cites, SC2 team leads faced challenges related to unclear priorities for the engagement, unengaged mayors, and varying degrees of commitment from the federal agencies represented by the team. Such an environment required SC2 team leads to be resourceful in order to keep team members moving forward in addressing city priorities, to overcome barriers to progress, and to help find solutions to long-standing problems.
SC2 team leads accomplished these tasks by being strong leaders, facilitators, managers, and communicators. They did so in a variety of contexts, from city hall to interactions with team members to collaborations with community members. It was critical for SC2 team leads to be able to manage the day-to-day work of team members, engage city leaders about priorities for the SC2 team, understand and work within the local political context, and mobilize other team members and other federal colleagues when needed. More so than other team members, it was important for the leads to be generalists rather than experts, given the need for them to work across numerous topic areas and with city leaders and federal agencies. We found that these work skills, habits, and experiences were generally more important to the success of the SC2 team than either the SC2 team lead’s content expertise or the extent to which the lead had pre-existing connections in the pilot city.
From conversations with SC2 pilot stakeholders, we heard that the most effective leads understood the need to respect their city’s autonomy and leadership. These leads got to know the culture within city hall, the city’s previous development efforts, and the city’s motivations for the major initiatives planned. They then used this information to help shape and guide the SC2 team’s work. By showing respect and understanding, the lead earned the city’s trust, which sometimes translated into team members being given the freedom to conduct work on city priorities with little oversight from city staff members who were already stretched too thin by other demands. SC2 team leads, in effect, were able to build credibility through their actions and the actions of their team members.
As a case in point, one SC2 team worked with a city that went through a political transition in the midst of the pilot, leading to a great deal of uncertainty and a resetting of priorities for the engagement. The ensuing chaos delayed implementation and threatened progress. In response, the SC2 team lead focused on building new relationships to address city priorities, overcoming the city’s very limited staff capacity, and bypassing city stakeholders who were unwilling to engage in the pilot. The lead formed a strong working relationship with the new mayor, which helped clarify priority areas and allowed implementation to begin in earnest. Additionally, the lead formed relationships with local consultants hired by the mayor to engage citizens in local government. This created opportunities for the SC2 team to build local collaborations to address education and health access that incorporated community concerns. Finally, the lead worked with the SC2 team to develop partnerships with local anchor institutions that had long been uninvolved in city affairs, creating opportunities for collaboration that are expected to be sustained over time. Faced with barriers to progress, this lead found a way to not only advance city priorities but also to create partnerships between the city and local institutions likely to build city capacity for years to come.