Team members operated from three types of locations—in pilot cities at or near city hall, from a regional/field office, or from their department headquarters in the Washington, DC, area. We did not find a clear correlation between members’ locations and their effectiveness. The relative importance of the location of the team members depended on their individual skill set and the specific activities on which they focused. Embedded team members, though, had an advantage over similarly qualified remote members in that they could more effectively build local relationships and develop plans due to their ability to invest the time and face-to-face communication essential to those activities.
In general, team members who were located on-site were able to effectively perform activities such as relationship building and program and plan development. Being located on-site seemed to facilitate, or at least not obstruct, these types of activities. On-site members seemed particularly effective at building new connections with and among local stakeholders, for which their physical presence was often necessary. They were also effective at building new relationships between federal agencies and local stakeholders. For instance, team members from HHS in one city were responsible for creating a now permanent council of behavioral health care providers, which worked with the city to undertake a regional needs assessment, draft a comprehensive regional plan for expanding behavioral health resources, and produce a guide to existing local behavioral health resources. Arguably, this kind of task—which involved a great deal of face time and conversations with local stakeholders—was one uniquely available to on-site team members.
Members located at headquarters or regional offices, which we refer to collectively as remote staff, were most successful when providing responsive, transactional assistance, connecting cities to federal government employees, and/or linking the city to resources or models. The responsive or transactional assistance they provided was typically content-based and specific to a problem that needed to be solved. These tasks could be accomplished without extensive personal relationships or an intimate understanding of the local government culture and political dynamics. For instance, remote team members from DOT helped a pilot city release funds to purchase a riverboat as part of an effort to expand its tourism industry. This was accomplished through a single, brief visit to the city and several conversations internally at DOT, with very little need for working on-site.
The ability of remote team members to connect their city to federal resources and national models depended on their familiarity with resources in their agency as well as their content knowledge regarding best practices in their fields. This was true, however, for any team member providing transactional assistance, regardless of their geographic location (for instance, the background knowledge needed to repurpose a COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) grant in a pilot city to retain 120 officers on the force of the local police department was provided by an on-site team member, not a remote one.)
Remote staff were able to perform well while completing relationship building and program and plan development activities when they had existing positive relationships with local stakeholders. The ability to travel to a pilot city on a regular (or even occasional) basis further increased the potential impact of remote staff. For instance, a remote team member from HUD working with a pilot city was able to broker a relationship between the chief information officer of that city and the chief information officer of another city that was not part of the pilot, which helped the pilot city make significant progress toward developing a “311” site to increase transparency in city government. The HUD team member was also able to develop an operating procedure for implementing a version of HUDStat (“City Stat”) into city operations, which involved training for the mayor, the mayor’s executive team, and the heads of city departments. All of these achievements were accomplished through regular contact and some travel to the city, which was infrequent but crucial for understanding the local political climate and getting the whole of city government on the same page.
An additional finding about the effects of team members’ location was that the performance of regionally based staff was perceived by stakeholders to be affected, sometimes positively but often negatively, by pre-existing relationships. In one city, a regional team member from EPA not only had a long history in the region but also had been previously embedded in city hall for a few years on another executive loan program. These pre-existing relationships gave the team member credibility in the city and knowledge of the issues the city faced. Relationships with regional representatives were more problematic when regional representatives were assigned to issues on which they had previously conflicted with the city. One city worked with a regional agency representative continuing discussions long under way to find a new way to deal with the dredged material from a port. The facilities that were accepting the dredged sediment were soon to reach capacity and the city was looking to the agency for assistance in finding creative solutions in order to maintain a viable port. According to all parties, no progress was made in finding mutually acceptable solutions to this challenge.