In keeping with the importance of direction from mayors noted above, SC2 teams worked best when the city provided a clear focus for their work. The reasons why direction to SC2 teams was not always provided, or the focus of the engagement was not always clear, included the general effects of the city’s distress, insufficient preparation by the city for the engagement, and the city’s incomplete understanding of federal staff capabilities.
In cities that lacked a clear strategy or had conflicting priorities for SC2 team work, SC2 team leads, members, and city staff struggled to identify how best to work together, where to focus their energies, and how to maximize the opportunities for partnership and technical assistance inherent in the approach. To make progress, team members in these cities had to be more entrepreneurial in identifying opportunities and appropriate partners. In some cases, in response to slow or blocked progress, team members increasingly sought out community stakeholders outside of city hall to work closely with and keep the engagement on task. While some team members were able to produce significant accomplishments without a clear strategy for the SC2 team, others were more limited in their achievements.
An additional but related point was that cities were not always sure of how best to use individual team members or how to convey to city staff the potential benefits of working with team members, which led to delays and underutilization of team member skills and expertise. The extent to which city staff was prepped to work with the SC2 team seemed to affect their ability to have a clear focus for members. In some of the cities, city staff said that they did not feel sufficiently prepared to engage with team members or to guide their work. (As mentioned above, team members often felt the same way about working with the city.) Only a few cities did an in-depth briefing or training with their department staff about the goals of SC2 and the role of the team members. We heard that there was often little internal communication before the SC2 team’s arrival, including at least one instance where key city staff was not notified in advance of the city’s participation in SC2 or the timing of the SC2 team’s arrival.
Even when city staff was aware of the SC2 team’s arrival, they often did not have a strong sense of what the team members’ experience, qualifications, and expertise would be. These uncertainties made it very difficult for staff to determine how to best utilize the team members, even when they recognized they could be a very valuable resource. The lack of preparation in some cities slowed the process of developing relationships between the team members and city stakeholders. In addition, some team members were linked to city departments that did not have the capacity to properly engage with them, and both team members and city staff spent time figuring out what team members should be working on rather than focusing on problem solving.