Evaluation of the Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) Teams Pilot: Final Report. Strengths Related to Federal Employee Experiences

08/25/2014

Federal employees gained insights into how local governments in distressed cities operate. A key strength of the approach was that it provided federal staff and agencies a clearer picture of what occurs on the ground in communities facing economic challenges and how local governments in those cities operate. This was especially true in the case of embedded team members who, from their proximity to city hall, could witness how cities managed competing priorities under the strain of limited capacity. Through the engagement, many team members gained their first exposure to working directly with localities, experience that was regarded as valuable in helping agencies determine what types of assistance similar cities can benefit from in the future.

The approach’s use of team members was seen as creating an environment in which learning could be shared between the cities and federal agencies. Federal employees learned how cities used federal resources, such as programmatic funds and technical assistance, and were able to observe when cities were successful in using resources and what barriers they faced when they were unsuccessful. From the implementation of SC2 team activities, federal employees learned new approaches to assisting distressed cities that they feel can now be extended to other cities. As one team member described it, the SC2 experience taught her that cities often do not even know the right questions to ask federal agencies when they need help, or the appropriate resources to ask for, which leads them to become frustrated and give up; in that regard the SC2 approach has proven to her that federal agencies can do a better job of understanding what a city’s needs are and identifying solutions that the city did not even realize were options for them.

Federal employees engaged and collaborated with colleagues from other federal agencies. The SC2 approach was valued for the opportunity it provided team members to engage and collaborate with other federal agencies. This allowed team members to become familiar with other agencies’ community development programs as well as make valued connections with staff at other agencies, both professional and personal. Members expressed an expectation that these new relationships would continue even after the end of the pilot. In addition to these overarching benefits, there were two specific instances in which team members saw benefits of federal collaboration for their respective agencies that arose from the SC2 approach. First, stakeholders from two smaller agencies expressed their appreciation for how the SC2 pilot helped raise other agencies’ awareness of their work. These individuals anticipated that this increased awareness would lead to future cross-agency collaborations. Second, one team member indicated that the engagement brought about a culture shift in his agency that led to agency staff being more willing to reach out to staff at other agencies, even those at agencies not participating in SC2.

Federal employees had unique professional development opportunities. A final strength of the SC2 approach from the perspective of the federal government is that it provides professional development opportunities to enhance the careers of federal workers involved in the engagement. The pilot served as a new and unique experience for employees through which new knowledge could be acquired about the conditions in distressed communities and how an agency’s programs and policies impact localities. Additionally, the experience allowed federal staff to gain new skills, such as the ability to work directly with local governments, build partnerships to collaboratively address problems, or take a leadership position within a diverse team of stakeholders. Additionally, some agencies were appreciative that so many team members regarded the pilot engagement as positive and motivating and expect the  experiences of the team members will promote retention and encourage future professional development.

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