As mentioned in the introduction, a second element of the SC2 pilot that made effective use of federal staff was helping to create new partnerships in the pilot cities. These partnerships are distinct from those described in the previous section, which represented collaborations across federal agencies. The focus here is on team members facilitating new cross-stakeholder partnerships within the city with local stakeholders representing the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.
The following three cases highlight answers to the research question, “What contributed to SC2 teams’ success when playing a convening role to facilitate local partnerships?” by examining how SC2 teams contributed to the formation of the partnership and how team members’ role as federal staff influenced their ability to bring stakeholders together.
3.2 Facilitating Local Partnerships: Findings
In looking at the models where team members helped to catalyze new partnerships in the community, there are two types of lessons that are relevant to informing the federal government’s role in revitalizing distressed cities. There are the general lessons about creating new cross-sector partnerships, and, of more relevance to the SC2 effort, there are lessons that relate to the particular role that a federal SC2 staff member can play in creating new partnerships in a community:
- An individual from outside the community bringing stakeholders together can be more effective than a local stakeholder. In all three examples, the team members catalyzed movement to bring stakeholders together and were credited with overcoming historic resistance. As people new to the city, the SC2 teams could question established activities and policies and were not as personally invested in the existing relationships as others who work in the city may have been.
- The skills and experience of the convener are important to being able to bring the right stakeholders together and facilitate the process. The seniority of the team member leading this work and the alignment of that member’s previous experience to the area of work of the partnership varied in the three examples above. For example, the team member responsible for bringing the Healthy Chester Coalition together did not have public health expertise, but his years of experience in federal customer service improvement and intergovernmental initiatives and his ability to make connections to resources and technical assistance providers were valuable to his success. In the Cleveland example, partnership stakeholders credited the team member’s credibility and approach as the most critical elements of her success in bringing a diverse group together rather than her subject expertise or seniority.
- Understanding the local context and establishing trust with local stakeholders are critical before convening any group or asking anyone to be involved. Taking the time to develop relationships with key stakeholders in the community and to learn community needs, building trust among potential partners, and identifying how the work of the partnership can benefit stakeholders’ goals are important foundational elements of a successful partnership. Multiple local stakeholders in SC2 cities commented on the SC2 team’s ability to understand the local context and build trusted relationships with the community as a contributing factor in the SC2 team’s success in convening partnerships.
- Having federal employees, especially from a White House Initiative, make the requests for local stakeholders to join local partnerships provided gravitas and energy to the effort. Local stakeholders were often motivated to participate in an initiative that they might not otherwise have responded to because a federal employee led the charge. Whether stakeholders attended in the belief that they might gain access to federal resources, a more direct connection to federal staff, or some other advantage, having federal staff catalyze a new initiative can make the difference in advancing an idea. Additionally, the mere presence of federal employees often lent interest to work associated with the SC2 pilot.