Federal Role in Revitalizing Distressed Cities: Interagency Collaboration and Local Partnerships. 4. Conclusion: Effective Roles of the Federal Government in Revitalizing Distressed Cities

08/25/2014

In conclusion, the SC2 pilot led to both effective interagency collaboration and local partnerships in many of the targeted communities, and this type of work has the potential to have enduring impacts not only in the city where the work occurs, but also in other distressed communities. This final section draws from all the case examples throughout this brief to highlight lessons related to the roles federal staff members can play to have effective, longer-term impacts in revitalizing distressed communities:

  • Helping to establish new formal partnerships in a community can lead to enduring changes beyond the duration of the intervention. With relatively limited investment in staff time, the team members in the SC2 cities were able to catalyze new ways of working in these communities. This was seen in Cleveland’s Strategic Workforce Alignment Group, the Healthy Chester Coalition, the partnership formed through the Building Neighborhood Capacity Program, and the Agriculture-based Technology Cluster in Fresno.
  • Working in partnership with cities through on-the-ground projects and places can help to resolve contradictory or duplicative regulations in different federal programs. Once resolved in one location, these changes can then be replicated and used nationally as seen in the New Orleans HUD/DOT example.
  • Creating new relationships among staff in various federal agencies can spark further collaborative efforts beyond the pilot sites. In the case of Fresno, the collaboration across the federal agencies was so successful that the individuals involved aim to take their approach and use it in other places— as seen in the Fresno high speed rail example where the team intends to replicate its work in other high speed rail regions around the state.

In all of the examples examined more thoroughly in this brief, examples of both interagency collaboration and local partnerships, federal staff brought relevant knowledge and connections, power and gravitas, and the ability to serve as a neutral broker. However, some of these characteristics are present in other federal efforts to revitalize distressed cities. For example, federal funds are often used to hire outside consultants to work with cities or specialized technical assistance providers are brought in by federal agencies. Such individuals could have an equally positive impact on revitalizing distressed cities if they were hired to perform similar tasks. The analysis of the examples in this brief provide some insights into when it may be particularly crucial to have federal staff play this role and where the structure of the SC2 team provides additional benefits:

  • When the problem faced by a city or state involves complex regulatory issues that cut across different federal agencies;
  • When several federal agencies are investing in the same area and increased efficiencies could come from cross-agency coordination; and
  • When the gravitas of a federal initiative and federal staff could be helpful in convening local partners and helping them to overcome barriers that have limited successful collaboration in the past.

There are opportunities to further encourage interagency collaboration and local partnerships that could have enduring impacts on economic growth in SC2 cities. Specifically, as implementation of Phase II of SC2 begins, the following could be considered:

  • To promote interagency collaboration, the federal government could prioritize those projects that would benefit most from a cross-agency effort. This could involve explicitly setting criteria that SC2 teams give priority to addressing problems related to regulatory barriers involving more than one federal agency, or to strategies that involve multiple federal investments. This takes advantage of the unique role these SC2 teams play as federal employees.
  • Initial work could be undertaken to map out the flow of the federal dollars in each of the targeted communities. This work might identify state agencies that could be engaged as well as which federal agencies might be relevant to the work in that city.
  • The SC2 Council might ask the cities to specifically identify areas in which the lack of coordination across federal agencies may be impeding the city’s work. The SC2 teams could make it a priority to explore resolution of some of these issues.
  • Team members could have some additional training in building cross-stakeholder partnerships and facilitating meetings. Team members with these skills and interests were very effective at building new partnerships in their communities.
  • Increased effort could be made to encourage informal relationship and team building among the team members in a particular location. These relationships help to build trust and facilitate increased opportunities for cross-agency coordination around issues or opportunities that emerge over the course of the work.

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