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Partnerships Build Capacity in Local Governments

New America Foundation, November 14, 2012

  By Alissa Black

Municipal budgets are continuing to decrease throughout California and the rest of the country. It comes as no surprise that when revenue declines and budgets get squeezed, local governments opt to furlough city employees, reducing the number of days an employee is paid to work. This might seem like a reasonable compromise. Wouldn't you rather keep a job with a lower salary than have no job at all? I'm sure that most government employees are grateful for their positions. However furloughs do not come with less work. Instead, furloughs and layoffs have reduced the capacity of local governments by not only reducing the number of days employees perform their duties, but also according to a study by Ken Jacobs of UC Berkeley's Center for Labor Research and Education it reduces employee morale and increases stress, both of which cause a reduction in productivity. According the the National League of Cities (NLC) City Fiscal Conditions in 2012 report, the most common response when confronted with fiscal constraints is to reduce the size of the workforce. In a 2011 survey, also conducted by the NLC, it was estimated that there will be a reduction of nearly 500,000 city and county positions between 2011 - 2012. Cities now operate with smaller workforces yet have the same, if not increasing, number of services to provide.

Furloughs are symptomatic of the hard choices that local governments must make in an era of budget shortfalls. Local governments everywhere are seeking ways to increase capacity through additional human capital, process improvements and technology efficiencies to deal with the increased workloads and decreased workforce. And it is with this dire impetus to provide better and more accessible services that the CCIP's partnerships have an opportunity to build capacity within municipalities. Partnerships, or collaborations among community organizations, business, academia, and local government staff, provide opportunities for city employees to leverage additional resources on their projects. If leveraged effectively, such partnerships can offer cities increased expertise, additional staff hours, financial support, and engagement from the community.

For example, in San Francisco the Mayor's Innovation Office is staffed with only two full-time employees who are tasked with bringing innovation into city government to improve efficiency and engagement with the community. Because of the limited staffing resources and inability to undertake the various portions of the project such as business mentorship, product creation, and scaling the program to other cities, the Innovation team sought a partnership with the CCIP and the HUB Bay Area. The partnership, coined the Civic Marketplace Alliance, is a program designed to bring products and exciting ideas generated at hack-a-thons to market so government and the community can benefit from them.

The Civic Marketplace Alliance is a great example of a program that relies on the involvement and action of multiple local governments, something that is difficult to coordinate with limited capacity. The civic marketplace relies on scale to be fully viable. For instance, imagine a farmers' market with only one type of vegetable for sale, or an amazing product that is only available in one city. Without scale or the inclusion of more products and buyers, the civic marketplace, made up of technology that benefits local governments, will not be robust and ultimately not sustainable. It is for that reason, to replicate and scale the program to other cities, that the CCIP is providing staff resources to document the formation of the Civic Marketplace Alliance and replicate the program in other cities throughout California. This role of sharing innovative practices with cities throughout the country is one for which the CCIP, and other non-profit or philanthropic organizations are well-suited. Such partnerships are an important part of diffusing innovation throughout California's cities.

Original Article

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