The Integration Initiative, Living Cities’ signature collective impact effort, has taught us a great deal about the role of the public sector in complex, cross-sector initiatives. In order to improve the lives of low-income people, the public sector is an essential partner in these initiatives. As part of The Integration Initiative (TII) design, we reviewed challenges in the community development field and concluded that many similar efforts to improve the lives of low-income residents in cities have been constrained by outdated public sector models, including:
- Poor collaboration with other sectors;
- Siloed architecture inadequately suited to current economic conditions;
- Failure to use data to drive strategy; and
- Poorly deployed resources that were neither aligned with philanthropy nor designed to leverage private resources.
In spite of these challenges, only government, with its vast resources and formal and informal authority, can do what every city needs—combine local, state, and federal funds and redirect these resources from approaches that don’t work to those that do. Given this reality, one of the fundamental elements of The Integration Initiative from its inception was the belief that involving the public sector directly in the Initiative was essential to achieving systems change in cities.
While we were clear about the necessity of engaging the public sector and promoting changes in how government interacts with other sectors and deploys its resources, we did not require an explicit strategy or approach to working with the public sector in the initial Integration Initiative sites. All five sites ended up including city officials in their governance groups, but there was a great deal of diversity in the form and degree of public sector participation and in the type of work in each site that involved the public sector.
A recent evaluation from Mt. Auburn Associated captured the learnings from our public sector efforts in round one. This research has helped us better understand the impact of the initial sites’ work on public sector related outcomes and the factors that led to those outcomes. The four types of public sector related outcomes we measured across the TII sites are:
- Increasing Capacity to Collaborate Across Sectors and Agencies : At several sites, TII has influenced the civic infrastructure, with some public sector stakeholders developing new relationships with philanthropy and seeing an increased value in working collaboratively to address problems.
- Redirecting Resources : There is evidence at most of the sites that the Living Cities funds and the new collaborative activities have contributed to shifting the flow of funding from the public sector towards priorities that were developed through TII’s process.
- Addressing Systemic Barriers Through Administrative, Regulatory, and Policy Changes : There is evidence that some public policy changes or improvements in the way agencies operated were meaningful steps towards addressing the systemic barriers to advancing the goals of the sites.
- Using Data in New Ways : The increased use of data by the public sector was prominent in one site where a TII-supported data analyst was able to accelerate progress around the collection, analysis, and use of data to advance a clearer understanding of the site’s challenges, progress, and shortfalls.
The evaluation revealed five factors critical to achieving public sector-related outcomes:
- Have a Public Sector Champion for the Work : Having a state, county, or city staff person who really understood TII and saw the site’s work as aligned with their agency’s agenda was an important factor in achieving public sector-related outcomes. The “champion” did not have to be a top elected official. Through site visits and learning communities, Living Cities’ engagement with the sites helped public sector stakeholders better understand TII and the importance of the public sector to this work, which enhanced their likelihood of “championing” TII.
- Get Buy-In from On-The-Ground Staff : Even when public sector leaders are firmly committed to the goals and work of TII in their community, getting the buy-in of the staff responsible for implementation remains a significant challenge. The structure and process of communication between cross-sector collaborations and city agencies can make a big difference in the level of buy-in. However, some of these structures (e.g. human resources systems, agency or occupational culture, federal grant requirements) are deeply entrenched and may be resistant to change.
- Ensure There is Municipal Authority Over Systems Being Targeted : The focus of the public sector-related activities at each site was largely determined by the areas of work that were clearly within the control of participating public sector actors. When strategies involved systems stretching beyond city government, such as workforce, education, or federal grant administration, the work tended to encounter more challenges.
- Foster Shared Philanthropic and Government Ownership : Engagement of the public sector was more challenging when TII was seen primarily as a philanthropic initiative. Two factors that seemed to foster shared ownership: 1) having a public sector representative as a co-chair of the governance group, and 2) pre-existing positive relationships between the philanthropic community and the public sector.
- Connect the “Big Result” to Mayoral Priorities : A lot of competing high priorities can complicate both alignment and level of city engagement. Although TII work was usually not in conflict with the city’s priorities and was often aligned with priorities of agency staff, most sites’ primary focus was not the primary focus of city political leadership. This lack of alignment affected the level of city engagement in TII as well as progress in some of the system change work.
As we move into the next round of work in the Integration Initiative, in both current and new city sites, we are using these insights to support improved partnership with the public sector. For a detailed look at TII public sector-related outcomes in three of the cities check out these mini-case studies on: the administrative and regulatory policy changes made in Minneapolis/St. Paul, redirecting of public resources that took place in Detroit, and use of data in new ways in Newark. And for more findings from Mt. Auburn’s research on the public sector in The Integration Initiative, you can download the Executive Summary of their report here .