The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s Working Cities Challenge is a competition adapted from the Living Cities Integration Initiative that aims to advance collaborative leadership for the benefit of low-income residents in Massachusetts’ smaller cities.
Recently, Living Cities’ Elodie Baquerot blogged about open sourcing social change in Three Lessons on How to Accelerate Your Impact by Sharing Knowledge. Her post, which emphasized the benefits of real-time sharing, truly resonated with the team behind the Boston Federal Reserve’s Working Cities Challenge. Later this month, we plan to launch a second round of our Challenge that will extend the opportunity to compete to more cities in Massachusetts. This has tremendous potential to accelerate our impact, so it’s essential that we reflect on and respond to lessons learned from the first round to build on our momentum and really get this right.
Here’s how we’re modeling the sharing behavior Elodie outlines in her post, to learn and improve in real time:
1. Repeatedly Share your Lessons Learned to Make Ideas “Sticky”
The Working Cities Challenge model features a cross-sector steering committee that helps shape the design of the competition by engaging in bimonthly conversations about progress, challenges, and lessons we’re learning. But as our first-round grantees—the cities of Chelsea, Fitchburg, Holyoke and Lawrence—reached the one-year mark of implementing their awards, we recognized the need to distill and share our mutual successes and challenges in a more formalized way.
We have thus begun targeting a broader set of audiences we think could most benefit from our lessons and drive behavior change in cities, including: current and prospective funders; our partners in Massachusetts state government, who are invested in supporting smaller cities and promoting collaborative leadership; leaders in Massachusetts’ smaller cities, who will soon get another chance to apply for the Challenge; our peers who promote community development at other Federal Reserve Banks; and the broader fields of collective impact and community development.
2. Think of your Grantees as Innovation Partners.
Over two weeks in late May and early June, we took the Working Cities Challenge on the road to share our lessons with other leaders in Massachusetts cities that will be eligible for our soon-to-be-announced second round of the competition. And we brought our winning teams along. This strategy really paid off. Perhaps most importantly, it allowed the Fed to maintain a balance between providing prospective applicants with plainspoken information they can use and our firm belief that the Boston Fed should not be telling cities what to do, or how to do it. While the Boston Fed team won’t tell a prospective applicant whether a mayor or municipal agency should serve as the lead applicant to WCC, the team from Fitchburg, whose backbone shifted from the municipality to a nonprofit, was able to answer that question based on their experience. Winning teams also reflected, openly and honestly about their cities’ processes for choosing the focus area of their initiatives, submitting just one application (a key requirement of the Challenge), assembling—and reassembling—their cross-sector teams and making measurable headway on ambitious long-term goals.
3. Reflect on Progress to Make Course Corrections
Our series of outreach events also allowed us to share with both winning and prospective teams the ways in which we are responding to the feedback we received about what did and didn’t work when we launched the Challenge in 2013. A key change, the incorporation of design grants and a six-month planning period for a set of cities, was welcomed by many of the winning team members who called for more time to plan and understand the core elements of the Challenge. We continue to consult with members of winning teams to get feedback on the ways we’re course-correcting for the second round, and we plan to continue sharing this process through events, articles and blog posts like this to model the learning orientation we encourage in our teams.
As our teams approached the one-year mark in February, we hosted an array of local and regional funders for an event aimed at updating the local and regional philanthropic community on the progress of winning teams and the Challenge as a whole. In addition to strengthening relationships with the funder community, it lit a fire under both our staff and members of the winning teams to synthesize and document lessons and progress over the past year. Following that event, we worked with teams to compile a progress report on winning cities’ initiatives. We also wrote two articles for statewide publications, both on the Boston Fed’s lessons and the ways in which we’re responding to them in the second round: one for MassBenchmarks, a journal focused on the state’s economy, and the other for the Massachusetts Municipal Association.
We continue to experiment with different ways of modeling the sharing behaviors Elodie outlines in her blog. As Elodie’s post acknowledged, effectively sharing our lessons in a timely way with such a diverse array of audiences—while simultaneously supporting current grantees and preparing for a new round of the Challenge—takes intentionality and time. Nevertheless, sharing lessons learned from this work magnifies the potential impact by shortening the time it takes for other cross-sector, collaborative initiatives to find what works to improve the lives of low-income people.
Photo of the Haverhill, MA business district courtesy of the Working Cities Challenge.