At a recent convening of our Initiative Directors, we engaged them in an exploration of the strategic opportunities available to support the long term sustainability of their work in anticipation of upcoming mayoral transitions. Here are some takeaways from this conversation that we feel could be helpful for other collective impact leaders doing this work:
Start planning for sustainability early
Strategic preparation should start at least 18 to 24 months before a planned transition in administrations. For example, one of our Initiative Directors put her priorities in the budget two years prior to reelection so that these priorities would be seen as the norm when the new administration arrived. Early planning also allows you to be prepared when things don’t go as planned. During an early or unexpected change, the team will still be prepared to answer questions like ‘What decisions will the new or interim mayor make and how might the priorities of the initiative be represented in the budget?’
Alignment with the Public Sector is critical
While the public sector is only one of several voices within a collective impact model, it is critical to have them meaningfully involved in a cross-sector table because of the large scale and scope of the public sector’s work. Mayoral power and authority differs widely across cities, but it is always a significant voice with the ability to direct resources and attention to your work.
Cross-sector tables provide long-term stability in moving towards a shared goal
To be effective, cross-sector tables should always be organized around a shared goal. Work embedded within a cross-sector table benefits from having different centers of power that can be activated to advocate for continuity in an initiative, even when there are changes in public sector leadership. At times, people from existing cross-sector tables may even be selected to serve in the new administration, and they can help carry the importance of a shared outcome with them into their new roles. Priorities and people for existing collective impact tables are likely to be elevated during changes in administrations. If the cross-sector table has been effectively engaged then those people and priorities will have a greater likelihood of being reflected in the new administration.
Utilize the Processes and Apparatus of the Public Sector
Established processes, procedures and norms can serve as critical avenues to institutionalizing the position of a body of work. Including your priorities within the budgeting, agenda setting and procedural norms of the public sector shifts the conversation from whether something shrinks or expands rather than if it exists at all.
Mobilize Community Power
Public sector officials who work on behalf of the people and the community can be powerful allies to communicate strategies and set priorities for new administrations. Deep engagement with community allows them to become present and vocal advocates for the work during transitions. If the new administration embraces your policy priorities, the community can accelerate the scale and impact of the work. If the new administration does not embrace your priorities, the community can be a critical safe guard against efforts to minimize existing work.
From these conversations and insights, we created a tool to support public sector practitioners who are leading or are working as part of cross-sector and collective impact tables contemplating mayoral transitions. This tool divides the transition into various phases, suggests potential engagement with different stakeholders, and identifies different domains where the sustainability of priorities may be reflected during and after a transition. These domains include:
- Budget: Budgets indicate that the initiative has navigated key procedural and political processes to obtain resources.
- Policy: Policy sets the framing of what actions are possible and can be carried out with authority.
- Narrative: Narrative helps to articulate shared goals and engage stakeholders. Having your initiative reflected in the narrative indicates the power to mobilize stakeholders.
- Practice: Practice are changes in operational rules and procedures. They indicate power over how policies and programs are implemented and the experience of staff and residents impacted by those practices.
We hope that this tool can provide an organizing structure to guide the planning for the sustainability and scalability of your collective impact initiatives in anticipation of elections and changes in administration.