The 2014 SC2 National Network Workshop: Capstone Event and New Beginning
In April 2014, a unique network — nearly two years in the making — convened in Cleveland, Ohio, for two high-energy days of idea exchange, discussions, and workshops at the 2014 Strong Cities Strong Communities (SC2) National Network Workshop: Partnership for Prosperity.
The event was a capstone for the SC2 Fellowship Program and the SC2 Leadership Activities, which was administered by GMF as part of President Obama’s larger SC2 Initiative.
“The SC2 Fellowship Program aimed to partner city and federal governments by embedding mission-driven fellows in municipal government and anchor institutions,” said then-Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan. The inaugural two-year fellowships kicked off in autumn 2012 in Memphis, Tenn.; Cleveland and Youngstown, Ohio; Fresno, Calif.; Chester, Penn.; New Orleans, La.; and Detroit, Mich. Under the wing of GMF’s Urban and Regional Policy Program (URP), Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and Cleveland State University, 17 fellows dug into the street-level challenges facing their cities and worked to bring real-world solutions to fruition. While the fellows still had a few months left in their tenure, they came to the workshop with an array of experiences to share.
To accompany the Fellowship Program and add further civic capacity, URP also initiated a series of SC2 Leadership Activities. The national convening was the last of three major SC2 leadership activities, which also included peer exchange travel grants that provided the fellows and the operatives in their respective cities the opportunity to explore in-depth best practice case studies, and policy bootcamps, in-depth workshops encourage innovative thinking around community revitalization strategies and economic development.
For the pilot city delegations, composed of SC2 fellows and their peers and colleagues from the city, the workshop served as a critical opportunity to both network with other SC2 pilot city delegates as well as devote uninterrupted time within each city to a specific project that resulted from the SC2 bootcamp conversations.
A critical component to the workshop was that it complemented discussions that were being held in each city as a result of the bootcamps — multi-day gatherings that addressed city-specific topics and brought in national and international experts to each pilot city.
In Cleveland, for instance, a bootcamp session on education partnerships included a variety of representatives from Amsterdam, the Netherlands; Philadelphia, Penn.; and Indianapolis, Ind. The New Orleans bootcamp hosted community organizers from Cleveland and Philadelphia to discuss how anchor institutions and small businesses can help facilitate workforce capacity. Representatives from Bethesda, Md.; Washington, DC; and Lansing, Mich. convened with Ohio experts for a panel discussion at the Youngstown bootcamp on tools for urban revitalization. During the Memphis bootcamp, fellows and municipal officials learned from transit authority experts in Cleveland and Louisville and established ongoing peer-to-peer relationships centered on developing a robust public transit system.
Pilot cities sent a delegation to the national workshop, which was hosted by GMF and made possible by the Surdna Foundation. Delegates included many of the fellows as well as an array of representatives involved with the SC2 activities in each city, including those from the municipal, non-profit, and private sectors. Despite the cultural and geographical differences between their cities, the group united around a common identity that was characterized by some of the country’s most complex challenges, including poverty, blight, shrinking populations, limited health care access, reduced municipal resources, crime, and violence.
Ashleigh Gardner, director of the Livable Claiborne Communities Initiative in New Orleans, brought that sobering list into stark focus with her comments regarding the murder rate in New Orleans, which consistently ranks among the most dangerous U.S. cities, together with Memphis and Detroit. The moment served as a definitive reminder of the human implications behind the SC2 Initiative.
Collective Impact, Ground-Level Solutions
On the first day of the workshop, Mark Kramer of FSG discussed his organization’s concept of collective impact, which approaches challenges by engaging often siloed entities within the governmental, non-profit, and business sectors through establishing trust and identifying shared goals. Kramer outlined a few examples, such as a partnership between law enforcement and the education system in New York to address a broken juvenile justice system.
His discussion resonated with the fellows, whose projects often engage the core principles of collective impact. In New Orleans, fellow Annette Hollowell, who was embedded in the New Orleans Office of Workforce Development, worked with Larissa Littleton-Steib, Delgado Community College’s vice chancellor for workforce development, and Missy Hopson Sparks, Oschner Health System’s director of talent management, to bring those entities together to match education and training to employer needs.
Establishing a link between a local college and business, Fresno fellow Gretchen Moore developed an internship program that put more than 30 Fresno State University students to work helping local downtown businesses market themselves. In Cleveland, fellow Chris Alvarado worked with Lilah Zautner, manager of special projects and land reuse with Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corp, and Chris Garland, Cleveland’s commissioner of the Division of Neighborhood Development, to expand, improve, and expedite the application review process for the sale and temporary use of vacant land. Moving the properties back into active use ultimately engaged business owners, residents, and community partners such as churches, all of whom had a hand in blight reduction. Fellow Tim Kobie also contributed to the effort by putting a demolition priority system into place.
The SC2 Initiative itself reflects the ideology of collective impact. The institutions and organizations the inaugural SC2 teams partnered with in each pilot city helped to establish networks of economic and community development practitioners. Each delegation attending the workshop included stakeholders from public entities including city governments; non-profit organizations such as Widener University, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, New Orleans Business Alliance, and Memphis Community LIFT; and private sector representatives such as the Western Reserve Port Authority, NYO Property Group, and Pacific Gas and Electric.
The workshop offered delegates the opportunity to share their challenges, swap success stories (and less successful ones), and make connections between common themes and experiences.
Fresno fellow Cole Judge faced the complex challenge of reintroducing traffic to a former pedestrian mall to spur activity and economic development in the Fulton Corridor. She looked to representatives from Youngstown such as the city’s commissioner of buildings and grounds, Sean McKinney, for input. The Ohio city had successfully reintroduced traffic to an underperforming pedestrian mall, Federal Plaza, and transformed the place into a burgeoning entertainment district.
Conversely, Youngstown representatives asked the Fresno fellows how they managed planning and permitting for downtown events without causing a strain on already overextended city staffers. The answer? They worked with the Downtown Fresno Partnership’s Ambassador Program Director Mitch Freund and Event Coordinator Rocio Andrade, streamlining the permitting process and taking on much of the responsibility for Fulton Corridor events. When they measured the results, they reported 20 permitted events drawing more than 30,000 visitors to the downtown area.
Many fellows agreed that New Orleans’ transparent and data-driven approach to vacant and abandoned properties was a good model. (The city runs a website, BlightStatus, where residents can find out what is going on with any blighted property in the city.) The city of Cleveland’s partnership with the anchor institutions of University Circle, which had been featured in the Fresno and New Orleans bootcamp, was also discussed as an example of partnerships done right.
Bringing the nationwide SC2 Fellowship network together physically for the entire event gave the group a new sense of community.
Recipe for Success: Networks, Community Centered Design, and Global Solutions
At the heart of the national convening was a series of workshops conducted by Kimberly Manno Reott and Stewart Sarkozy-Banoczy of Context Partners. Their three-point agenda included discussions and exercises outlining the differences between communities and networks; the application of Context Partner’s centerpiece concept of Community Centered Design (CCD); and a forward-thinking method for breaking down solutions into their building blocks.
From Community to Network
Context Partners outlined the architecture of a network, which includes a shared purpose, value proposition, defined activities, incentives, clear roles, rewards, and metrics. Transforming a community into a network means taking a group of people that have something in common, such as a shared employer or geographic location, and uniting them via those architectural components.
For instance, SC2 Memphis Fellow Bernice Butler’s work with Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Maura Sullivan implementing the Key Performance Indicator (KPI) system for city functions aligned municipal employees in pursuit of a shared goal: compiling data that would enable everyone to make more data-driven solutions. That alignment created the beginnings of an integrated network. The same could be said of fellow Kathleen Fox’s work in Youngstown to establish performance management systems and programs in major city departments. Those programs fuel the larger goal of improved municipal functionality.
In Memphis, fellow Surayyah Hasan worked with the executive director of the Office of Talent and Human Capital, Douglas Scarboro, to unite local businesses with area colleges beneath the banner of an area-wide talent retention strategy. She worked to establish the city’s INTERNnet system, which connects fresh student talent with local jobs and encourages long-term residence in the area.
Designing from Within
The thrust of Context Partner’s CCD concept is simple and logical: communities use their own resources to find solutions instead of consulting with outside experts. The concept complements the work of the fellows and the overall SC2 Initiative, which endeavors to strengthen cities, neighborhoods, and regions by bolstering local governments with on-the-ground federal resources.
In Chester, for instance, working with City Planner William Payne and City Consultant/C3 Partner Paul Fritz, SC2 fellow Ricardo Soto-Lopez led community listening sessions in which residents lamented the loss of DeShong Park, a 23-acre green space that had been neglected for years. Soto-Lopez established a rezoning ordinance that put the park on the road to economic viability. Also in Chester, with the help of the city’s community liaison, Nicole Cogdell, SC2 Fellow Arto Woodley enlisted neighborhood and faith-based organizations to nurture funding opportunities for the city and support Mayor John Linder’s vision of an “entrepreneurial community.”
Branding is another component of CCD. During the workshops, city delegations mocked up hypothetical elevator pitches and tweets to promote their respective projects: creating a workforce pipeline for the healthcare industry in New Orleans, persuading residents to use public transportation in Memphis, transforming dangerous areas into livable neighborhoods in Chester, building public support for the reintroduction of traffic to the theretofore pedestrian-only Fulton Mall in Fresno, and nipping the problem of blight in the bud by processing vacant land transactions in Cleveland and Youngstown.
Breaking Down Solutions
To cap off their presentation, Context Partners gave the group a glimpse into the future of problem solving with a discussion of the Resilience Project. The project is designed to break innovative and successful solutions down to their core building blocks (tools, processes, frameworks) and then integrate those components into a global database. Users with seemingly unrelated challenges can search the database for solution components that apply to the situation at hand, even if the context and geography is completely unrelated to the original source of the solution. The idea is to apply solutions in unprecedented ways and create an “ecosystem of new ideas.”
From the Ground Up
Ted Howard of Democracy Collaborative launched day two of the workshop with a presentation about fighting economic inequality. By “building wealth from the ground up,” Howard argued, communities promote broader ownership of capital and share a common cause.
Several points in Howard’s presentation dovetailed with the goals of the SC2 Fellowship program. His “keep dollars local” example of a Cleveland hospital, which set out to have 80 percent of expenditures associated with a large construction project spent locally and ended up with 92 percent of dollars staying within the community, mirrors the SC2 Initiative’s larger goals in each city.
Howard also discussed another important policy goal: building civic capacity. Citing large anchor institutions, Howard noted that when they demand the best for their surrounding neighborhoods and strive to eliminate blight, poverty, and the profound disconnect that often distances them from their environs, they implicitly increase their own value and appeal. His organization’s own work launching endeavors such as the worker-owned Evergreen Cooperative Laundry, which employs distressed and often impoverished local workers, speaks to this potential.
Howard’s message was on point for the pilot cities, which were chosen in part for their challenges, including blighted urban neighborhoods and populations that suffer from poverty and isolation. SC2 Teams worked on an array of programs to directly affect these issues. In New Orleans, fellow Jennifer Terry researched best practices for extending broadband capacity to residents and laid out a detailed implementation plan. Also in New Orleans, fellow Maxwell Ciardullo worked to establish access to an even more fundamental human need with expanded Medicaid enrollment outreach.
While the Detroit fellows did not attend the event, the work of Christopher Dorle, Dekonti Mends-Cole, Elizabeth Palazzola, and former fellow Erika Sellke was in keeping with the themes. Helping with the Detroit Future City project and restructuring the city’s law department and grant management system aim to improve quality of life in one of the country’s most challenged cities.
As the event came to a close, the group brainstormed on the benefits of bringing the delegations together. The participants cited the national meeting as an open, politically neutral platform that “takes off the roof” and clears the way for honest discussions regarding ideas and possibilities. The delegates and fellows noted how talking with teams from other cities about their methods and successes helped to dilute the feeling of isolation and the struggle of “starting from scratch” on tough problems. Participants also said the workshops with Context Partners gave them practical frameworks they can apply to their day-to-day work, and that the bootcamps, peer exchanges, and national workshop accelerated the respective municipal causes and pushed conversations forward. Nearly everyone agreed that the national event fostered new and valuable relationships that cross miles as well as cultural differences.
The fellows and their delegations acknowledged that their tenure was short and that not all of their goals would come to fruition before it ended. Nonetheless, the network they had established was firmly in place, and the conclusion of the first SC2 National Network Workshop felt like a beginning.
About the German Marshall Fund’s Urban and Regional Policy Program
GMF’s Urban and Regional Policy Program facilitates a sustainable network of globally aware and locally engaged leaders by promoting the transatlantic exchange of knowledge and the incubation of innovative solutions for current urban and regional challenges.
For more information, including the full participant's list, see the GMF SC2 NNW Agenda.
Other materials from the event include interviews with participants and the workshop facilitators, Context Partners:
Q&A: Context Partners
Q&A: Dominic Marchionda, Director of Operations and Strategic Planning, NYO Property Group
Q&A: Chris Alvarado, SC2 Fellow, City of Cleveland
Q&A: Arto Woodley, SC2 Fellow, City of Chester/Widener University
Q&A: Gretchen Moore, SC2 Fellow, City of Fresno
Q&A: Jennifer Terry, SC2 Fellow, City of New Orleans
Q&A: Douglas Scarboro, Executive Director of Talent and Human Capital, City of Memphis