A Coordinated, Community-Driven Approach to Federal-Local Partnership

President Barack Obama came to Washington, DC with an understanding, developed through years of working in service to disenfranchised communities and neighborhoods, that solutions to local challenges come from the bottom up, not the top down. He called on his administration to reimagine how the federal government partners with local communities, especially places facing dire and/or multifaceted challenges, to better use the available resources and talent inside and outside of government.

The President and his cabinet outlined a new approach to the federal-local relationship that calls for a unified federal government to serve as an on-the-ground partner with communities, and together identify local needs and priorities, develop and build upon evidence-based and data-driven solutions, and strategically invest appropriate federal assistance. This model requires the federal government to simplify and streamline communication with local jurisdictions and to closely communicate across federal agencies in order to better coordinate, customize, and align funding and other forms of assistance at the local level.

Over the last eight years, the federal government has modeled this new way of working with local communities. A series of “place-specific” initiatives were launched to truly put citizens and communities at the center of federal assistance, and to incorporate new learning into efforts to change the way the federal government does business, one city and county at a time. Beginning in 2009 with the Partnership for Sustainable Communities and expanding with programs such as Choice Neighborhoods, Promise Zones, Strike Force, Strong Cities, Strong Communities, and the National Disaster Recovery Framework, there has been a transformation in how the federal government partners with local communities.

At the heart of these initiatives is an approach based on four core principles: 1) the local community, not the federal government, sets the vision for local strategies and priorities and leads the execution of new and existing solutions; 2) the federal government provides technical, financial, and operations support in the execution of short and mid-term efforts, and assistance in ensuring the local community engages in long-term planning that is inclusive of all relevant stakeholders; 3) modeled in part after the long-standing approach to federal disaster assistance, federal agencies streamline their work in local communities by closely coordinating between national and local offices and across agencies, cutting red tape and aligning assistance and resources to offer a more seamless, accessible and effective process for communities to get the support they need; and 4) harnessing digital collaboration, open data, and data-driven decision making to build local capacity for government-led planning, operations, and evaluation.

This approach has reached a remarkable scale in a short time with community-led initiatives now underway in 1,800 locations nationwide. Teams or task forces representing multiple federal agencies are working intensely in 24 cities and rural places in close coordination with city, county, and tribal governments and their community partners to deliver responsive assistance that is enhancing local capacity, improving community well-being, and more efficiently investing and expending public resources. Moreover, the growing use of digital collaboration tools that bring together dynamic, engaged communities of practice are allowing existing solutions to spread more quickly to benefit hundreds more communities.

While the approach is critical to making progress, it is the outcomes that are essential to ultimate success and long-term adoption of this more strategic and modern model of federal-local partnership. Across the country, these new partnerships are producing tangible results.

  • Detroit, which in 2014 was blanketed in darkness due to inoperable street lights, is nearly 100 percent re-lit with new energy efficient lighting technology, saving 46 million kilowatts of energy every year, nearly $3 million in annual electricity costs, and reducing emissions by the equivalent of 11,000 cars.
  • Youngstown received half a million dollars in blight removal services through a partnership with the local Air Force Reserve base, allowing the city to demolish 74 houses and install 600 street signs and traffic lights it could not otherwise tackle.
  • Baltimore, through the leadership of local government and with support from federal partners, mobilized state, philanthropic, and private sector resources and partnerships to nearly double the scale of its summer jobs program following the April 2015 civil unrest. This collaboration allowed nearly 8,000 young people to participate in safe and meaningful work experience opportunities, a scale that was maintained in 2016.

Next Step: Baking the Modern, Collaborative Approach into the DNA of Federal-Local Partnership

The challenge moving forward is to build upon and sustain this approach to ensure that federal resources are deployed most effectively in local communities and outcomes like the ones above are the norm. This playbook is intended to be one such contribution to support sharing, collaboration, and scaling these new types of federal-local partnerships.

The Federal-Local Partnerships Playbook is a manual for federal staff working on the ground to implement this new model of partnership in local communities. Drawing on the experience of place-specific partnership initiatives and team members, the playbook provides step-by-step guidance for establishing and managing an interagency federal team working in service to a local community, as well as the critical plays for working with collaborators from the community to design with, not for, local communities.

The playbook has been designed to answer the “how” questions that emerge when engaging in this work by offering processes for partnering with local stakeholders and a blueprint for the types and sources of federal assistance that have been most commonly put to use in recent years by interagency teams. Three case studies are presented that demonstrate specific federal-local partnerships working together in local communities.

While geared toward federal staff, the playbook is meant to be a useful resource for innovators in any role in the community, including individuals in city halls, local agencies, and community organizations working to improve their communities. It provides applicable guidance on federal-local partnerships for communities responding to crises, such as municipal bankruptcy, a public health emergency, or civil unrest and it is also a framework that can be used for ongoing partnerships and initiatives, such as strengthening economic opportunity or improving neighborhood development and livability.

The playbook was developed with input from federal employees who have led and worked with interagency federal teams and have shared their experiences, insights, and lessons learned that can be used by current and future teams. Most importantly, this playbook is intended to be a living document, with the hope that users will add their own case studies and learnings, and engage further to build this body of knowledge for and with each other.

This playbook is organized into the following sections:

  • Section 1: Interagency Federal Team Plays offers a step-by-step guide for establishing an interagency federal team in a local community, ramping up from start-up phase to full implementation, and sustaining the work of the partnership.

  • Section 2: Federal Programs in Service to Local Communities outlines specific federal programs offering financial assistance, training and technical assistance, and resource development and capacity building services that are most relevant to the work of interagency federal teams serving local communities.

  • Section 3: Interagency Federal Team Case Studies provides specific examples of interagency teams in three communities – Baltimore, Detroit, and Fresno – with a focus on how these teams were established and managed, how they have worked with local stakeholders, and the key federal resources they have helped mobilize.

The playbook has been designed to be read from start to finish, or to be used as a reference guide to inform specific components of a team’s activities. When successful, federal interagency work in communities is dynamic, case-specific, and will vary depending on the community and situation. However, there are core processes, approaches, and types of assistance that will likely apply to all such teams. To that end, this playbook provides useful guidelines that can be tailored within local communities to meet local needs.

The Obama Administration’s new approach to federal-local partnership is still in its early stages. As interagency teams continue their work in the coming months and years and expand to additional communities, the model will evolve based on successful practices and lessons learned. This Federal-Local Partnerships Playbook has been designed to be dynamic and reflect new developments and improvements.

Presented in this online wiki format, the playbook can be continuously updated by users over time to reflect new learnings and the evolution of the types of federal assistance used by interagency federal teams, as well as the teams’ implementation steps, management structures, and outcomes. The end goal is to ensure that this work is scaled and sustained for the long term so that federal assistance achieves maximum outcomes for and with citizens and communities. As federal employees and local partners continue to implement and learn from this work, users are encouraged to share their experiences and insights. There are two ways to provide feedback - users can create inline comments by highlighting the relevant text, or by leaving comments in the discussion section of the Gitbook.

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