Phase I: Startup, Assessment, & Short-term Activities
The primary goals of the startup phase are to: a) set up the team and develop communication and management structures, both within the team and with the local community, b) perform initial assessment of needs and set priorities and work plans, and c) execute a few impactful, short-term projects.
Identify Federal Team Lead. The team should have a single project leader responsible for driving the work of the team, managing communication and coordination, and providing overall accountability to the team. The team lead should come from a federal agency that will have a significant role in the team’s work in the local community. Whether the team lead is based in the agency’s national office or in a regional office closer to the local community, he or she should have a direct line into agency leadership. The team lead should have the seniority and positional authority to meet with local leaders and local agency heads. The team lead should possess strong project management skills, including excellent organization and communication abilities. Finally, the lead should have at least some familiarity with the local community and its strengths, weaknesses, and capacity.
Role and Purpose. Team lead serves as the primary point of contact between federal agencies and the local community. The team lead typically has several primary functions:
- First, they are responsible for managing the flow of communication between the local community and federal agencies, ensuring that questions, answers, and decisions are accurately communicated and information is shared in a timely manner by the appropriate agencies and individuals.
- Second, the team lead is responsible for overall project management and tracking, including driving discussions with the local community to identify needs, setting priorities, and identifying gaps in resources; and working with members of the federal team to coordinate and align activities and strategies and identify federal assistance and services.
- Third, the team lead should be bold and resourceful, encouraging the federal team and local partners to think creatively about problem solving and resource, program, and partnership development. The team lead should feel empowered to leverage the cross-functional nature of a federal interagency team to identify opportunities and promising practices from across the federal government and across local communities.
Time Commitment of Federal Team Lead. The team lead should expect to commit at least 50 percent of his or her time to the federal team, and during the startup phase as much as 75 to 100 percent. The team lead should have the capacity to spend a significant portion of time on the ground in the local community. The team lead’s home agency should be committed to supporting this level of engagement.
Preparation and Research. The team lead should perform initial research to understand the roles and structures of an interagency federal team serving a local community. In addition to reading this Playbook and other literature and reports on related projects (see References section), the team lead should meet with former leads and team members of similar efforts in other communities, who can share their experiences and insights.
Initial Introductions. The team lead should have an initial meeting and/or introduction to the mayor/governor (or appropriate executive(s) or local partners) and Congressional delegation for the local community. Depending on the local community, the team lead may also seek initial introductions and meetings with federal staff on the ground in the community, including regional, district, or local federal offices and any Federal Executive Board or regional interagency group that may be active.
Questions to Consider
Does the team lead have buy-in from agency leadership to take on this role and has he or she been able to transition existing portfolios to dedicate adequate time to leading the team? Are there team leads or members from other teams who have worked in communities of similar characteristics who the team lead can meet with to get advice on time commitment, communication strategies, impactful projects and resources, etc.?
How strong are existing relationships and communication between the local government and organizations and the federal government?
Who are the key people on the ground – from the federal, state, local, nonprofit, other sectors – to connect with early on?
Assemble Federal Team. The team should consist of representatives from federal agencies positioned to provide assistance that addresses needs and priorities of the local community. The size and commitments of the team will vary depending on the needs of the community and may change over time.
Buy-in from Leadership. An email or letter invitation should be sent from the lead agency’s Secretary or other top official to his or her counterparts at other agencies explaining the establishment of the team, identifying the team lead, and requesting agencies to identify a senior staff person to serve on the team as the agency’s liaison and to provide that person’s contact information to the team lead.
Agencies to Include. Agencies will initially be involved based on local need and the types of assistance offered, though this composition may change over time as the work in the local community evolves. Agencies that are frequently involved in these teams and many of which have signed an interagency technical assistance memorandum of agreement include:
- Department of Agriculture (USDA)
- Department of Commerce (DOC)
- Department of Education (ED)
- Department of Energy (DOE)
- Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
- Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
- Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
- Department of Interior (DOI)
- Department of Justice (DOJ)
- Department of Labor (DOL)
- Department of Transportation (DOT)
- Department of Treasury (TREAS)
- Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS)
- Delta Regional Authority (DRA)
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- General Services Administration (GSA)
- National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)
- Small Business Administration (SBA)
- Team Composition. A liaison from each selected agency will be a part of the federal team as identified by agency leadership. The liaison may be someone in the Secretary’s office such as a Deputy Chief of Staff or Senior Advisor. Liaisons could also be a senior staff member in the agency’s Intergovernmental Affairs Office, or a senior staff member in the most relevant sub-agency at the national or regional offices. This agency liaison should assemble a small internal team to support their agency’s contributions to the overall efforts of the federal team. This group likely includes staff members from both the national office and the regional or district office closest to the ground of the local community. A creative source for team members is among temporary federal assignments within an agency, such as Presidential Management Fellows, AmeriCorps VISTA members, or Intergovernmental Personnel Act detailees. It is incumbent on each agency to ensure the relevant staff members are involved who are in a position to execute the work.
Questions to Consider
What is the best way to communicate with other agencies on assigning team members: letter, email, phone call? Who is the appropriate person from the lead agency or elsewhere to generate the communication?
How many agencies should a team initially engage? What is the right balance of quantity versus quality? How much time should team members be expected to commit? Some teams operate effectively with just four or five agencies. Other teams consist of 15 agencies or more. At the initial stage, much of the team composition may depend on how clear the local needs are and the types of federal assistance required.
What is the appropriate balance of national staff versus regional staff on the team? Does the team lead have a direct line of communication with agency team members?
Who is the appropriate person to coordinate with each agency’s Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs? Should the team lead take on this coordination directly, or work through each agency team member?
Do team members have the appropriate skill sets and working styles to take a listening stance and creatively and collaboratively develop solutions to local challenges?
Establish communication and management structures across the team. The team lead should establish a structure for communicating with and managing the team, including regular team calls, team contact list, document sharing system, and reporting protocol.
Kick-off Meeting. The team lead should host an initial in-person team meeting to develop communication processes and outline the team’s charge and immediate set of tasks. The team lead may also want to have one-on-one meetings with each team member at the outset.
Establish Communication Structure. Teams may consider having weekly check-in calls, with additional in-person meetings scheduled as needed, such as monthly or quarterly. Key Documents and Templates. The team lead should develop initial tracking documents, such as:
- Federal team contact list, with liaisons for each member agency. Calendar system to track relevant events, key meetings, and project deadlines or milestones.
- Report template that can be used on a regular basis to keep the team, White House, and agency leadership informed of recent and upcoming top-line activities, meetings, announcements, etc.
- Weekly attendance matrix to track agency participation.
Questions to Consider
What is the right balance of group and one-on-one communication?
What technology tools are available, such as OMBMax, GoogleDocs, or other shared applications, that can be used to coordinate across the team?
Is the team lead able to identify one or two team members who can assist with document management and communications, especially if the team lead needs to miss a scheduled meeting or call, etc.?
Identify local community point of contact and local communication structure. It is crucial for the federal team lead to have a local community point of contact who can help navigate the local landscape and manage communication and coordination. Ideally a local community will assemble a team to mirror and interact with the federal team.
Identify Local Community Point of Contact. A local community POC should be identified in the Mayor’s Office (or appropriate jurisdictional executive).
- Identifying a Local Community POC. The team lead should meet with the mayor or appropriate local leadership to provide an overview of the federal team and request a local counterpart to serve as the communication and coordination lead POC for the local community.
- Profile of Local Community POC. The local community POC should have positional authority within the mayor’s office and access to leadership across city/local government. He or she should have contacts with the landscape of organizations in the community and be able to coordinate introductions with local government agencies, and other stakeholders, and serve as a conduit of information.
Federal and Local Team Leads Meet. The federal team lead and local community POC should meet and establish expectations and roles. Building a trusting relationship is important as these two individuals will be in regular communication and will work together closely. They are connecting points for ensuring the federal-local partnership succeeds.
Identify Key Local Stakeholders. The federal team lead will need to coordinate with the local community POC to identify additional stakeholders and establish communication structures with relevant entities, such as the local Congressional delegation, the governor’s office and state agencies, and key nonprofit organizations, foundations, or companies active in the specific work of the local community and federal team. One place to begin is identifying existing community structures for communication across relevant entities, networks, and individuals, such as local coordinating committees or intermediaries.
Ground Rules for Broader Team Communications. While the federal team lead and local community POC will maintain open lines of communication, they should encourage communication among other members of the federal-local partnership. Federal team members will need to communicate and coordinate with staff from local agencies, especially as the respective agencies are working together on specific projects. For example, if there is a particular project related to housing, HUD team members will need to communicate directly with the local housing agency. The federal team lead should encourage such direct communication between local leaders and federal team members.
Questions to Consider
Does the local community have a single POC who can represent key agencies and stakeholders? In some communities, this may not be the case and the federal team lead will have to develop an alternative method for regular communications with the local community.
Is the local community willing to establish a local team to mirror the federal team? If not, does the federal team have an adequate plan for communicating with local stakeholders?
Is there an existing local structure, such as mayoral cabinet meetings, that the federal team lead or team member can attend to stay looped in of local priorities and challenge?
Perform preliminary needs, community capacity, and priorities assessment. The federal team should have at least an initial sense of priorities based on the reasons the team was established in the first place. This activity should focus on quantifying the needs as best as possible and identifying priorities for actionable federal assistance. As part of this process, the team should also seek to assess local capacity, in terms of organizations, community leaders, and existing federal-local and other collaborative efforts.
Develop Assessment Plan. The team should work with the local community POC to develop an assessment plan, including identifying local stakeholders to speak with, top areas of need, and high-value, short-term projects to pursue.
Listening Tour. The team lead might consider conducting a listening tour with the local community lead and stakeholders identified. Ideally, these sessions would take place in person and be organized around targeted assessment questions for identifying key challenges, opportunities, local capacity, and resource gaps. Time permitting, the team lead should seek to meet with a wide range of stakeholders, including organizations and leaders beyond the list provided by the local community lead.
Finalize Initial Assessment Report. Based on the listening tour, the team lead should develop an initial assessment report. The team lead will need to balance identifying top needs and priorities of stakeholders with the top items of the local community lead and mayor’s office. Ideally, these various sets of needs and priorities will be aligned. The assessment report should clearly identify an initial list of 3-5 areas the federal team will focus on, including an effort to distinguish between short-term and long-term areas of focus.
Questions to Consider
Has the mayor or other local leadership already provided a specific set of asks and proposed scope of work for the federal team? If so, the assessment may focus more on setting priorities and timelines.
How much time should go into developing the assessment? The federal team should balance developing a solid plan with executing projects.
What is the relationship between needs and local capacity to address the needs? How will this impact priority setting?
Develop federal resource map and initial scope of work. The federal team should complete a local resource inventory that tracks relevant federal funding, technical assistance, and other types of potential assistance that are already supporting the needs and priorities identified in the assessment, as well as potential resources that would meet local priorities.
Resource Inventory Tracker. The team should develop a list of existing and potential federal resources and types of assistance from relevant partner agencies. To facilitate the inventory, the team lead might consider developing a template that all agencies can use. Example information to include in the inventory is the following:
- Current federal financial and technical assistance investments in the local community.
- Financial or technical assistance opportunities currently under review by the agency.
- Any other specific asks team members are aware of that have come into the agency from the local community that might not be captured by formal grant competitions or other procedures. This may include requests for relevant emergency aid, specific technical assistance or guidance, or waiver requests to use existing federal funding in a specific way that addresses local priorities.
- Open, upcoming, or other existing financial or technical assistance opportunities for which the local community may be eligible and that matches local priorities.
- Pilot or demonstration authorities the agency may have that could support specific needs within the community by providing new funding or allowing for flexible re-purposing of existing federal funds.
- Unspent federal resources that could be re-purposed, such as local or state formula or block grants or other federal budget items that are closely linked with the community’s needs and priorities.
- Other services the agency can provide, such as assistance with strategic planning, data management and analysis, grants training, or linkages to national partners or initiatives.
- Consider using a collaborative document management system such as a wiki or GoogleDoc that enables team members to add resource information in real time.
Prioritize Resource Opportunities. The team lead should work with federal team members to identify short-term and longer-term strategies for use of existing resources and assistance and/or new resources and types of assistance that can be brought to the local community.
Develop Scope of Work or Work Plans. Based on the inventory of available and potential types of assistance, the team should develop an initial scope of work that outlines the projects and associated types of federal assistance the team anticipates working on.
Questions to Consider
The inventory tracker can be a useful tool, but the federal team should find the right balance of identifying existing and potential resources and other types of assistance without creating too much “busy work” within their agencies.
The federal team may consider creating an initial inventory and scope of work or work plan and then refining it over time as work in the local community progresses.
Implement short-term projects. The federal team should work with the local community to identify and implement a few short-term, or “low-hanging fruit” projects that address local needs and priorities and can achieve immediate results and outcomes. During this initial, startup phase it is important that the federal team demonstrate an ability to deliver outcomes with the local community.
Identify Short-term Projects. The team lead should work with the federal team and local community to identify up to three tangible projects that can be completed within a 3 to 6-month period. These should be projects that can quickly mobilize federal financial assistance, or other forms of tangible and impactful assistance, and can result in short-term outcomes. While the easiest projects will be those that involve a single agency, the federal team should consider pushing for at least one project that involves interagency collaboration. Examples of projects may include the following:
- Use agency pilot or demonstration authority to launch a project addressing a specific need.
- Provide additional funds to existing federally funded programs.
- Work with the local community to re-purpose existing funding to meet immediate needs; or explore and expedite the use of waiver authority to allow for existing funds to be used in a more flexible way than allowed under regulations.
- Use convening power to forge new partnerships around priority areas, for example by organizing a roundtable on a policy area where the community has expressed interest but has struggled to execute.
- See Section 3 of the Playbook for additional ideas on types of federal assistance.
Benefits of Doing. Initiating implementation as early as is feasible offers several key benefits:
- Establishes an effective working relationship between the federal team and local community.
- Creates confidence and trust among federal team members as they demonstrate they can follow through on deliverables for each other as well as for the community.
- Energizes all stakeholders that the team is focused on action and results.
- Importance of Initial Success. Successful short-term projects, as opposed to projects that fail to yield immediate results, show the community that the federal team is committed to having an impact. Early impacts can be imperative for long lasting partnership and outcomes. The team can build on these early successes to pursue more complicated and long-term efforts that may require more patience and commitments from local partners. The team should prioritize flexibility, even if that means getting started on a short-term project within the first month or two of the team’s creation and before an initial assessment is complete. Especially during the early stages, the team will need to perform multiple tasks and many of these plays outlined here simultaneously, rather than sequentially.
Questions to Consider
Do short-term projects address the local community’s top priorities and will they yield near-term outcomes?
What is the likelihood that federal assistance can be delivered, or visibly mobilized, in a three to six-month period?
Is there sufficient capacity across the federal team and local community and partners to implement the short-term project?
Report on early efforts and results. The team lead should document the work of the federal team during this initial phase of work in order to communicate progress with federal leadership, as well as within the local community. The reporting should also make an important case for the value of the federal team and the time commitment of individual members.
Progress Report. The team lead should develop a memo, fact sheet, email blast, or other appropriate document reporting on the federal team’s activities in the initial period of work (typically six months to one year). The team should consider the intended audiences for this report, which may include federal leadership, local community leaders, and the federal team, itself. The document may provide updates on:
- Activities and Accomplishments, such as the team’s setup, coordinating efforts, and progress on initial projects.
- Challenges, including logistics or resources that need to be addressed, or significant local issues.
- Forecast for Next Phase, which briefly captures the federal team’s anticipated areas of focus, and top opportunities and challenges, for the next one-to-two years.
Questions to Consider
- Who are the audiences for the report?
- Should there be a local media or outreach strategy to disseminate the report?