Magazine article Public Management

Innovation Loves a Good Challenge: 2016 Case Studies from the Alliance for Innovation

Magazine article Public Management

Innovation Loves a Good Challenge: 2016 Case Studies from the Alliance for Innovation

Article excerpt

One of the top reasons local government staff say they enjoy their work is that they know they are making a difference. Interestingly, how those differences manifest can take very different forms.

Great examples of communities and staff making a difference are found in the nearly 100 case studies submitted to the Alliance for Innovation for our annual Transforming Local Government conference. These case studies represent ambitious undertakings, attempts to solve wicked problems or substantially change the quality of offered services. For these diverse communities, the needle is clearly moving in the right direction.

Here are a few of my favorites from our 2016 submissions. Synopses of diverse ideas on how to make a community more sustainable, healthier, more inclusive, and welcoming follow.

CHALLENGE: Engage community groups in neighborhood place making and building a green infrastructure.

Where: Austin, Texas

Population: 912,791; 12,973 full-time employees (FTEs)

Solution: Austin developed the Neighborhood Partnering Program (NPP), which is described as a local government version of Kickstarter (a funding platform for creative projects). NPP provides a way for community organizations to pitch and execute small to medium-size improvements in the city's right-of-way or on city-owned property in their neighborhood. Through this effort, underutilized spaces have been transformed into cycle tracks, trails, community gardens, pocket parks, and a home for homegrown art.

In 2009, the city council passed a resolution directing the city manager to develop a matching-fund program for neighborhood improvements. The city cobbled together money from different sources, leveraged the public works department's engineering services and field crews; and invited citizen groups to develop a concept for how their neighborhood could be improved. The results have been more than amazing.

First, the program has provided a collaborative space for city employees and community members to work together in problem solving and celebrating successes through the concept, design, permitting, and construction of their projects. Second, the development of green infrastructure--such as community gardens, rain gardens, bike lanes, and median improvements--has brightened neighborhoods across the city. And third, the process has engaged new private stakeholders in offering matching funding or people power to get the projects off the ground.

Obstacles: The primary obstacle was making the cost-match program accessible to all Austin residents, particularly those in low-income neighborhoods. This was addressed by allowing volunteer construction and ongoing maintenance hours (valued at $24.66/hour) to be eligible as a match. Such partners as a local branch of the American Society of Landscape Architects and professional service organizations were also convened to provide expertise on an as-needed basis. The city was also able to secure two full-time AmeriCorps VISTA members to serve as full-time staff.

Funding: Over the she years of the program's life span, the city has contributed $2 million in funding, and the community has contributed more than $1 million cash, in-kind professional services, sweat equity, and materials. More than 43 projects have been approved or completed, and they are spread across all council districts in the city.

Takeaways: NPP is replicable and can be scaled to any community. Austin believes that the combination of engaging the community for neighborhood improvement ideas and helping the neighborhood execute its project is key to Austin's success with this program. The ongoing assistance provided to design, engineer, and construct the project guards against long delays or cost overruns. And the resulting relationships formed within the community and with city staff have proven to be priceless!

Link to Case Study: Austin Neighborhood Partnering Program, http://transformgov. …

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