But with disinvestment from all levels of government, NYCHA has been unable to keep homes in good shape and to connect residents to community resources and economic opportunities.
“Aggressive action is necessary to deliver to NYCHA’s residents the resources and services they have long deserved, and to sustain the Authority for the long term,” according to NYCHA Chair Shola Olatoye. Therefore, NYCHA developed a long-term plan to change fundamentally how they operate in order to create safe, clean, connected communities.
In the midst of planning, the non-partisan nonprofit Civic Consulting offered pro bono assistance. And the first area of collaboration has been to develop a ground-floor leasing strategy.
With 328 developments around the city, NYCHA has tremendous space on the ground floor, in fact, 2.5 million square feet that’s non-residential. Roughly a tenth is zoned commercial, and those storefronts enjoy very low vacancy. The other spaces are often under-utilized or off line altogether: former laundry rooms, management offices, community centers, storage, and more.
As NYCHA leadership – including the Chair and the Vice President of Real Estate Services – discussed these assets with Civic Consulting, it became clear that NYCHA alone did not have the resources to repair and reprogram these spaces. New partnerships would be needed.
The question is, who has both the interest and the resources to unlock the potential of these spaces?
How do you upgrade millions of square feet of public housing?
Can going to public hospitals to get treated become a positive experience?
At the Meeting of the Minds, Alexander Shermansong moderated a keynote conversation around “Local Answers for Under-Resourced Cities,” with two of his New York collaborators, Karina Totah, Senior Advisor to the Chair at New York City Housing Authority and Steven Newmark, Senior Policy Advisor & Counsel to Mayor Bill Bill de Blasio – two forward-thinking government change-makers.
The conversation speaks to how pro bono services can enable city government to implement lasting solutions, leading to meaningful impact for millions of people.
“When you constantly deal with a deficit, the idea of trying of being forward-thinking and thinking long-term becomes more difficult to do,” says Steven. “That’s really when you need to bring individuals that can cross those sectors, that can bring those agencies, external experts, and staffers together.”
Representatives from 44 cities gathered in Miami last week. Why were so many cities, ranging from the bucolic to the megalopolis, gathered together?
It’s part of a major rethinking of the role of the federal government in the lives of city dwellers. Instead of just giving grants (or taking them away) the federal government and city executives think through their opportunities and implement innovative ideas.
This gathering is their second annual national gathering of peer cities. As a strategic partner to this White House led initiative, Civic Consulting USA was invited to participate.
I heard 44 different accomplishment and 44 different challenges. Despite the chain-store-suburbinization of many American cities, the diversity of assets was startling:
Dearborn Michigan’s home of Ford Motor Company is a regional draw for tourists – and now they’re using that as a magnet for jobs and talent
Passaic New Jersey’s growing rapidly, thanks to immigration (as many as a three-quarters were born in other countries) – and now they’re opening several new schools
Atlanta Georgia’s made the streetcars free so people can get around easily, making downtown that much more accessible – and now they need more housing downtown
I also heard striking similarities from these leaders: every community in America cares about three or four things: good jobs (or jobs generally), educating kids and families, safe neighborhoods – and how to pay for it all.
Moreover, I heard common answers about how to “make it work.”
First off, it takes a leader bold enough to set a bold goal. In Baltimore, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (newly minted president of US Conference of Mayors) announced that the city aspires to attract 10,000 families to the city within the next 10 years. That takes reversing decades of population decline. Countering the tragedies of recent headlines. Cultivating a team of civil servants willing and able to figure it out. Stimulating a community-wide effort from across sectors to solve nuanced challenges, challenges like food deserts.
Secondly, it takes data and honesty. In the past, when a mayor set a bold goal, data were scarce, so it was easy enough to wait a few months and call it a win. Not anymore. We’re barraged with data from emails to infographics to open data. So city executives like those in Dallas who are willing to confront the brutal facts of sharply declining incomes are a step ahead in finding the answer. They’ve created NeighborhoodPlus a strategic framework to unite efforts across agencies, across sectors, and across the city.
Third, making it work takes allies on the ground. It’s not just press conferences where all the business executives or community leaders can stand by the podium and lend their name and face. It’s pragmatic partnerships where community colleges offer basic computer and customer service classes for city workers, as in Meridian Idaho. It’s partnerships where business leaders stand up and invest in joint priorities, as in Winston-Salem.
While we’re all different, we’re all the same when it comes to wanting to make it work in the places where all things social, economics and culture connect: our cities. As the chief of staff of – pick your city – said, Let’s do it.
Every day we see how Silicon Valley’s innovators and entrepreneurs are changing the world through new ideas and technologies: our smartphones, our fitness trackers, the smart meter at home, the cloud at our workplace, the latest app we download. Undeniably we are riding a wave of technological innovation at a breakneck pace.
What’s not as obvious is the wave of innovative change in the way we live: unifying neighborhoods, creating integrated communication systems, even speeding up basic maintenance of city streets. This second wave of innovation — a wave of civic innovation — is centered around people leveraging newfound access to information and other people to help not just themselves, but larger society.
Civic innovation is the process of designing and improving how people live, government works, and communities thrive.
When you think about it, it’s pretty obvious that we need civic innovation just as much as we need Silicon Valley innovation — if not more. What’s not as obvious is the role of government. Often, we blame government for everything that’s wrong — dysfunctional politics, bad traffic, redundant forms and waste. But government, particularly local government, needs to be tapped as part of the answer. From your mayor to your beat cop, local government is where progress is made; and there’s a new consortium of civic-focused groups, communities, and partnerships working to enable cities to innovate and create lasting change now.
This collaboration is the inaugural effort between the Civic Consulting USA and CCA, marked by our first-ever Civic Innovation Fellow, MBA in Strategic Foresight candidate Alida Draudt. Ali is analyzing the civic fabric of hundreds of cities across the US to determine which are ripest to host innovation hubs both short and long term.
As with many of the efforts around innovation, from Code for America to the Fuse Corps Fellowship and Bayes Impact, there is a legion of civic innovators working in our nation’s cities. Our efforts will aim to take scalable, proven projects from the history of Civic Consulting work and marry that with the DMBA acumen and methods to unleash a new layer of impact.
This strategic partnership will build upon the momentum of innovation work taking place nationally, and offer unique experience to test, try, pilot, and tinker in civic innovation while making real change in our own communities. We are excited to announce this partnership, and look forward to the waves of innovation to come.
Chief Executive Officer
Civic Consulting USA
California College of the Arts
Director of Civic Innovation
Civic Consulting USA
DMBA – Strategic Foresight Candidate 2016 + Civic Innovation Fellow
California College of the Arts
We are all “makers.” We dream. We tinker. We design. We develop. We trouble-shoot and we deploy. Across industry — public, private or government – we’re all making something; we’re all part of the maker movement.
I participated in a recent panel at Governing’s Performance and Innovation Summit in Louisville with leaders from Living Cities, Philadelphia’s Office of New Urban Mechanics and the Louisville Mayor’s Office. It struck me that there are also civic makers, who are tinkering with our neighborhoods, our communities, and the things that make our cities exciting.
Throughout the panel, we returned to more and more examples of technology and tools that further democratize civic engagement. And it’s not just San Francisco, Chicago and New York. We found examples everywhere of makers energizing the social and economic fabric of our cities. And the question we grappled with as a panel was how partners and those from within the maker movement can lead to lasting social impact.
Big-BatLouisville, the wonderful host of the conference and the birthplace of The Slugger, is a veritable glimpse of the maker movement’s history. The legendary baseball bat began humbly when Bud Hellerich saw a player break his bat during a game over one hundred years ago. After the game, Bud took the player to his father’s woodworking shop where they designed a new bat together.
Bud was enthusiastic, his father was impressed and he stepped aside to encourage his son’s ‘making’. Word quickly traveled: Players came by the dozens to the family’s wood shop. The likes of Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, and the World Series Champion SF Giants have all used Louisville Sluggers. Today, the factory produces nearly two million bats annually. A walk through the factory is a walkthrough the history of innovation of our great nation – the company’s traditional bat-making methods now enhanced by a one-of-a-kind computer that produced consistency from every order. The new technology emerged from an iterative process which tested, tried, and developed each successive produce – that’s the maker process.
Louisville also offers great examples of the civic maker movement today. When Mayor Greg Fisher hosted a conference a few years back on the maker movement, his idea was that government should be supportive of innovation and encourage entrepreneurs. At the same time the government, understandably, will not lead the innovation. Ted Smith, Louisville’s Chief Innovation Officer, shared a little insight with me as to how Louisville added the “civic” into the makers’ movement.
It started when GE opened its doors to makers and entrepreneurs in 2013. As a result, community members and government staff came to the table too. This was an unprecedented moment signaling new ways for corporate and community to work together to spur new products, grow the local talent pool and encourage more public-private cooperation. With cross-sector partners at the table – government, corporate, academe, and community – the effort set in motion a wave of activity which according to Smith “culminated in a GE joint venture with Local motors – called FirstBuild” – located at the University of Louisville-Belknap Campus.
In addition to the efforts the city leadership supported, the nonprofit WaterStep organized Hack2O, a Water Solutions hackathon to innovate clean water solutions in global communities.
So what can cities learn from Louisville?
One, leaders need to create a safe place for people to test and try new ideas, sometimes fail. Bud needed his father’s permission to craft, develop and test out different baseball bats. FirstBuild came from Mayor Fisher, GE, and other leaders letting the makers see where their innovations took them as they worked across sectors in new ways.
Secondly, the big, game-changing things we are pursuing take partnerships. Without the baseball player in the workshop with him, Bud wouldn’t have gotten the Slugger right. Similarly, GE needed to bring community members in before the idea for FirstBuild came out.
Near the end of my tour of Slugger on historic West Main, my tourguide shared a story about Ted Williams, the hall of famer and last MLB player to hit .400. Apparently, Williams was particularly particular about his bats. He ordered the same bat over and over. But one bat Williams sent it back because “it didn’t grip right.” They checked the order, and it was made just like the previous ones, but when they measured it, sure enough, it didn’t match. There’s nothing like the hands of the batter to tell if the bat’s right and there’s lots of work to do. Imagine if our cities had that similar ability to listen, to tinker, to trouble shoot, and to deploy. Our making continues…
Civic Consulting Minnesota is just getting started, and already they’re making news.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman asked the newly formed public-private pro bono partnership for help getting ready for the snow season.
The city is already implementing Civic Consulting’s recommendations and aims to clear snow on 90% of major streets within 20 hours of a major storm. Tracking social media will help identify areas that need extra attention.
Business Mentor NY began working with LinkedIn and Civic Consulting to connect with pro bono professionals throughout New York State. Civic Consulting connected Business Mentor NY with LinkedIn’s Volunteer Marketplace, a site for professionals to identify and pursue skills-based volunteering opportunities.
In a survey, 82% of LinkedIn members stated that they wanted to volunteer their skills.
“Business Mentor NY is a great opportunity for LinkedIn members to do just that, use their professional skills for social good,” said Alison Dorsey of LinkedIn.
The relationship with LinkedIn’s Volunteer Marketplace is a huge win for Business Mentor NY, enabling us to discover and connect with professionals who have expressed interest in high-quality, skills-based volunteering opportunities. And there are quite a few, as over one-million LinkedIn members have indicated that they would like to do skills-based volunteering!
Professionals are actively seeking out volunteer opportunities to leverage their skill sets make a positive impact on the world outside work. LinkedIn members also love Business Mentor NY, with hundreds of professionals applying to mentor our businesses.
Skills-based volunteering is good for your career, too.
Volunteering is a great way to develop leadership skills, expand your professional network, and obtain new skills by trying new approaches. In a LinkedIn survey, 42% of hiring managers stated that they consider volunteer work equivalent to full-time work experience. And 20% said they had hired someone because of her or his volunteer experience.
Try your passion on for size.
Everyone dreams of earning a living from what they love doing. Volunteering is a great way to test-drive your passion as a career. It’s an opportunity to do what you enjoy in a low-risk setting and also highlight your talents, which could prepare you for that dream job.
You never know who you’ll connect with.
Volunteering exposes you to people you would not encounter otherwise. Who knows, maybe you’ll help the next cronut-maker or Steve Jobs get off the ground!
With the help of pro bono partners, Chicago created a single, unified voice for all the great things you can do and see in the city, and tourism is growing.
Like many cities, Chicago used to have separate entities focused on attracting different types of tourists. This appeared to make sense: leisure tourists and business tourists were different animals (so the thinking went), and you needed different strategies and messages to attract each. But Chicago was not competing well in comparison to other cities like New York, and the City leaders wanted to know why.
They reached out to the Civic Consulting Alliance to help them estimate Chicago’s performance against other cities, and better understand the best practices in bringing tourists (and tourist dollars) into Chicago.
With support from the Civic Consulting Alliance and pro bono partners Griffin Strategic Advisors LLC and Jones Day, the City of Chicago looked at ten comparable cities (including Philadelphia and New York), and what they found surprised them. It appeared that cities with unified marketing strategies were more successful at attracting all kinds of tourists.
With this in mind, in the summer of 2012 the City of Chicago merged two separate marketing entities creating a single organization, Choose Chicago, charged with promoting both leisure and business tourism to the city. Since Choose was created, tourism has risen significantly, with record hotel occupancy of more than 75 percent and record visitation of more than 46 million visitors in 2013.
Indeed, Chicago’s efforts have been so successful that now they are getting noticed. The Philadelphia Inquirer recently highlighted Choose Chicago as a model that Philadelphia (one of the ten cities Chicago initially used to compare itself) might want to emulate.
They say imitation is the highest form of flattery, and why wouldn’t another city want to copy a success like this? Bringing together public and private partners to seek new and practical solutions that help cities grow is at the heart of the Civic Consulting model. Kudos to the Civic Consulting Alliance, and to Philadelphia for knowing a good thing when they see it.
“How can you afford to give your services away for free?” People often ask me, “and why wouldn’t a company providing the service want to bill you?”
A lot of people assume if you’re not charging for your services, it’s not worth charging for them. In fact, it used to be the case that “pro bono” meant you couldn’t get anyone to pay you – either because they didn’t have money or because you weren’t very good. Sometimes, it was just a polite way to let go of the people you didn’t want around anymore.
But nowadays it’s different: only the best people get to do pro bono work. Companies actually assign their top stars to community service projects. For example, a few years back we were getting ready for a pro bono project to eliminate paperwork and put more cops on the street. The firm working with us pro bono asked to postpone the project six weeks, because their top project manager was finishing a case in Asia and they wanted their best guy on the job.
Why would they take him off a billable client for community service?
For one, doing good is the right thing to do. Tom Wilson from The Allstate Corporation put it well: “Those of us who are business leaders have a particular responsibility to invest in our communities. We do business in these communities. We live in these communities.”
In fact, three-out-of-four companies see community engagement and impact as a top benefit for pro bono work. “Helping out this way is what GE employees do,” said Mike LaChapelle.
“The primary reason is a genuine desire to contribute,” agreed Jim Rechtin from Bain & Company. Then he went on: ”The side benefit is a tremendously positive impact on our culture and on the recruitment and retention of our employees.”
According to one national survey, 90% of HR professionals believe skills-based volunteering can be an effective way to develop leadership skills. What is it about pro bono projects that make them such fertile training grounds?
“The common cause – coming together to help solve the tough issues that face the urban community, without money in the way – creates a level of trust and respect simply not found in a business-as-usual relationship,” explained IDEO’s Andrew Burroughs. “This heightened level of trust allows access to a vast network of influencers and doers across the city, opening doors that otherwise might be closed, and creating some wonderful learning opportunities along the way.”
You also see an unusual mix of people on pro bono projects, which brings out the best in the team according to Frank Muller from Crust Young: “It is both gratifying and exhilarating to be part of a team with the brightest minds of some of the world’s leading strategy consulting firms.”
As you talk to business leaders across the country, you’ll hear again and again that pro bono is good HR strategy. These projects help their employees find meaning in their work (skills-based volunteers are 38% more likely to have high morale). That keeps their top performers from looking for other places to work. And pro bono projects put them in new situations to test their skills and try different approaches. When finding and retaining the right people is so crucial for your company’s success, you can’t afford not “to give it away for free.”
It’s refreshing to step out of the corporate world for a bit and do a pro bono project. There is a lot that the public and private sectors can learn from each other.
When the new mayor of NYC was coming into office, I had the chance to work with the transition team as a pro bono consultant. Our team (drawn from a few different firms) was part of shaping the future of one America’s greatest cities, with a large and diverse population.
Honestly, I was unsure of how the partners from other firms would come together, but Civic Consulting USA did an excellent job of providing structure and leading the team to accomplish a lot in a short time period.
In this case, each member of the team worked with a subcommittee, and I was in charge of technology. This subcommittee was filled with leaders of some of the city’s largest technology companies, tech entrepreneurs and investors, and academics.
I was able to strengthen my executive communication and leadership skills by planning and conducting workshops with this influential group. I also built a great network of professionals that I still keep in touch with since the project has completed.
At the beginning of any major transition there are lots of big ideas and goals. One of the areas that Civic Consulting USA along with their pro bono partners excelled in was bringing a pragmatic and thorough approach, prioritizing and creating action plans to bring these big ideas to life.
We left the mayor’s new team with a solid start to running the largest and most complicated city in America – and if you can do that here you can do it anywhere!