AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
In late June 2010, the National Civic League (NCL) convened its annual All-America Cities conference in Kansas City, Missouri. To celebrate the event, a special forum was organized bringing past winners together with those interested in local government innovation and community engagement of the kind embodied in the All-America Cities competition. Support for this forum, the first event of the AAC Center for Civic Excellence, was provided by the engineering, architecture, and consulting firm Burns & McDonnell. The forum's goal was to share information about award-winning projects, transferring knowledge that could inform future projects while reaching a broader audience involved in building community. In this article, we identify the elements of successful projects drawn from discussion at the forum; provide examples of the elements; and, finally, attempt to ground the elements of success in a brief review of academic research that focuses on local government innovation and citizen engagement to provide confidence that what we learned at the forum is more broadly "evidence based."
The Mid America Regional Council in Kansas City, which partnered with NCL on the forum, formed a committee of elected officials, city management professionals, and academicians who developed the forum idea and then brainstormed both topic areas and questions that would organize discussion at the forum. NCL staff facilitated the meetings and then identified the projects--which were selected on the basis of the chosen topics and logistical convenience that would provide the focus for the forum. Student note takers were identified from the CORO Fellows program hosted by Park University and MPA (Master of Public Administration) students at the University of Kansas.
Representatives from five cities in Massachusetts, Texas, and Missouri reported on ten award-winning projects from the recent past that focused on topics the convening committee had selected. The topics were:
* Economy. Attracting new businesses as well as retention of existing business
* Self-Image/identity. Branding the community
* Growth. Planning for and managing growth
* Neighborhoods. Revitalization of older (first suburb) neighborhoods
* Urban core. Downtown revitalization
* Infrastructure. Capital improvements for infrastructure
* Youth. Achievement and enrichment
* Sustainability. Community participation focusing on sustainability
* Public safety. Police partnering with neighborhoods to fight crime
* Engagement. Creating a shared vision of the community
Over one hundred participants signed up and attended the forum held in conjunction with the annual All-America City competition. Participants were elected officials and professional local government staff nationwide who were attending the All-America City Awards as well as officials from local communities who were not attending. A content leader at each table organized discussion around one of the topics, facilitated discussion, and presented information about the project addressing five questions:
1. What set the project in motion? What was the impetus? What was the problem? What were the symptoms?
2. What assets did you rely on? Which were unexpected assets?
3. What were the obstacles that you had to overcome--both anticipated and unanticipated? How did you overcome them?
4. What were the critical elements of success?
5. What have been the results that you think will last?
Each forum participant was given the opportunity to attend two of the presentation/discussions. At the end of the day at each table, participants were asked to develop a list of "elements critical to community innovation and engagement." Participants were expected to draw from the discussions at the forum as well as their own experiences. The lists were combined into one with duplicates removed and some ideas joined. The result was a list of thirteen largely distinct elements. Each of the eighty participants at this point in the forum was given the opportunity to "vote" for up to four of the elements. The resultant list with the number of votes is provided in Table 1.
Reviewing the results in the table, we can see that only one element was endorsed by more than half of the participants present. This would seem to suggest that successful innovation in local government …