Over the past two decades, a trend has emerged among urban communities seeking to address the disparate needs of their rapidly diversifying citizenry. Faced with the challenges of governing an ever-transforming landscape of classes, races, nationalities, and political loyalties, some community and government leaders have embraced collaboration as a means of catalyzing change and increasing civic engagement among citizens. A mutually beneficial relationship between two or more parties, collaboration enables the partners to work toward a common goal by sharing responsibility, authority, and accountability for achieving results. Its purpose is to create a shared vision and joint strategies to address concerns that go beyond the purview of any particular party. Collaboration relies on trust, inclusion, and constructive engagement to achieve positive and enduring changes that benefit the collective good of the stakeholders. It is a system of effecting change defined by a delicate balance of institutional and organ izational power. A successful collaborative endeavor requires the presence of a strong sense of community among the stakeholders.
Implementing and managing a successful collaborative project often requires the assistance of a central organization capable of forging and fostering relationships with partners in a variety of sectors. Civic intermediary organizations such as DC Agenda maintain and build relationships with leaders, individuals, and other organizations and institutions to facilitate or mobilize resources and opportunities on behalf of the underserved. They facilitate discussion with stakeholders--from neighborhood leaders to elected officials--in developing a common understanding of some of the problems facing a community They are often positioned in such a way as to enable bridging race and class differences. They often work to strengthen a community by working behind the scenes to enhance the leadership capacity of community-based organizations and institutions such as schools, social service providers, and neighborhood organizations. In many cases, a civic intermediary organization is also influential in using connections with funding institutions to broker resources for a financially disadvantaged community.
Managing Collaborative Endeavors: DC Agenda as Community Builder
DC Agenda is one such civic intermediary organization. It was founded in 1994 by the Federal City Council, a prestigious business association responsible for promoting numerous public projects in Washington, D.C. Its primary goal is to identify the challenges, and support the opportunities, facing the District of Columbia. Although begun under the auspices of the Federal City Council, it has since grown into a distinct 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, with an annual operating budget of $1.6 million and a staff of fourteen dedicated professionals.
Although the growth of DC Agenda from a project to an independent corporation attests to success at forging civic improvement, the atmosphere in which it operates has changed drastically since inception. At the time of DC Agenda's founding, Washington, D.C., was in fiscal disarray Businesses and middle-class residents were leaving, city services were mismanaged, and the quality of the city's public schools was declining. The situation was further worsened by a complex interplay of race and class issues, and the historically flawed relations between the U.S. Congress and the district government. Congress forbids the district from taxing commuters who work in DC (a group that comprises approximately two-thirds of the workforce); has removed many large organizations, such as the World Bank and Fannie Mae from the city's tax roles; and can veto any city budget proposal or legislation. Washington, D.C., has many of the budgetary expenditures of a city, a county, and a state, yet it has less authority--notably, lac k of voting representation in Congress. The severity of the city's fiscal and sociopolitical problems was further intensified by the failure of successive municipal administrations to address effectively the pressing policy and management challenges confronting the city.
DC Agenda was formed as a new and innovative way to address the fiscal, political, social, and economic crises of the District of Columbia. Given the fragmentation of power in the city at that time, it was clear that no single group's actions would be sufficient to move the city in a new direction. Meaningful change would only come if all interested groups were engaged in the reform process. Furthermore, new forms of collaboration would be required between the district government and the Congress and federal government; between the public and private sectors; and among the diverse racial, economic, and ethnic groups residing in the city In addition, current and accurate information, clear analysis, and new strategies would be needed to guide and support the required levels of collaboration. An independent community assistance organization committed to community building principles was required to fill these roles.
Since its inception, DC Agenda has employed cross-sector collaboration as a successful means of addressing the fiscal, social, and economic problems that plague the District of Columbia. Acting in partnership with existing organizations and institutions, it aims to strengthen the community bonds and personal networks that give rise to effective civic involvement, It helps generate and leverage resources, influence local policy, expand civic infrastructure, and build bridges across sectors.
DC Agenda …