Although I completed my Fuse Corps Executive Fellowship nearly a year and a half ago in Mayor Chuck Reed's Office in San Jose, I have been fortunate to stay on board with the Mayor's team as Deputy Chief of Staff -- Civic Innovation. In this role I have managed the Silicon Valley Talent Partnership (SVTP) with a network of cross-sector leaders from Silicon Valley. Through this dedicated network, SVTP is poised to lead the civic pro-bono space and tackle key challenges across the region.
From homelessness to workforce development and improved transit to economic development, SVTP is a partner that can provide thought leadership, innovative civic engagement tools, and skills-based volunteers that help navigate the terrain noted in a McKinsey Report: "...Leaders tell us they are operating in a bewildering new environment in which little is certain, the tempo is quicker, and the dynamics are more complex."
My perspective, the perspective of a Tri-Sector Athlete, is that when launching Civic Innovations in local government the mantra to which I subscribe is: "There is Only Tri and Do." What do I mean by this?
There is Only Tri: The Fuse Corps partnership with a government office in cities such as Sacramento, San Francisco and San Jose, offers a unique value proposition to partners: Tri-Sector Athletes enter the civic marketplace to spur innovation. They are seasoned social and private sector entrepreneurs, some from well-known global institutions, and others, like myself, who have created and scaled-up social enterprises. These civic athletes ease the burdens for parties involved in the partnership because they bring new, disruptive approaches to leading an innovation or program. They roll-up their sleeves, iterate, and translate gov't, biz, or non-profit "speak" amongst partners to deliver new tech solutions such as the San Jose Public Library Summer Reading App.
However, civic innovations face constraints, not unlike those of any start-up non-profit or business. In a sense, it's a bit of what I call a Civic Innovation Fitness Test featuring some of the following design challenges, which the "Tri" experience thrives:
• Design a program or initiative with little, if any, budget
• Build and re-build the model, when the stakes are high and timelines are fluid
• Operationalize, when you've garnered enough support, momentum and then continue to roll-up your sleeves and work
• Replicate and scale, when you have to hit the road to pitch the case studies
This is where the " and Do" comes in...
Seek Out, Inventory and Reflect on Assets, Policy and Politics
• Assets: Explore existing internal resources and knowledge from city leadership in order to understand the history, departmental relationships and cooperation, and overall functions of the City agency or department
• Community Service/Volunteer Programs: Develop a compendium of positive pro-bono, service/volunteer experiences of both city employees and corporate volunteers. Listen carefully to the stories, understand pain-points, understand if volunteerism requires too much management, or if it's a non-issue.
• City Policies/Legal Framework: Ask questions, read the fine-print and ask again about what the City Charter, City Attorney's Office or Employee Relations say about procurement, collective bargaining, public-private partnerships or demonstration partnerships, and if such policies (or programs) exist. This will help to determine the critical path to a successful civic innovation model.
• Political Environment and Context: Take more than a moment to appreciate the current political issues (as well as the political context and culture you are working). For example, what are the headlines in the local news, on Twitter and then trust but validate, to understand if or how a particular idea or project might cause friction for the top leadership.
Secure and Maintain Support of City Leadership and External Partners
• Top Ranking City Leaders: The support of the city's top leadership is especially important during the formative stages of program development. The form of government will vary depending on the City. For example, in a strong mayor form of government the ability to make definitive decisions on a public-private partnership may face less scrutiny than in a Council/Mayor form of Government. However, top ranking City Leadership is always necessary to champion any efforts.
• Working across city departments and establishing a "Tiger Team:" Without the support of city staff, projects are unlikely to take off. Convening a "tiger team" of individuals who are early adopters of this initiative is therefore critical. Ultimately, city staff understand the needs and demands of their departments or agencies and the goals and objectives they pursue. Many of these efforts may take place in a silo where information isn't readily available or easily shared (or accessed) with other departments. Yet a civic, pro-bono program permits the sharing of information, and knowledge, and cross-departmental collaboration on projects with additional resources.
• Engage Partners from Corporations and Philanthropy: Another important reason to have the support of the top leadership and city staff is to engage partners from the private sector and philanthropic community with whom they already have partnerships, initiatives or programs. In fact, this will help to bring together an advisory group of cross-sector leaders and executives to participate in the early stages of program development
• Business and Member Associations: It's critical to have external partners and in the case of SVTP, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group has been instrumental in advocating the opportunity for pro-bono volunteerism with the City of San Jose, Fremont and Santa Clara. Organizations that are tapped into the local technology ecosystem such as a Code for America Brigade or a local start-up accelerator are excellent avenues to share opportunities to engage with cities on data-driven projects and programs.
The civic pro-bono movement is growing and SVTP is running full-throttle with $1M in multi-year funding from the Knight Foundation, Fremont and Santa Clara joined the partnership, and tri-sector athlete Lea King was hired as Executive Director. Innovators within and outside of city government are gearing up to make an even bigger impact in our communities, our cities and our region. Let's get to work. There is Only Tri and Do.