3 ways to bolster collaboration between federal, state and local government
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3 ways to bolster collaboration between federal, state and local government

April 27, 2022
Elli Nikolopoulos

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted how partnerships across levels of government help our nation respond to national emergencies—for example by ensuring that sufficient federal funding supports state and local health and safety measures. Even before the pandemic, however, intergovernmental collaboration has been vital to maximizing resources and creating innovative solutions to local problems. Our 2020 “Golden State of Collaboration” report highlights examples of such efforts in California that worked to advance technology, promote economic development and strengthen communities.

But despite this increased collaboration, we still do not know enough about how to incentivize and strengthen partnerships between different levels of government.

Fortunately, previous successful partnerships demonstrate how federal agencies can promote effective intergovernmental collaboration. Here are three critical strategies to make this possible.

Emphasize why collaboration is important

Research shows that stakeholders need clear reasons to pursue partnerships with other sectors or levels of government. Often, collaboration may require resource sharing or balancing power between different groups, so the benefits associated with these partnerships must outweigh the costs. When stakeholders can articulate these benefits, they are much more likely to pursue partnerships and invest time and resources into ensuring that the effort is successful.

Create effective communication mechanisms

A recent Government Accountability Office report found that state and local officials often cannot identify designated federal officials when needing to communicate and coordinate with them for intergovernmental efforts. Even when communication does take place, it tends to come as a top-down sharing of agency priorities, offering little opportunity for feedback.

Federal agencies should work to clarify this process. Agencies that do not have a designated intergovernmental collaboration official should appoint one in alignment with guidance from the Office of Management and Budget, and all agencies should establish accessible communication channels for state and local officials.

In addition, federal employees should recognize that stakeholders may have different priorities. It is important that employees talk to those stakeholders about balancing these priorities when it comes time to implement policy.

Design policy with collaboration in mind

Once communication is established across levels of government, stakeholders should work to design an implementation plan that accounts for differences in resources and knowledge.

Case studies show that the most effective partnerships begin with a desired outcome and work backward to craft the necessary steps and accountability measures. When the opposite occurs and officials try to insert collaboration measures into program implementation after the design stage, it is more difficult to balance competing interests and promote accountability. As such, these efforts often are unsuccessful.

How to learn more

While these strategies cannot guarantee effective partnerships, adopting them can help improve outcomes and facilitate better communication, leading to holistic policies that help federal employees solve critical problems, better serve the public and establish new models for intergovernmental collaboration.  

To learn more about West Coast-based collaboration efforts and best practices for cross-sector collaboration, register for our upcoming Partnership West Speaker Series.

If you are a federal employee who works with and supports communities in central California and wants to develop stronger collaboration skills, apply for our Putting Communities First program by May 6.

Elli Nikolopoulos is an intern supporting the Partnership’s work on the West Coast.

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