4 ways the federal workforce can expand its reach in local communities
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4 ways the federal workforce can expand its reach in local communities

June 7, 2023

This past year, the Partnership ran a program called Putting Communities First to support federal employees—28 in total working across 12 agencies and subcomponents—who work alongside communities in central California and lead various place-based programs.

At a time when many federal agencies are working to implement historic federal measures, such as the  Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the American Rescue Plan, the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS and Science Act, it is critical that federal employees build strong and sustainable relationships with the individuals and communities they serve.

Below are four recommendations for public servants to lead successful local initiatives in central California and elsewhere.

1. Building relationships takes time and effort. 

Participants identified various barriers—from financial constraints and a lack of personnel to the vast size of the regions they are responsible for—that make it challenging to develop relationships with local stakeholders and communities. Trust is also key—and it will not be built overnight, particularly in communities that are more skeptical of government. Agencies should not show up only when they need to implement big investments—they need to lay foundational relationships well in advance.

2. Listen, ask questions and let go of any assumptions when working to improve customer-facing processes.

People doing place-based work should focus on the needs of the community and the individuals they serve. Customer journey maps, visual tools that help define customers’ needs and reveal how customers engage with services, can help agencies identify which aspects of their programs create barriers to access critical services. For example, one of our participants told us that going through a customer journey mapping exercise with an external partner revealed a pain point in their processes—a completely different part of these processes than the participant assumed would cause issues.   

3. See the big picture and have empathy.

As they participated in the program, many participants had to simultaneously support disaster response efforts as part of their job responsibilities. These experiences led participants to realize that many individuals who receive services need to interact with multiple agencies, fill out multiple forms or provide multiple pages of documentation to get the support they need. In the short term, federal employees should understand the burden these requirements place on their customers. In the long term, agencies should continue to find ways to streamline and increase access to their services.

4. Show that you are invested in the community for the long term.

Strong relationships are built when leaders and agencies demonstrate a long-term commitment to a community. That commitment can be demonstrated in numerous ways—by being honest about what you are and are not able to provide, by organizing more local events, by working closely with trusted community partners and more—but the key is showing that a relationship with the community is something more than just a box you want to check.

Building these relationships can also lead to unforeseen opportunities. One participant, for example, shared that, after many years of building trust with local community partners, she now convenes them so they can learn from and support one another.

By putting these four recommendations into practice, agencies can build relationships with the communities they serve and pave a path toward successful local initiatives.

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