Improving Partnerships Between Federal Employees and Local Leaders

Since 2014, the federal government has designated 22 rural, urban and tribal regions across the country as “Promise Zones,” high-poverty communities that receive priority access to federal grants and other resources. A Promise Zone designation lasts for 10 years and, during that span, the communities have access to five Americorp VISTAs (volunteers in service to America) in addition to dedicated federal staff, who serve as liaisons between the 13 federal agencies participating in this initiative and local community leadership. The local-federal partnership is designed to improve economic, education, health and safety conditions for the Promise Zone citizens.

In 2017, the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a more effective government for the American people, hosted leadership development and training seminars for more than 109 federal and local stakeholders working both on the ground in communities and in agency headquarters in three Promise Zones: the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, the South Carolina Lowcountry, and Camden, N.J. The two- to three-day seminars in each location helped key leaders from these communities enhance their ability to work together. This was particularly urgent since many leaders in each of these Promise Zones had very recently transitioned into these new roles. While the Partnership customized the content for each Promise Zone, the sessions focused on improving communication, collaborating effectively and incorporating innovative approaches to the complex challenges they face. Where the groups had stated they were having trouble aligning their efforts, these events helped stakeholders clarify their shared goals and reenergize their passion for the work. They also received direction from facilitators to establish the norms and processes that will guide their collaboration going forward.

Since the session, participants have expressed that they have been able to use what they learned. In Camden, for example, 94 percent of participants said the federal staff and state and local partners have communicated more regularly and effectively. And participants in Pine Ridge used the seminar to redesign their organizational working group structure, enabling them to use resources more effectively and better outline their intended outcomes. Overall, participants said they developed a renewed commitment to the mission of the Promise Zone and developed strategies to convert that motivation into action.

These training seminars were provided through support from the Kresge Foundation and developed in partnership with the local lead agencies in each Promise Zone and key federal staff from the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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