12 Feb

From The Gathering of Leaders - A Conversation about Collaboration with Cities

Last week at New Profit’s Gathering of Leaders conference, I had the privilege of facilitating a session with Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Jim Anderson, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, and Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. The conversation revolved around collaboration between mayors’ offices and private and public sector organizations.  More specifically, it presented lessons on how mayors today are reaching out to partner with the private and nonprofit sectors to drive change in their cities. It was particularly exciting for me for two reasons. First, it represented one of Root Cause’s core ideas – public innovation: the idea that driving systemic change on any social issue is most successful when government leaders and their counterparts in foundations, nonprofits, and businesses form strategic partnerships.  Second, it was the best display of twenty-first-century public leadership I have seen since I met Mitch Landrieu in 2007 when he was Lt. Governor of Louisiana. Landrieu, now the Mayor of New Orleans, was the first elected official in the country committed to advancing social innovation and entrepreneurship.

The panel discussion provided a number of insights for those who are interested in pursuing a partnership with your city’s mayor’s office. It is important to keep these things in mind before you arrange a first meeting with the mayor’s office. As Mayor Reed explained during the panel, he provides access to organizations with good ideas. However, it is important for him to be able to act quickly make decisions and finalize the partnership. Otherwise, he moves on. 

As you prepare for a first meeting with a mayor, it is important to understand the mayor’s priorities and think strategically about how your project can support those priorities. The key is to explain how you can solve the problem the city has in a way that will help keep the mayor in office and cost less than any current efforts. Be specific about how your project is linked to the city’s current priorities, and how long it will take. Make sure your project has a timeline that works with the election cycle.  Above all, you will need to be able to measure the results of your work, in order to demonstrate outcomes and make improvements along the way.

For some of you, your mayor’s office will be new to conversations about performance driven partnerships. This is your opportunity to demonstrate how performance might be the new politics. Explain your project succinctly, and provide evidence of the results that you have achieved with past projects. In this way, you can help the mayor understand how collaborating with organizations that engage in performance measurement puts them ahead in a political context. Lastly, if the mayor is interested in building relationships with local community based organizations; make sure you mention that you are willing to partner with those organizations.  

These are just a few things to keep in mind if you are considering pursuing a partnership with your city’s mayor’s office.  All in all, last week’s panel provided an inspiring conversation about public leadership that highlighted the importance of strategically designed partnerships that are aligned with the priorities of a mayor’s office and supported by performance measurement. Current examples of this work are making it possible to imagine a day when all resources for addressing social issues are allocated based on rigorous performance measures.