Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Lessons for Barack

"To residents like Bradley and Mack, COO seems like the latest in decades of all-talk-no-follow-through plans to overhaul the city's southeastern neighborhoods — longtime victims of blight, unemployment, illiteracy, and crime."

Ryan Blitstein, The Fix Isn't In, San Francisco Weekly, August 2, 2006.

Someone was skeptical about Communities of Opportunity two years before the Management Audit by the San Francisco Budget Analyst released in October 2008. See my posting: CCI Failure. The Obama administration should look closely at this experience before launching its Promise Neighborhoods initiative.

"The 2006 Plan states that Communities of Opportunity will "manage change dynamically by quantifiable outcomes; expand successful approaches, stop failed ones, and introduce new evidence-based approaches," and the 2008 Plan highlights the need to track program engagement in the short term while evaluating progress toward long term goals."

San Francisco Budget Analyst, Management Audit of Communities of Opportunity, October 15, 2008

"When you are working with meta-indicators such as poverty and are working across a diverse set of interventions in every field that touches family's life a specific causal relationship between any one action and the overall impact is impossible to define -- just as the City holds itself accountable for the overall outcomes for our families but does not attempt to create a single framework that connects every effort of every department into a model that shows cause and effect linkages throughout."

Director of Communities of Opportunity's Written Response to the Management Audit of Communities of Opportunity, October 15, 2008.

Yet COO committed to assist half of the families move to "fiscal stability with income more than 185 percent of the federal poverty level by 2011, or within five years of the 2006 implementation plan. The Audit found that few families had progressed and many interventions were still in the planning stages.

What's striking is that two years of implementation is barely enough time to fail. CCIs take decades -- almost an impossible incubation space with government in charge. Is this the time for the real plan to be developed?

The problem of time is compounded by the scope of COO. In Nonprofit Leadership I report on the common mistake of "Swinging for the Home Run." I remember a famous former mayor counseling the COO planning group, and its venture philanthropy consultant, Bridgespan, to take the field with a sweeping vision. Was there enough time to build it up the organic way with developers breathing down everybody's necks? Maybe the housing and economic downturn can be an asset in this regard.

Managing CCIs is not something local government does well. Look at Empowerment Zones. Expectations and politics trip the best-laid plans. And watch out when plans call for resident-driven and cross-system coordination in the same breath.

And with a big, bold goal you can't fudge on how to measure progress.

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