From contract cities to mass collaborative governance
By Frank V. Zerunyan and Peter Pirnejad
Collaborative governance both in theory and practice has emerged in recent years as an innovative form of governance involving all sectors. While the colloquy and scholarship may be relatively new, the practice of collaboration is not. We examine in this article one of the oldest and most successful collaboration models in public administration, which emerged post World War II in Los Angeles County, California. The “Lakewood Plan,” named after its birthplace, was devised to facilitate the incorporation of newer cities that sought home rule and control of their neighborhoods. The so-called contracting model was created by the Lakewood Plan to allow public agencies as well as private organizations to collaborate in the delivery of municipal services. The model relies on the sharing of resources by various actors, but also counts on the strengths of each actor in the collaboration to bring efficiencies in the delivery of public services.
More than a half a century later, the foundation of the model survives through the collaboration of civic minded actors, who are committed to improving the government service model. After decades of innovation in the area of public-private partnerships, network governance, e-government and what has been termed today by Tim O’Reilly as Gov 2.0, we have the emergence of a new type of collaborative governance. This new model is based on the premise that government is open, transparent, cooperative and collaborative to the citizens, private enterprise, as well as the public leaders and administrators alike. Government has shifted from partnerships between two or three actors to a limitless number of actors that view government as a platform rather than a service. Government is becoming a clearinghouse of data and place where innovation begins rather than the last stop in the search for answers to civic problems. This is the notion where actors including private, public, non-profit and citizens themselves are descending on problems in a race to innovate and create solutions in what is being termed in this paper, “Mass Collaborative Governance.”
The Lakewood Plan – Roots of Collaborative Governance in Municipalities
The post-World War II era ushered a new style of public administration led by what many labeled “The Greatest Generation” after a term coined by journalist Tom Brokow. The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 – commonly referred to as the GI Bill of Rights – still is one of the most significant United States Federal Government interventions of all time. The GI Bill of Rights impacted the nation socially, economically and politically. Helping veterans assimilate into civil society was a brilliant move by the federal government, a move that sparked community-building, education-creating human capacity, promoting innovation and developing giant industries. The Western United States, particularly Southern California, immensely benefits to this day from this federal policy, which is responsible for the development and advancement of our defense and space industries in Los Angeles County.
Using the GI Bill of Right, The Greatest Generation purchased the “American Dream” in various communities of choice throughout the nation. They attended local colleges and universities and excelled in disciplines such as engineering, entrepreneurship, medicine, business and law, which improved substantially and their earning capacity while uplifting the middle class. Again, Southern California led the way in community building. The unincorporated area immediately adjacent to the established city of Long Beach was one community ready to make history after a long hiatus of city incorporation in the area going back to 1939. This area 10 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles blazed new trails, literally and figuratively, when the Lakewood Park Company began the development of the first post-World War II planned community. Consisting of 17,500 homes, over 3,500 acres of landscapes, parks, homes, streets with lights and underground sewers and wires, unincorporated Lakewood grew to 70,000 residents in the first few years of the 1950’s using slogans like “Lakewood – My Home Town” and “Lakewood, Tomorrow’s City Today.”
In April of 1954, the Lakewood community, under threat of annexation from Long Beach, incorporated as the state’s 16th-largest city and the largest community in the United States ever to incorporate as a sovereign city. What was remarkable about this incorporation was not the necessity or the actual decision to become a city but the decision made by its founders on the method to administer the city.
A poster child of the GI Bill of Rights, the son of a University of Southern California (USC) professor and a graduate of USC Law School, John Sanford Todd advised the city founders to use California Government Code section 51301, perhaps modeled after the contractual public administration model existing in Nassau County, N.Y., to collaborate with the county government and contract for municipal services. While the motive behind the incorporation of Lakewood was to retain local control over the intensity and nature of services provided locally, the purpose of what became known as the “Lakewood Plan” was merely to eliminate duplication and rely on efficiencies of various government service providers to deliver public administration in a cost effective manner. This innovative and transformational plan not only earned Lakewood notoriety in the history of American municipalities, but also became the model for 41 additional communities in Los Angeles County and more than 130 across the state to select home rule and earn the right to exist through this early form of collaboration.
The Lakewood Plan, as innovative and courageous as it may have been, was also controversial, as it did not fit the mold of best practices in public administration that had become popular in the early 20th century. Today the contracting model, in addition to horizontal collaborations among governments, extends vertically to service providers in the private sector, expanding the scope of this multi-sectoral collaboration to deliver special municipal services and an efficient system for public administration.
In the context of the California Contracting Model today, the two relevant statutes facilitating collaboration are Section 37103 of the Government Code, which provides that a city “may contract with any specially trained and experienced person, firm or corporation for special services and advice in financial, economic, accounting, engineering, legal or administrative matters,” and Section 53060 of the Government Code, which similarly allows the legislative body of any public or municipal corporation or district, emphasis added, to “contract with and employ any persons for the furnishing to the corporation or district special services and advice in financial, economic, accounting, engineering, legal, or administrative matters if such persons are specially trained and experienced and competent to perform the special services required.” Several other California statutes to build and finance infrastructures such as Government Code Section 5956 (fee driven infrastructure projects) or Education Code Section 17406 (to build schools) promote collaboration between sectors, but they are outside the purview of this article.
The governance model of the Lakewood Plan, or Contract Cities, encourages interorganizational networks of public and private sectors to jointly solve policy and public administration problems. The Plan emerged from a perfect storm of conditions, which include necessity, incentives to participate in the collaboration, the social and human capital of the actors in the collaboration, the facilitative leadership of the promoters and the institutional design of its architect John Sanford Todd. These conditions are well documented in the scholarship we reviewed as well as the collaborations we examined during our review for this article. We note however, the presence of one more key factor, which is instructive and may be of substantial use for the sustainability of future collaborations – an organized network of supporting actors, which we call the “nurturing network.” In the case of the Lakewood Plan, this nurturing network, which came into existence several years after the incorporation of Lakewood, is an organization called the California Contract Cities Association.
To preserve innovation in the Lakewood Plan and the usefulness of the model for like-minded jurisdictions, on Nov. 20, 1957, eight cities gathered to form the California Contract Cities Association. These like-minded cities were: Lakewood, Bellflower, Duarte, La Puente, Norwalk, Paramount, Rolling Hills, and Santa Fe Springs. The first by-laws of the California Contract Cities Association (“CCCA”) were drafted in 1958. By the early 1960’s the Association had drawn 25 members across the county to help organize new cities, preserving home rule and creating neighborhoods through the use of the contracting model. Half a century later, CCCA, with more than 65 member cities and growing, still nurtures this network of cities through educational seminars and information designed to build and improve human capacity among its constituency to help them better serve their communities. The network efficiently and in large numbers advocates for interests common to member cities. Last but not least, the network connects sectoral actors to each other, building social capital along the way to create value for member cities. Financial efficiencies gained by having scalable contract services rather than an army of full time benefited employees and the support of this nurturing network have maximized the desirability and possibility of home rule and the creation of sovereign cities sometimes with as few as hundred residents.
Today, public administration is already experiencing a paradigm shift in guiding its constituencies from “government” to “governance.” The latter term implies that the development and implementation of public policy is increasingly shared among a plurality of actors: public bodies, private groups, nonprofits (or NGOs) and citizens in general, each with their own motivations, intentions, resources and capabilities. The governance process in turn is becoming more and more complex, involving not only government agencies, but also networks of public, private, and not for profit groups of all sizes and all types, acting and behaving in unprecedented ways looking to create value and distribute value across sectors.
For public agencies the Lakewood Plan collaborations were a function of proximity but today, with the advent of social networks, cloud computing and open data, partnerships are no longer a function of proximity but one of boundless opportunity. High tech civic innovations which we predominately focus on in this article are now the catalyst to allowing public, private, previously absent non-profit sectors as well as citizens to come together in collaborations never seen or experienced before. Furthermore, thanks to the power of computing, these solutions are highly scalable from local solutions to applications aimed at worldwide initiatives of much larger scales. Mass Collaborative Governance is the draw of people together across sectors, and even continents, in unprecedented ways to challenge and solve our most vexing civic problems.
The Three Sectors and the Citizen come together
As it relates to collaboration in the public sector, private sector, the non-profit sector and citizen’s at large offer underutilized leveraging opportunities. Today, as the financial security of cities weakens and the complexity of problems heightens, the need to collaborate with partners that can bring fresh perspective and resources to public administration problems is magnified. Furthermore, there is a heightened interest among tech-savvy citizens to get engaged and leverage change. Public agencies are beginning to see the benefit of positioning themselves to align with mission driven high tech non-profits, innovative for profit organizations and engaged citizens at large to create the tools that will enable our municipalities to meet the needs of an increasingly complex world and citizenry.
Non-Government Organizations and Non-Profit Organizations (NGOs/NPOs), also known as the Third Sector, have responded amazingly well to the changing environment around them. A few decades ago, corporations had little trust for NGOs/NPOs, and major partnerships among them were rare. Just like in the case of governments, corporations often looked at NGOs/NPOs with suspicion, and even disdain, keeping them out of their boardrooms. More recently, with the rise of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), there has been an increase demand to partner with NGOs/NPOs in both the private and public sector. Never before have we seen these three sectors so interdependent, creating unprecedented opportunities for intersectoral relationships in delivering important public goods, infrastructures and public services. Business “with a heart,” or CSR, means to align with a mission typically well-served by NGOs/NPOs to benefit all actors participating to that business. All sectors recognize the natural strength or the motivation of NGOs/NPOs, which are driven by a focused mission making them attractive to the other sectors.
This trend is also seen between citizens and local governments, as partnerships develop to solve public administration and socioeconomic problems facing them. An increasing number of creative innovations have been delivered to provide valuable solutions to cities through the creation of simple mobile applications (apps) we will explore later in this article. In our view, they collectively represent the public administration innovations of our time to earn the title “Mass Collaborative Governance”.
Therefore, we highlight here several innovative approaches to collaboration involving the Third Sector as well as the innovations of the private technology sector. Code for America (CfA) is a non-profit committed to bringing high tech programmers together with local governments to solve real world problems. Companies such as Google, ESRI, and O’Reilly Media have come together to not only sponsor this organization but also provide some of the needed human capital to do this good work. This 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization began its first fellowship program in 2011 with a class of 20 fellows assigned to four cities (Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC and Seattle) selected to partner in this experiment. Over the next year, the fellows collaborated with their host city to develop web-based applications that solved a civic problem identified by their host city. The completed applications or case studies were then shared with other city governments, which modified the products to meet their own needs. The model was so successful that it went on to include more fellows and more cities. In 2013 CfA announced Code for ALL as an effort to expand the model internationally.
One such success story that came out of the program was with New Orleans, which partnered with CfA in 2012 to help resolve the slow identification of blighted properties. After hurricane Katrina, New Orleans had 35,000 abandoned properties and no restoration tracking system. Developers had no way to track down the status of properties without spending countless hours on the phone, at city hall and searching through archived data. According to experts, had the city attempted to solve the problem on its own, the process would have taken as long as 3 years as well as a multi-million dollar investment. A fellow from CfA launched BlightStatus, an application that would scour through layers of digital data and offer up-to-the minute information on blighted properties. This project has since been celebrated as an example of how innovation created and implemented by non-government actors can result in better governance.
Picking up on this success, the largest for-profit licensing and permit management software company, Accela, collaborated with the fellows that created BlightStatus and Palo Alto, Calif. The technologist, now a for profit company known as Civic Insights, quickly got to work and started designing a new way to visualize Palo Alto’s permit process to make it easier and more transparent for applicants. The six-month effort is complete, and the product has simplified a process that has been riddled with complexity. This new tool promises to do the same for a multitude of new cities across America. Had it not been for the intervention of the third sector, civic innovators such as Civic Insights would have never been on the radar screen of a city like Palo Alto.
Another such urban nonprofit accelerator is Tumml. A 501(c)(3), Tumml is a small civic innovation startup accelerator that helps early-stage companies develop new products and services that improve urban living by connecting entrepreneurs with funding, mentors, civic leaders and a community of people dedicated to civic good. Some of their work includes partnering with a network of blue-collar workers skilled in the trades to form a group called WorkHands, which has grown to over 5,000 registered users, who use the service to find work as well as build a reputation online. Another such start up is HandUp, a high-tech startup with a social mission. This young group of innovators created a new way to donate directly to homeless people via SMS and web donations. Members of the service can use their credits for basic essentials such as food, clothing and medicine through their partner organization, Project Homeless Connect. It is these types of high-tech innovative collaborations that are enabling citizens to partner with civic leaders to solve low-tech, human problems.
These types of high-tech civic-minded non-profits are much more common in forging collaborations than one would imagine. In 2008, in the post-election violence in Kenya, an organization called Standby Taskforce was created by an innovator named Patrick Meier. Having seen the violence unfold through the mainstream media, he decided to take action. Anyone in Kenya with access to a cell phone could report human rights violations via text message. With the help of some tech-savvy colleagues, this non-profit was able to crowdsource human rights violations on a map. These messages were mapped and updated in real time giving complete coverage of Kenya in a way that could not be matched by the main stream media or NGO’s attempting to help the Kenyan people. By clustering the number of calls by location Standby Taskforce generated a “heat map” that showed areas of concentration where most reports of violations were filed. This innovation was repeated in 2011 in Haiti, when a devastating earthquake struck the island nation. A live map of human distress was updated in real time for United States Marine Corp teams to use in strategic deployments to maximize relief.
Mission-driven, high-tech non-profits have the networks to put this highly skilled and technically savvy workforce in touch with meaningful causes in an effort to solve complex civic problems. Public agencies need only provide access to their single largest asset, the data. More than any other asset, public agencies produce a wealth of data, which is public. This data can be used to design helpful applications, create predictive analytics, find patterns, and otherwise add great value to the agencies that create it. This form of data both transparent and free has been termed Open Data Systems and is a function of a new movement coined Open Government. Open Data enables citizens to access collective knowledge and information to create new services, suggest new ideas and identify critical bugs in the infrastructure and services they receive. Such a concept has led to creative third party solutions to complex problems that cities may neither have the means or ability to pursue, given the state of their budgets, limited resources or technical capabilities.
In the hands of the right people, civic innovation is now possible with a laptop computer, an Internet connection and available public municipal data. Over are the days where public with public and public with private partnerships are a virtue of proximity. Collaborative efforts between the sectors are now boundary-less. Collaborative governance with civic innovation at its core can scale quickly and on multiple levels. Not only can an idea develop and scale quickly, but the number of innovations in one agency is only limited by the bandwidth of the public administrators orchestrating the innovation. This starts to challenge the traditional model of government from public administrators providing a service, to that of governance where the administrator becomes more of a manager, facilitator and enabler of many actors working together to provide and find solutions to real life public administration challenges.
We, therefore, entered an age where there is no limit on the number of actors and collaborators that can engage with a local agency. Rather than delivering solutions, governments act as the platform to enable various actors to deliver solutions. Mass Collaborative Governance is where a limitless number of actors descend on a host of civic problems to work collaboratively toward solutions that matter most to them and the agency they are attempting to help. Innovation is limited only by the imagination of the developers and the public data available for use.
Government has, in many ways and instances, evolved from a top-down form of bureaucracy in its own silo to a form of governance that lends itself to collaborations vertically and horizontally with public, private, non-profits and citizenry within and outside its municipal boundaries. We see this in the classic example of the Lakewood Plan, where civic innovators of their time challenged the traditional form of government with one that was more responsive, appropriately sized and able to respond to the specific needs of their constituents.
Today, we look to all three sectors and citizens alike, seeking solutions for a responsive and effective government at all levels, but very specifically at local levels. The high-tech for-profit and non-profit sectors, in response to the needs of the public sector, came forward en masse with countless examples of civic innovation that attracted even international attention. A new class of urban professionals with the skills, passion and entrepreneurial spirit of the millennial generation, is ready to tackle and solve a multitude of civic problems large and small. With the advent of open data, the possibilities become even clearer and larger as civic innovators powered with their laptop computer, Internet connections and open data can offer solutions to agencies up and down the state, nation and even on the other side of the planet. Suddenly, the collaboration that powered the Contract City Model has evolved and spawned Mass Collaborative Governance where the number of actors in the collaboration, and their proximity to their host agency, is limitless, as is the possibility for innovation.
Frank V. Zerunyan, J.D. is a professor of the practice of governance and director of executive education at the University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy. He is a two-term mayor and council member of Rolling Hills Estates, Calif., and the 49th president of the California Contract Cities Association
Peter Pirnejad, is a MPDS and DPPD student at the University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy. He is the director of development services for Palo Alto, Calif.