Five takeaways from the ICMA Annual Conference

blogimage_ICMAEarlier this week, our Executive Director Neil Britto headed to Seattle for the annual conference of the International City/County Management Association (ICMA). At the sessions he attended over four days, he noticed a strong interest among local government practitioners in collaborative governance and cross-sector collaboration. Reflected here are five interesting takeaways from Neil’s time at ICMA that we’ll be keeping in mind as we think about how to advance the intersector, particularly among public sector practitioners.

  • Cross-sector collaboration is an increasingly embraced topic by local government and is seen as essential to the future of public service in the United States. The frequent mention of the term ‘’collaboration’’ in issue-focused sessions ranging from infrastructure to local water management problems indicates the broad relevance of the topic to public administrators from small, mid-size, and large cities working on a range of public problems.

  • Collaborative processes can be built into government contracting. Conversations with veteran municipal government managers reveal that long-term contractors that have demonstrated historically superior levels of service relative to public counterparts are more likely to be invited to the design stages of a public program or service. That invitation reflects a higher trust that the business or non-profit provider will prioritize public benefit, which is a primary concern to county managers and local government officials when working with contractors.

  • Professional associations, like ICMA, can be advocates for cross-sector solutions and are critical for advancing the thinking on and practice of cross-sector collaboration. ICMA Executive Director Bob O’ Neill’s comments on the importance of government, business, and non-profit collaboration in the 21st century signify the need for all public administrators, particularly at the local level, to develop the language and operational and strategic skills to work across sectors. Professional associations set the standard for skills that are needed.

  • Key emerging trends influencing America’s cities will require cross-sector solutions. Karen Thoreson and Rebecca Ryan’s presentation on the “Next Big Things” that will influence American cities for the next 20 years touched on many trends that involve cross-sector solutions. From overhauling infrastructure to the sharing economy, the trends highlighted by the Alliance for Innovation are likely to be best addressed by government, business, and non-profit collaboration.

  • As cities think about resiliency, they will think about cross-sector collaboration. A particularly well-attended session at the conference was Amy Armstrong of The Rockefeller Foundation speaking about resilience — the capacity of individuals, communities, and systems to survive, adapt, and grow in the face of stress and shocks, and even transform when conditions require. The many facets of resilience require the management of complex systems that are influenced by business, government, and non-profit sector programming, services, and policy. The systemic changes needed to enhance the resilience of a city require cross-sector approaches.