A Culture of Collaboration

Creating a foundation for broadly partnering and involving citizens along the way.
June 12, 2018 AT 11:00 AM
Tulsa has been recognized for making citizen engagement a key component in its partnerships. David Kidd
By Lisa Wong  |  Senior Fellow, Governing Institute
Lisa Wong is a senior fellow with the Governing Institute and former mayor of Fitchburg, Mass.
Broadly Partnered

The city of Olathe, Kansas, is not one to go it alone. Its website makes much of the collaboration that makes the city work. The website states, “Numerous services provided by the City of Olathe are available through strong working relationships with partners in the Olathe community, Johnson County, and throughout the Kansas City region.”

It is no surprise that in the 2018 Equipt to Innovate survey, Olathe was named the top performer in the category of “Broadly Partnered.” The city’s community initiatives cover everything from public safety, the environment and public works to public health and civic engagement. 

The 2018 City of Olathe and Olathe Public Schools Collaboration report details more than 50 initiatives. Collaboration starts early, with a number of programs aimed at third graders. For example, city stormwater staff teach third graders about water conservation and pollution during a field day on school playgrounds called Aquafest. Third graders also take a field trip to City Hall and Public Works to learn about city services.

Fostering a culture of collaboration is both an internal and external task. Olathe does both well, collaborating across the public, private and nonprofit sectors within the city and across the region. The city also regularly shares performance data and best practices as part of multiple initiatives focusing on economic development and workforce, and is a leader in regional coalitions to address complex issues.

Louisville, Ky., another survey top performer, has long embraced partnerships to help drive its agenda forward. The city is part of the Partnership for a Green City, launched in 2004 to protect the environment and public health, and is completing a two-year partnership with Xcel Energy to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy. Smart Louisville is a collaboration between businesses, citizens and the city to implement civic innovation projects. The Louisville Downtown Partnership, formed in 2013, has been key in creating a vibrant urban core.

Effective partnerships often involve a strong citizen engagement component. Tulsa, Okla., also performed well in the Equipt survey. Outside of that, it is the only city in the U.S. to receive the 2018 Cities of Service Engaged Cities Award. Cities of Service is underwritten by Bloomberg Philanthropies and awards cities that effectively collaborate with citizens to solve problems. Tulsa cites the Data Pioneers program created by the Mayor’s Performance Strategy and Innovation Office as a major reason for winning the award. 

There is no single template for broadly partnering across sectors, between levels of government and within cities themselves -- the key is to create a culture of partnering by starting with the simple first step of working together.