The Really Hard Stuff

July 2017
By Mark Funkhouser  |  Publisher
Former mayor of Kansas City, Mo.

Governing does about 40 live events a year, and my favorite has always been our annual Public Officials of the Year dinner, where we honor outstanding contributions to public service. The sparkling interactions that result from bringing together a group of leaders representing diverse professions, geographical regions and political points of view never fail to inspire me. But now, fresh from our annual Summit on Government Performance and Innovation, the dinner has an emerging rival for first place in my affections.

This was our third event in the series, which has grown every year since the first one in Louisville, Ky. This year, in Phoenix, there were 325 local government officials in attendance from 90 cities and nine counties. We even had six international participants, three each from the United Kingdom and Mexico. We had mayors, city council members, chief innovation officers, government performance officers and leaders in practically every area that cities work in, from law enforcement to public works. They came together around a shared passion: to make government work better for all their communities.

I see three factors that have worked to make this such a powerful event. First, from the beginning we conceived it to be held in close partnership with the host city and its mayor. Mayor Greg Fischer set the standard in Louisville, committing both the support of his city government and his personal participation. This year in Phoenix, Mayor Greg Stanton and his team did the same. The mayor and City Manager Ed Zuercher spent practically the entire two days with us, as did dozens of their top staff.

Another powerful factor that contributed to the vibrancy and dynamism of this year’s event was our partnership with the nonprofit Living Cities organization. Steven Bosacker, its principal for public sector and partnerships, was a vital collaborator in designing the event, and he and Living Cities CEO Ben Hecht were active players in its execution. Finally, the success of last year’s Equipt to Innovate framework and survey, which we also collaborated on with Living Cities, provided an outreach structure, a set of organizing principles and what Bosacker later described as “a ballroom of city innovators energized about the really hard stuff.” (Learn more about the framework at

Dealing with the really hard stuff is, of course, what government is all about, nowhere more so than at the local level. And it’s something government can always get better at. I’m already anticipating next year’s summit. I hope we’ll see you there.