Stop, Collaborate and Listen: EfficientGovNetwork Regional Collaboration Conference

On Thurs­day 13 Octo­ber 2011, I used a vaca­tion day to attend the Effi­cient­Gov­Net­work Region­al Col­lab­o­ra­tion Con­fer­ence on behalf of the Cleve­land Coali­tion/Trans­paren­cy Action Plan Sum­mit. I met up with Pep­per Pike coun­cil­woman Jill Miller Zimon and we car­pooled down to Akron. Jill was there on behalf of The Civic Com­mons; they are help­ing with outreach/education for #EGNet­work.

This con­fer­ence was designed to help local gov­ern­ments learn how they can work togeth­er to save mon­ey. If you need more back­ground or con­text, click the links. A bit of note tran­scrip­tion with eli­sions and par­tial­ly pol­ished spots is what you get next, with a bit of com­men­tary at the end.


Brad White­head from the Fund for Our Eco­nom­ic Future had the open­ing remarks. He said that the Fund’s pur­pose for spon­sor­ing this con­fer­ence is to help the eco­nom­ic health of the region. His main points were:

  1. Region­al Gov­ern­ment col­lab­o­ra­tion is impor­tant;
  2. Suc­cess­es will be cumu­la­tive (no such thing as a big fix), and;
  3. It’s going to be hard work.

He men­tioned that the com­bined eco­nom­ic pow­er of our gov­ern­ments is around $20 bil­lion, which trans­lates to 10% of the region’s total econ­o­my. He con­ced­ed that this kind of col­lab­o­ra­tion & effi­cien­cy is hard­er for gov­ern­ments to accom­plish than it is for busi­ness­es, and men­tioned that it takes a com­bi­na­tion of will and skill to be suc­cess­ful in these types of endeav­ors. He tasked the atten­dees to learn from each oth­er.

His remarks were fol­lowed by a ple­nary ses­sion that pro­vid­ed the con­fer­ence atten­dees with some food for thought regard­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion.

Tom Pas­carel­la, the Admin­is­tra­tive Direc­tor of Tall­madge, OH spoke about how his town dealt with a 10% drop in their rev­enue by con­sol­i­dat­ing their dis­patch­ers with Stow and by join­ing the Region­al Income Tax Author­i­ty. This saves them $880,000 per year.

John Hoorn­beek, Direc­tor of Kent State’s Cen­ter for Pub­lic Admin­is­tra­tion and Pub­lic Pol­i­cy told us about 4 good things and two chal­lenges about region­al col­lab­o­ra­tion.

  1. This con­fer­ence and oth­er con­ver­sa­tions are good, as are;
  2. The applic­a­bil­i­ty of col­lab­o­ra­tion across many dif­fer­ent pol­i­cy areas;
  3. The statewide atten­tion the col­lab­o­ra­tion is gar­ner­ing, and;
  4. The devel­op­ment of net­works for col­lab­o­ra­tion.

This remains chal­leng­ing, how­ev­er, because col­lab­o­ra­tion is hard and the region isn’t well orga­nized right now.

Ed Jer­se, Region­al Col­lab­o­ra­tion Direc­tor for Cuya­hoga Coun­ty, spoke about the ways to get com­mu­ni­ties to work togeth­er, specif­i­cal­ly, by doing what we already know works. He spoke of the need to rec­og­nize that col­lab­o­ra­tion is an evo­lu­tion­ary process, and there will be dead ends as a result of this. He said that it is very easy to have an idea, but it is even eas­i­er to kill one, and that it takes courage to try new things in the face of that chal­lenge.

Dave Kamin­s­ki from the Can­ton Region­al Cham­ber of Com­merce spoke briefly regard­ing the dif­fer­ences between gov­ern­ment and busi­ness effi­cien­cy. His main points were that busi­ness­es think that gov­ern­ment should be run like a busi­ness, but they need to under­stand that gov­ern­ments are required to pro­vide ser­vices, even if they impact the bot­tom line. He got a lot of laughs with his on-point line that you can’t lay­off  the 3rd grade.

The ques­tion & answer peri­od result­ed in the fol­low­ing points:

  1. Top-down pres­sure (or buy-in) is need­ed to force col­lab­o­ra­tion & good net­work­ing.
  2. It’s eas­i­er to col­lab­o­rate if you’re not an elect­ed offi­cial.
  3. Build­ing trust before col­lab­o­rat­ing is imper­a­tive.
  4. Col­lab­o­ra­tion should be rede­fined to extend beyond work­ing with “whomev­er looks like us.”
  5. Form­ing a col­lab­o­ra­tion habit makes fur­ther col­lab­o­ra­tion eas­i­er.

Break­out ses­sions fol­lowed. I attend­ed the IT col­lab­o­ra­tion break­out. Much of the dis­cus­sion cen­tered around col­lab­o­ra­tion that had already been imple­ment­ed and the lessons learned dur­ing the imple­men­ta­tions. Let me know if you’d like fur­ther details. For the most part, the break­out ses­sions were some­what inside base­bal­l/hy­per-spe­cif­ic, so I’m not going to say much about them here.

Dur­ing lunch a fist­fight broke out and while every­one was dis­tract­ed at my table, I ate their desserts. Pay­ing atten­tion again? Good. Actu­al­ly, dur­ing lunch Randy Cole from the State of Ohio spoke about the ways that the Kasich admin­is­tra­tion has made it eas­i­er for local gov­ern­ments to deal with the huge cuts in State fund­ing. After­wards, I got the sense from a few dif­fer­ent peo­ple that it seemed more like a press con­fer­ence than any­thing par­tic­u­lar­ly use­ful for the gov­ern­ment folks there. There’s a $45 mil­lion state fund for col­lab­o­ra­tive projects, but the com­mit­tee isn’t ful­ly assigned and they haven’t met yet, so there are no details regard­ing what would qual­i­fy for the fund­ing. Mr. Cole men­tioned the State Auditor’s Shared Ser­vices por­tal, which is some­thing I hadn’t been pre­vi­ous­ly aware of.

After lunch I divid­ed my time between the Eco­nom­ic Devel­op­ment break­out and the Merg­ers break­out. In the eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment ses­sion I learned a bit about Joint Eco­nom­ic Devel­op­ment Dis­tricts (JED­Ds) but, as impor­tant as Eco­nom­ic Devel­op­ment is, I still find it hard to keep atten­tion focused when they get to the nit­ty-grit­ty. Dan Mamu­la spoke about his work with the Mahon­ing Riv­er Cor­ri­dor Ini­tia­tive and how they’ve man­aged to get com­mu­ni­ties 40+ miles apart to col­lab­o­rate on eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment issues. I real­ly enjoyed lis­ten­ing to him speak about the work they’ve done.

By the time I got to the Merg­ers break­out ses­sion, they were deep into the details about the pro­posed #burb­merg­er of 4 com­mu­ni­ties in the east­ern part of Cuya­hoga Coun­ty. This seemed like the per­fect exam­ple of what the theme for the day was: “Col­lab­o­ra­tion is Hard”.


I thought this con­fer­ence was a decent start. I think there needs to be a well-turned-out fol­low-up meet­ing (The fol­low-up meet­ing is on Novem­ber 10th at 9am at the Rich­field Town Hall) and some sort of tech­ni­cal sup­port per­sons to wran­gle and facil­i­tate con­tin­u­ing con­ver­sa­tion about col­lab­o­ra­tion between the col­lab­o­ra­tors. I didn’t get the sense that any of that was in place.

While there were many great exam­ples of mon­ey-sav­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion oppor­tu­ni­ties, most of them were fair­ly anti­quat­ed. I don’t know how many exam­ples I heard about com­mu­ni­ties who had com­bined their dis­patch­ers. Both of the IT ini­tia­tives that I heard about were a decade old, and it appears that there aren’t any par­tic­u­lar lead­ers push­ing for new and inno­v­a­tive col­lab­o­ra­tion oppor­tu­ni­ties. To reframe using the watch-phras­es from the con­fer­ence: “Col­lab­o­ra­tion is hard, so do what already works first.” I agree with this. How­ev­er, it need­ed an addi­tion that wasn’t present. The theme should have been more like: “Col­lab­o­ra­tion is hard. Do what already works first, but make sure you seek out oth­er oppor­tu­ni­ties at the same time.”  As some­one com­ment­ed in the IT ses­sion, all of the col­lab­o­ra­tion men­tioned was at the net­work lay­er, and noth­ing at the appli­ca­tion lay­er.

Three final thoughts:

  • I felt that lunch would have been bet­ter if there hadn’t been a speak­er. Quite a few fruit­ful net­work­ing dis­cus­sions were cut short.
  • I thought there should have been a dis­cus­sion or some speak­ers specif­i­cal­ly address­ing the rea­sons these com­mu­ni­ties haven’t felt the need to col­lab­o­rate until now. The rea­son they are col­lab­o­rat­ing now is obvi­ous. The mon­ey ran out. If they’d been col­lab­o­rat­ing before­hand, this pick­le wouldn’t be such a big dill. (NO APOLOGIES).
  • I thought there should have been some sort of action item or umbrel­la goal for the par­tic­i­pants to leave with oth­er than the super vague “col­lab­o­rate”. Is the Fund for our Eco­nom­ic Future going to act as a liai­son or net­work­ing and tech­ni­cal sup­port source for this ini­tia­tive, or is the expec­ta­tion that ad hoc col­lab­o­ra­tions will be the norm. I feel that if there is an expec­ta­tion for region­al col­lab­o­ra­tion, there should be a group whol­ly ded­i­cat­ed  to pro­mot­ing that.

Some­one at the con­fer­ence said that col­lab­o­ra­tion isn’t some­thing you can do part time. I com­plete­ly agree and think that applies to trans­paren­cy as well. These are the hot new par­a­digms, and if you can’t give them the effort they deserve, you shouldn’t try them at all.