The Upward Mobility Cohort’s Mobility Action Plans (MAPs) resemble municipal plans in that they reflect a vision for a community’s future and include a roadmap to get there. Achieving that vision in a lasting manner can be difficult, but sustainability is key to systems change. It’s also critical for enhancing upward mobility.
So, what dynamics should you consider to ensure sustainability in your plan for advancing upward mobility?
Below, I highlight examples of MAP sustainability strategies, many of which can also be used by cities and counties that aren’t participating in the Urban Institute’s Boosting Upward Mobility effort but that are interested in thinking strategically about sustainability.
Why sustainable plans?
First, you don’t want all your hard work connecting with stakeholders, conducting community outreach, coordinating with county officials, and more to go to waste. What good is that work if, a few years from now, your plan has been abandoned or derailed by inevitable government challenges?
Second, sustainability is essential to transforming systems. Sustainable plans are better equipped to address the six conditions of structural change because they consider not just the policies and practices needed to effect change but also the internal relationships and mental models that must change. As FSG’s paper, The Water of Systems Change (PDF), states, “Transforming a system is really about transforming the relationships between people who make up the system.” Sustainable plans consider these relationships and outline ways to improve and maintain them over time, even after the initial excitement and energy around a fresh strategy diminishes.
From our own cohort, Summit County created a broad mobility coalition during the request for proposals stage. Their coalition involved key stakeholders necessary to implement the potential strategies included in their MAP. As Summit’s work progressed, they chose to focus on juvenile justice and mental health priorities, so they formed a community advisory group that included the county juvenile court and the local mental health agency. Summit knew both entities would have to be engaged to sustain the county plan and create lasting change in its priority areas.
Dimensions of sustainability
A simple way to break down sustainability in your MAP is to consider internal and external strategies for the “who” and the “how” of your plan. This breakdown doesn’t address all the possible dynamics necessary to build sustainable plans, but it’s a good starting place.
“Internal” refers to collaborations within your local government, across different departments and agencies, and between individuals within the same office.
“External” refers to partnerships and collaborations with nonprofits, community-based organizations, local institutions, and folks outside of your government office.
“Who” refers to the people and institutions needed to ensure your plan is executed in the short, medium, and long term.
“What” refers to the strategies and actions that will need to be enacted to ensure your plan is sustainable.
The table below illustrates how these two dynamics overlap and questions to consider when they do.
Questions to consider: Who from our team is best positioned to ensure this work continues? Are there plans for the work to continue if staff or leadership changes?
Might include: Internal government working groups, internal government champions, internal project leads
Questions to consider: Which outside partners are needed to ensure this work continues? Where are there gaps in our internal team that could be filled by an external person(s)?
Might include: Champions outside of local government, community advisory boards, nonprofits, funders with aligned priorities
Questions to consider: Where is our team well positioned to carry out this work, and are there gaps? What do we still need to learn? What does my team need to do to ensure this work continues?
Might include: Team trainings, internal feedback loops, redundancy in responsibilities, leveraging data, grafting MAP strategies over existing initiatives, MAP adoption and launch activities
Questions to consider: What needed work cannot be executed within our local government to sustain this plan? What can outside parties provide to sustain our MAP strategies? Is there adequate funding outside of the government to sustain the work?
Might include: Regular community feedback sessions, investment from private parties, service delivery with nonprofits
Some takeaways from other municipal plans
More and more communities nationwide are recognizing the importance of sustainability in building out their municipal plans. The following plans include a specific action communities took to ensure their work is sustained:
- Fresno, California’s Developing the Region’s Inclusive and Vibrant Economy Initiative includes an overlapping, redundant network of engaged actors and organizations decentralized from one specific government office or sector. This ensures continuity if staffing and leadership change.
- The Detroit Neighborhood Housing Compact is a regularly convening forum hosted by Detroit Future City. The compact includes more than 80 actors from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors that provide information and research that inform the city’s development of policy and action proposals, ensuring community input is integral to the work.
- Alexandria, Virginia’s 2008 Eco-City Charter (PDF), includes, as part of its strategy, “educating and engaging citizens, visitors, local businesses, schools, and civic organizations on the City’s concept of sustainability, the importance of identifying goals for environmental quality, and the vision and principles of this Charter.” This ensures entities outside of city government are aware of the city’s efforts and that the public will to advance these actions remains strong.
- Washington, DC’s Cultural Plan includes strategies to customize plans for local conditions, which includes leveraging and aligning existing programs, tools, and approaches. This ensures new work done by the city builds upon existing work and isn’t redundant.
Planning and the future
Even the best plans suffer the consequences of unknown unknowns—unpredictable outcomes, events, and circumstances. In the years after you publish your MAP, you will run into obstacles that were impossible to anticipate, which challenge the goals and outcomes you aspired to. But, by embedding a set of sustainability practices into your MAP now, you can be better prepared to weather the changes to come.