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Partnership targets excellence in local government

August 18, 2006

New international alliance headquartered at ASU’s School of Public Affairs at the Downtown Phoenix campus will focus on innovation in city and county government

Two of the world’s leading organizations dedicated to advancing excellence in local government have chosen ASU’s School of Public Affairs as their partner and primary location for a unique consortium on innovation.

The Washington, D.C.-based International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and the Innovation Groups (IG) in Tampa, Fla., have joined with ASU to form an Alliance for Innovation in Local Government. The Innovation Groups also will move its headquarters to the university’s Downtown Phoenix campus.

ICMA is the pre-eminent local government professional and educational organization, comprising nearly 6,000 chief appointed managers, administrators and assistants in cities, towns, counties and regional entities throughout the world.

The Innovation Groups assists nearly 400 local governments in building – and sustaining – the capacity to be innovative by providing face-to-face networking opportunities and technology services in all areas of local government.

Because of their similar focuses, both organizations recognized the need for university collaboration in research and technical assistance, and ASU’s School of Public Affairs was the perfect partner because of its national and international reputation in the field of urban management. ASU’s Marvin Andrews Graduate Program in Urban Management is considered one of the leading programs in urban management innovation.

“This new partnership is a marvelous opportunity for us to play an even more significant role in urban management education, in research on the process of innovation, and in executive education,” says Robert Denhardt, director of the ASU School of Public Affairs.

Multiple factors helped bring the alliance to ASU and Phoenix, including:

• The reputation of Phoenix and Maricopa County as well-run local governments.

• The involvement of former city and county leaders as faculty associates in the school.

• The strength of interdisciplinary partners from across the university, such as the Decision Theater, the Global Institute of Sustainability and the College of Design.

“We are excited to partner with ASU, and particularly the extraordinary faculty of the School of Public Affairs, as we help shape strategies for countless local governments and regions around the world to improve the effectiveness of critical public services and the quality of life in their communities,” says Robert O’Neill, Jr., executive director of the International City/County Management Association.

“Our organization’s historical strength has been member networks that identify and share emerging technology and management practices,” adds Bob Hart, IG president. “This alliance will not only greatly enhance this process, but adds leading applied research and analysis about local governments from some of the top academicians in our field.”

Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon chimed in with high praise for the alliance, too.

“This is an early and important dividend on our investment in the new ASU Downtown Phoenix campus,” Gordon says. “By attracting this alliance, the city and county enhance our shared reputation for excellence in local government – and gain an important partner in constantly improving our services.”

According to Denhardt, the work of the alliance will range from the study of new practices and technologies – and their adaptation and transfer across sectors – to the personal aspects of creativity, problem-solving and receptiveness to change.

The top priorities of the alliance will include identifying major trends in local government, as well as leading practices that can help local governments address major issues, providing effective research, and creating a repository of information on innovative practices and the process of innovation.

Seminars, training sessions and “thought leadership” forums also are planned as part of fulfilling this goal. For example, ASU has proposed a conference in March titled “Mayors and Board Chairpersons: Re-examining the Contributions of Facilitative Leadership.” This conference will stimulate discussions across local governments and work toward developing new approaches to solving the problems of urban governance in the United States and other countries.

Robert and Janet Denhardt are among the faculty members who will be conducting research for the alliance. Their recent study of the city of Phoenix concluded that taking pride, creating new challenges, fostering participation and taking risks are among the factors that help create a culture of innovation.

Another study by the Denhardts examined rapid organizational change in Maricopa County.

The School of Public Affairs has also named James H. Svara director of its Center for Urban Innovation, which will interact closely with the alliance. Svara is a leading scholar on process, structure and governance in local government.

“The strength of the alliance partnership comes from blending the perspectives of scholars and educators with those of practitioners in public management and public policy,” Svara says. “Our special contribution will be research. Our faculty along with some of the brightest minds in our region and around the world will research the trends, issues and conditions that drive innovation.

“Urban poverty, homeland security, economic stability, transportation, growth and sustainability issues demand a transformation of governance that will serve the changing needs of our citizenry and sustain our competitiveness in a global economy.”

A critical ally of the project is ASU’s College of Public Programs.

“The Alliance for Innovation’s choice of ASU as their university partner signals the powerhouse of new ideas and strategies we can expect in the future,” says Debra Friedman, the college’s dean. “ASU and the alliance, together with their public sector partners, will serve as a global magnet for those who share common interests in urban management.”