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Svara sparks new Alliance

August 08, 2007

One of the world’s most respected experts in urban management, James Svara, will take the lead for ASU’s School of Public Affairs in an ambitious collaboration to improve local governments.

Svara, who joined the School of Public Affairs last year as professor and director of its Center for Urban Innovation, is renowned for academic research that provides practical solutions for public sector leaders working in city and county management.

“His books on urban government and council relations are legendary,” says Martin Vanacour, a professor of practice and director of the Marvin Andrews Fellowship Program. “Jim Svara is one of three or four top academics nationally who not only produces exceptional research in urban management and governance, but also works closely with local government officials and really understands what they do.”

The School of Public Affairs was selected to team up with two leading organizations dedicated to the cause of improving government: the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), with 6,000 members, and the former Innovation Groups (IG), an information exchange for 360 governments across the country.

Svara is the ASU liaison to this new coalition, the Alliance for Innovation.

“The purpose of the alliance is to foster new approaches and practices in local governments by learning more about what practitioners are doing, but also by bringing in academic research to help identify solutions,” says Svara, who holds a doctorate in political science from Yale University.

Before joining the ASU faculty, Svara directed the public administration programs at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and North Carolina State University. As a featured speaker at meetings of government organizations in 12 states and five countries, he’s consulted with several states on charter revisions. A sampling of his most influential publications includes “A Survey of America’s City Councils: Two Decades of Continuity and Change” and “The Ethics Primer for Public Administrators in Government and Nonprofit Organizations.”

“We already play a major role in the development of the next generation of public leaders, particularly in the area of urban governments,” says Robert Denhardt, director of the School for Public Affairs. “Jim’s leadership through this alliance shines a national spotlight not just on ASU, but also on Phoenix, which is an ideal laboratory for local government research.”

In June, the IG announced its transformation into the Alliance for Innovation and moved its corporate headquarters from Florida to the Downtown Phoenix campus. The new offices are adjacent to the School of Public Affairs and are scheduled to open this month.
The close quarters should enhance the collaborative environment, Svara says.

“We won’t have to schedule a meeting to find out what each other is thinking and discovering. It’s very unusual to have that kind of ongoing exchange,” says Svara, acknowledging that he expects some creative tension. “The academic researchers may want to focus on more theoretical issues and information-gathering, whereas practitioners would like to have clear solutions right away. I think each will be informing and stretching the other as we go about it.”

In the next year, the school’s contribution to the alliance will be to develop a research agenda and to engage a network of relevant faculty members from around the country.

“It’s a big undertaking,” Svara says. “We’ll also be scanning academic journals and conference papers and a wide array of Web sites to bring this together to benefit members of the alliance.”

The effort also includes funding for research assistants, making the master of public administration and master of public policy programs more attractive to top potential students nationally.

“In the long run, I think we are as good as the private sector in coming up with innovative ideas and management techniques for local governments,” Vanacour says. “The bottom line is saving taxpayer dollars with improved management of public resources. The alliance is poised to be not just a think tank, but a ‘do tank,’ as well.”

For more information, visit the School of Public Affairs Web site