In this new report, Ben Hecht, President and CEO of Living Cities, shares his reflections from Living Cities’ first three years of The Integration Initiaitve (TII).

Related Discussion: Join the discussion about this report


The pace of social change is simply too slow; the scale, too small. In 2010, Living Cities, a long-standing collaborative of 22 of the world's leading foundations and financial institutions, created the Integration Initiative (TII) to try to change that. We set out to work with a 'coalition of the willing'- a cross-sector group of leaders from a limited number of cities - committed to learning how to achieve needle moving outcomes for low-income people.

Each site incorporated four high-impact strategies into their work:

(1) move beyond delivering programs and instead focus on transforming systems;

(2) build a resilient civic infrastructure where decision-makers from across sectors and jurisdictions formally and work together to address complex social problems, a framework now often referred to as collective impact;

(3) bring disruptive innovations into the mainstream and redirect funds away from obsolete and ineffective approaches toward what works; and

(4) supplement traditional government and philanthropic funding streams by driving the private market to work on behalf of low-income people.

The problems being targeted address many of the nation's seemingly intractable urban challenges, such as workforce readiness & jobs (Baltimore), economic development (Cleveland), urban revitalization (Detroit), equitable transit-oriented development or ETOD (Minneapolis/St. Paul), and education and health (Newark). As we embark on the next phase of TII, continuing the work with four of the five original sites and expanding the Initiative to include Albuquerque, New Orleans, San Antonio, and Seattle/King County, I thought it would be valuable to reflect on some of the things that I believe that we have learned along the way that could be of value to others doing this kind of work.


Tom Flanagan

technical assistance provider / consultant

Ben, I am deeply impressed with the candor of the ideas expressed in “Reflections on Living Cities’ Integration Initiative.” My direct experience is limited to “smaller” cities and municipalities through the “Working Cities Challenge” led by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, and my perspective has been shaped by my work with broadly collaborative communities in corporate and academic sectors. My impression for this specific philanthropic-investment banking initiative as it played out at street level in New Bedford includes: With only one proposal allowed per city, and with no overarching prescription for reaching agreement among multiple “good” ideas, the program begins with a contest rather than a civic collaboration. Local power interests crafted their personal views of a “winning” program, and then recruited advocates and allies under their tent in a move toward critical mass. In the end, New Bedford was not successful in the contest; and this suggests --- the program may be selecting for sites where inclusive democratic design already exists rather than catalyzes a transformation in communities that fosters commitment for collective action. The collective commitment challenge is called out in the in “Reflections on Living Cities’ Integration Initiative” too. It is interesting that a specific effort to convene a “coalition of the willing” – recognizing the mass of “un-collated” wills left behind, is inherently partisan, and where your reflections do recognize that once program initiatives are deeply engaged, an absence of one or more essential “systems” that must be drawn in to the design effort can be discovered. Even if this gap is not explicitly addressed, it seems to be worthy of consideration. Your reflections recognizes that, in some instances, “there wasn’t enough attention paid to ensuring that the right people were at the table at the right time.” Failure to commit to a collective action can be linked to doubts that partners hold with respect to partnerships gaps and also with respect to unexplored interdependencies among identified parts of a program. I am not referring to “unintended consequences.” I am referring instead to a sense of potentially “erroneous priorities.” The phenomenon of "erroneous priorities" has been studied extensively by few researchers; however, it can be measured readily if priorities are selected before and after a systems understanding of the transformation challenge has been constructed. In sufficiently complex plans, there is ALWAYS a disconnect between idea that are sensed for their immediacy, for their interdependency, and for their highly leveraged capacity to improve resolution of other specific program objectives. I am suggesting that, in complex situations, "failure to commit" may be driven primarily by a sense that interdependencies among goals or tasks are insufficiently understood. Getting the right people into a collaborative design effort, and managing the collaborative design so that a systems understanding is shared before a program is designed seems critical to me. Where your reflections emphasized that “peer learning [is] very highly valued by public sector stakeholders” I did wonder if you experience a Cause-versus-Effect paradox. Perhaps the individuals who made it to the one table were, without benefit of institutional intervention, of a particularly collaborative nature? If this is the case, then the huge transformation problem left behind is the issue of how to engage those for whom collaboration is not a comfortable instinct. Where you indicated that “We were very specific about trying to change how cities addressed issues affecting low-income individuals and communities,” building collaborative capacity might be the most highly leveraged program goal – if collaborative action is required from the community. In this context, I suspect that hosting grant contests for specific infrastructure impacts (a banking goal, of course) might be secondary for hosting grant contests for inclusive design impacts. These different objectives might call forward different sets of metrics for which impacts could be measured. I am not suggesting that this would be easy to negotiate among a community of sponsors – monied interests may not be keen to finance a transformative revolution from deep within our communities. I would come down to who really has an experiential reason for trusting inclusive community design. Thanks so much for sharing your reflections on your experiences. Cheers Tom Flanagan Institute for 21st Century Agoras

Submitted by Tom Flanagan on Thu, 2014-05-29 12:15

Nelson Enojo

technical assistance provider / consultant

One bold move and a radical one by the present administration of the Philippine government is the attempt to abolish the "Priority Development Assistance Fund" the PDAF given to political leaders for country wide development at their discretion. This is a move beyond delivering programs the traditional way and focus on transforming the system bringing innovation into the entire system away from the obsolete and ineffective approach towards what works. The "Daan Matuwid" is still in transition but the promise of reform is shining bright in the horizon under the Aquino administration.

Submitted by Nelson Enojo on Fri, 2014-06-27 01:35