New Program Taps Residents' Ideas to Improve Government Efficiency Efforts

Photo: Fund President Brad Whitehead.

CLEVELAND, OHIO – The Fund for Our Economic Future will launch an innovative effort to engage residents to offer solutions to local government on how to be more efficient and effective. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is supporting the program with a $3 million grant.

“The citizens of Northeast Ohio recognize that the fragmented, costly system of local government that has evolved over the decades hurts our region’s ability to compete in the global economy. They’ve consistently said they want to see the system changed,” said Fund Chairman David Abbott, who is also executive director of The George Gund Foundation. “Our goal is to create a new way of engaging and empowering citizens to drive the changes that they determine will strengthen our communities and our region.”

The grant will have a double focus: enhancing the Fund’s EfficientGovNow competition, which solicits ideas to increase government collaboration; and building a new resident-led process to advance policy changes that strengthen the 16-county region’s economic competitiveness. This new effort will be driven by civic journalism and social media programs that will employ both online tools and more traditional grass-roots efforts. As the region’s residents develop consensus, the Fund will provide support to implement government and policy changes.

“At Knight Foundation, our ideal is informed and engaged communities – places where people have the information they need and the shared vision to act on it,” said Paula Ellis, Knight Foundation’s vice president for strategic initiatives. "The Fund’s efforts use new and traditional tools to help reach that goal. It aims to transform the way the public and government work together to solve increasingly complex problems."

Making local government more efficient and effective is one of the four focus areas of the Fund, a collaboration of philanthropic institutions and individuals that works to strengthen the region’s economic competitiveness through grantmaking, research and civic engagement. Abbott said that public demand for changes in local government emerged as a top priority during the Voices & Choices civic engagement program hosted by the Fund in 2005-06. They have been reinforced by subsequent public opinion surveys. The citizen priorities that emerged during Voices & Choices are now being addressed through the region’s economic action plan, Advance Northeast Ohio (www.advancenortheastohio.org).

“Knight Foundation’s grant provides us with the resources to use new forms of communication and traditional community forums to empower our region’s residents to be more engaged in shaping the future of our local governments,” Abbott said. This process may ultimately serve as a national model for sustainable civic engagement, he added.

The Kent State University Foundation will act as fiscal agent of the Knight Foundation grant. The university’s Center for Public Administration & Public Policy will play a key role in guiding and evaluating the efforts to make local governments more efficient and effective.

“As a collaboration, the Fund works with partners in all of its efforts to strengthen the region. Kent State has been a strong advocate for more efficient local government,” Abbott said. “The Fund looks forward to partnering with Kent State and others in the region to build this new course of action for change.”

Kent State University President Lester Lefton said, “As a university, Kent State plays a strong role in promoting economic development and improving the quality of life in Northeast Ohio.  We are pleased to collaborate with the Fund in strengthening the economic competitiveness of our region and to serve as a regional resource for government efficiency through the university’s Center for Public Administration & Public Policy.”

Some of the grant will be used to increase promotion and participation in EfficientGovNow, which fosters more collaborative local government. In 2010, the Fund intends to award as much as $330,000 in competitive grant awards to as many as four government collaboration projects. Introduced by the Fund in early 2009, EfficientGovNow’s first round attracted the participation of hundreds of local government officials. More than 13,000 residents voted in the competition to determine the grant recipients. Collectively, the proposed ideas projected one-time savings of nearly $40 million and anticipated annual savings of more than $22 million. Knight Foundation’s grant will enable the Fund to dramatically increase public awareness and participation in the competition in 2010 and a subsequent competition in 2011.  More information about EfficientGovNow is available at www.efficientgovnow.org.

Additionally, the Fund plans to use Knight Foundation’s grant to develop a social media and mobilization process that residents can use to:

•  Learn about government issues of broad regional importance;

•  Form opinions and offer solutions for making local governance more effective across the region;

•  Select policies to be advanced to local and state officials.

Ultimately, the residents’ choices may be supported by grant money and further advanced through public mobilization. The initial issues to be tackled by this new effort will be identified with the public’s input in the first half of 2010.

“The goal is to create a course of action that will educate, engage and empower our region’s residents to drive changes that will result in more effective and efficient government,” Abbott said. “Our region will be stronger if we’re able to engage our citizens in proactively addressing some of the more vexing issues we are facing. Ultimately, we hope this process will extend beyond issues related to government and be flexible enough for residents to use to address other key priorities.”

ABOUT THE FUND FOR OUR ECONOMIC FUTURE
The Fund for Our Economic Future (www.futurefundneo.org) is a collaboration of more than 100 foundations, organizations and philanthropists from across Northeast Ohio that strengthens the region’s economic competitiveness through grantmaking, civic engagement and research.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Knight Foundation focuses on projects that promote community engagement and lead to transformational change. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.

CONTACT

Chris Thompson, Fund for Our Economic Future, 216-215-0329 (cell), cthompson@futurefundneo.org

Marc Fest, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, 305-908-2677, fest@knightfoundation.org

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.