Strengthening Capabilities in City Government

We work alongside other exciting initiatives at Harvard that also support state capability. One of these is the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership initiative. The following is a description of their work.

Funded by a four-year $32 million gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative is a collaboration between HKS, HBS, and Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Government Innovation team to advance leadership, management and innovation in cities. Now in its second full year, the initiative equips mayors and senior city officials with the skills, tools, and techniques to tackle the leadership and management challenges they face in their cities. The initiative also aims to identify and fill gaps in research on city leadership, and to generate new and customized curriculum. This approach is designed to help unlock the full potential of cities and optimize their performance. If mayors and their organizations thrive, cities can adapt, endure and thrive as well.

Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative Theory of Change:

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Flagship Program. Each year, the initiative supports 40 cities around the world, anchored by the participation of a mayor and two senior officials crucial to affecting organizational change. Since its inception in 2017, 80 mayors and 160 senior officials have participated in the flagship program.

City participation includes:

  • In-person executive education at a state-of-the-art Bloomberg classroom in New York City
  • Virtual classes using the HBS Online distance learning platform throughout the year
  • Capacity-building in one of three key practices: cross-boundary collaboration across agencies, jurisdictions, and sectors; using data and evidence to improve performance and make better decisions; and innovation and experimentation through rapid design and testing of new ideas
  • Personal 360 leadership assessments with results debriefed by an HBS executive coach
  • Public narrative remote sessions and support to help motivate change and build community support for city initiatives                                                                                    

Based on need and level of engagement, select cities also benefit from:

  • Harvard graduate student summer fellows where students across Harvard are matched to priority projects in mayors’ offices; each student presents to the mayor at their fellowship’s conclusion
  • Graduate student research under faculty supervision, to assist cities in identifying practices that help inspire innovation and improvement
  • Executive education scholarships for city leaders to take part in open enrollment programs, to augment training in areas of strategic importance for cities and to help them invest in additional key leaders
  • Participation in Harvard field courses that dispatch graduate students to work on the ground

Faculty Research and Curriculum Development. Work supported by the initiative aims to generate output that helps improve professional practice. Online learning materials, research, and teaching tools are made freely available as they are developed.

Highlights of the work include:

  • Curricular materials developed to translate the most relevant and up‐to‐date knowledge about leadership, management, governance, and innovation in cities into active tools for teaching and learning. The initiative has launched 30 content production projects with faculty and staff so far, and initial project output has been incorporated into the initiative’s curriculum.
  • Interdisciplinary research aiming to generate new, usable knowledge relevant to city leadership. Joint HBS-HKS research programs include: teaming, cross-sector collaboration, and assessing effectiveness of leadership development.

Assessing Program Impact. The initiative maintains a dedicated impact assessment function to ensure continuous learning to improve performance; develop an evidence base of what works in practice; and remain accountable to the academic community, our participants, and our donor.

The key program goals that inform these efforts are to:

  • Improve leadership development of participants through changes in approach and behavior
  • Improve organizational capabilities of cities through changes in organizational practice

Impact for Mayors and Cities. Mayors thus far have reported that the program has helped them to:

  • Build and support high-performing teams
  • Increase leadership and management capacity in their cities
  • Communicate with constituents and key partners
  • Use data to increase transparency, make better decisions, and manage performance
  • Effectively innovate by prototyping, implementing quickly, and learning from failure
  • Work across silos and break down barriers to collaboration within city halls and across sectors

80 mayors and 160 senior officials have participated in the initiative’s flagship program since its inception in 2017:

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