Designing a Leadership and Training Program for Career Coaches

Skillful is helping transform local labor markets by building the capacity of frontline coaches in the Colorado workforce system.

CHALLENGE

Colorado enjoys one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, but this low number masks the struggle of underemployed and chronically unemployed Coloradans. Some of the most vulnerable are the estimated 62% of Coloradans who do not have a bachelor’s degree. To connect workers with quality jobs, the Skillful Initiative works with states to develop labor markets that value skills and training over degrees or other proxies for qualifications. In Colorado, the team engaged HR&A to develop a program that would build the capacity of career coaches in public workforce development centers, community colleges, high schools, and career service non-profits across the state to better connect job seekers with quality career paths.

Solution

To understand Colorado’s most pressing labor market challenges, we interviewed over 40 workforce development professionals. We realized that Colorado had fundamental workforce issues, such as the disconnect between workforce centers and higher education, and struggles to engage rural populations. Based on Skillful’s prior work, we also knew that the insights of front-line career coaches—individuals serving as a first point of contact for job seekers in career offices across the state—could be instrumental in devising solutions that would actually confront on-the-ground, systemwide challenges.

 

With this knowledge, we started designing a program to provide the most dedicated career coaches with the training and support to be effective problem solvers for the state. We collaborated with workforce development experts to design a relevant and practical curriculum that built leadership and analytical skills, while ensuring that coaches could make significant contributions to the workforce development system. A key part of the program is their work in action teams to tackle specific issues, such as how to engage rural job seekers or best leverage online career resources, and develop potential policy solutions to pitch to State leadership. Apart from content development, we also ensured that Skillful could confidently run the program by designing a blueprint that included timelines, budgets, curricula, and evaluation metrics—as well as guidelines for the program launch, application process, and onboarding of new staff.

 

Impact

In 2017, Colorado’s Governor launched the Governor’s Coaching Corps with Skillful and the Markle Foundation. The corps selected 25 career coaches to participate in the inaugural program and create policy ideas that were presented to state leaders for potential implementation. Now, career coaches are working outside of silos and sharing resources to better assist job seekers across organizations and regions in Colorado. The corps launched a larger virtual community of practice that engages upwards of 150 coaches across the state in regular webinars to learn from and contribute to the work of the corps in devising policy solutions. To date, 20 governors across the United States have also pledged to implement a version of the Coaching Corps in their states as part of the Markle Foundation’s Skillful State Network.

Creating a Racial Equity Agenda for the United States Conference of Mayors

The United States Conference of Mayors developed a comprehensive understanding of the programs, policies, and projects that are effectively advancing racial equity across the country.

CHALLENGE

Across the country, discriminatory policies and practices have created lasting disparities in social and economic outcomes across races. To work against this harmful legacy, the United States Conference of Mayors, with its strong tradition of leadership on issues of civil rights and social justice, is using its national platform to help mayors and cities understand and implement the policies and practices that can reduce racial inequities in cities.
 
The organization engaged HR&A to survey existing racial equity programs in cities and create a set of recommendations for how it could help member cities proactively make meaningful change in their policies and practices.

Solution

To understand their most pressing challenges, we interviewed mayors and staff from 13 cities. The collective feedback showed that some cities are incorporating racial equity through place-based initiatives, programmatic initiatives, and policy change. Additionally, cities are seeking help from external partners to directly address race in their communities. We learned the importance of mayoral leadership and that clear definitions of equity are needed to translate commitments into practice. Synthesizing our findings, we outlined the ways that the U.S. Conference of Mayors could serve as an important convener for mayors and a source of best practice and technical assistance.
 
Our deepest insight emerged from our conversations with economic development departments. Unlike many social services, these functions are siloed from conversations on racial disparity even though they are charged with decisions that impact the physical, demographic, and economic realities of communities. This insight helped us design a program that would connect these departments with training, resources, and technical assistance to embed equity into daily practice.
 

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Capacity Building for the National Disaster Resilience Competition

The National Disaster Resilience Competition institutionalized the practice of resilience in cities across the country.

CHALLENGE

To confront increasing physical vulnerability to the effects of climate change and decreasing public funding available for infrastructure and community development, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Rockefeller Foundation partnered to transform resilience building policy and practice through the National Disaster Resilience Competition. In 2014, President Obama allocated $1 billion in HUD funding to competition winners, which were selected from places that suffered presidentially-declared disasters between 2011 and 2013.

Solution

HR&A supported the Rockefeller Foundation’s management of the program, providing technical support for 67 cities, states, and counties as each prepared competition submissions. This work ensured that the projects and programs would respond to a broad array of climate-related risk, and address social, economic and environmental challenges. HR&A also designed and delivered a capacity-building program for participants that provided individual technical support to teams to guide them through proposal development; regional “Resilience Academies” that brought together a network of experts to support teams in assessing risk and developing strategies and projects to address them; and tools and other resources to help interpret HUD guidance.
 

IMPACT

The competition enhanced local, state, and regional resilience techniques by offering resources and encouraging partnerships to amplify potential financial and social benefits activated by federal funds. In 2016, HUD announced the 13 winning cities, states, and counties of the $1 billion competition. Funded projects include state watershed, coastal protection, community flood grant, and public housing resilience pilot programs; and coastal wetland and rural river resilience efforts among other projects.
Following the awards, the Rockefeller Foundation engaged HR&A to incorporate workshop teachings into a permanent resilience curriculum, which was deployed across the world through the Global Resilience Academy.

Talking Transition

As New York City prepared to greet a new mayor for the first time in 12 years, HR&A managed a project to transform the usual closed-door process between Election Day and Inauguration into an opportunity for New Yorkers to make their voices heard.

HR&A proudly led the design and implementation of Talking Transition, an innovative new model for civic engagement. On behalf of a coalition of ten New York City foundations including: the Open Society Foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies, Brooklyn Community Foundation, Ford Foundation, New York Community Trust, New York Foundation, New York Women’s Foundation, North Star Fund, Charles H. Revson Foundation, and Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Talking Transition transformed the period between Election Day and Inauguration into an opportunity for broad public engagement, bringing together citizens from all corners of New York City to participate in public conversations about the policy issues, ideas and questions that affect their communities.

Over the course of two weeks following the 2013 mayoral election, Talking Transition created a forum for tens of thousands of New Yorkers to communicate their ideas to newly elected officials. A series of live public engagement events were held in a 15,000 square foot open “think tent” on Canal Street that served as the initiative’s Town Hall. Talking Transition also brought the discussion to neighborhoods all over NYC with “mobile tents” and more than 100 canvassers, who employed TalkNYC, a new digital survey experience.  As a result, Talking Transition revealed New Yorkers’ sentiments about their neighborhoods and the direction of the city. TalkNYC yielded one of the most expansive public opinion surveys in the city’s history. Nearly 70,000 people weighed in on City services and other quality of life issues over which City government has influence. HR&A aggregated the results of the data in the “Sentiment of a City” report, which showed that the affordability of housing, the ability to find employment, and representation in policy decisions are among New Yorkers’ highest concerns.

 

As Washington, DC welcomed a new mayor, HR&A worked with a coalition of civic organizations to give Washingtonians a voice in the mayoral transition process.

After the 2014 election of Mayor Muriel Bowser in Washington D.C., HR&A planned and executed a second public engagement survey initiative coinciding with the mayoral transition – Talking Transition DC – on behalf of the Open Society Foundations and a consortium of District-based grantees – including the Urban Institute, the National Institute for Civil Discourse, DC Working Families, and DC Vote. The goal of the initiative was to transform the typically insular, closed-door process that occurs between Election Day and Inauguration day into an opportunity for broad civil discourse, and ultimately a stronger, more equitable democracy.

 

Talking Transistion DC was an experiment in innovative civic engagement, policy, and grass-roots organizing. To include as many voices, perspectives, and opinions as possible, HR&A designed a survey instrument and oversaw deployment of the iPad-based survey to 8,500 respondents. We developed a canvassing strategy, trained canvasser teams, and worked closely with canvassers to execute the strategy to ensure respondents were representative of Washingtonians. The survey sample was largely representative of Washington, DC today – achieving a key goal of the initiative and ensuring that our findings were representative of a broader swath of DC residents.

 

The survey asked a wide range of quality of life questions ranging from school quality to job availability and housing affordability to transit access. During and following the survey deployment, HR&A reviewed, validated, and analyzed survey data and conducted a Ward-level analysis to better understand potential geographic differences in responses. Certain issues revealed geographic divisions in the city. For example, HR&A found that, while residents were united in their sentiments that housing in DC is largely unaffordable, residents in the Southeastern Wards tended to respond to questions more negatively than residents living in the Northwest. On questions relating to police-community relations, public safety, and job availability, residents in DC’s Southeast tended to have a much more negative outlook. HR&A synthesized the survey results into a report for public dissemination and presented the findings through a citywide 21st-Century Town Hall meeting. Following the conclusion of the project, the team also presented the report to Mayor Muriel Bowser, meeting with her to discuss the survey’s results and its potential policy implications.

Program Development and Implementation for The Lawn on D

HR&A developed the conceptual programming strategy and business plan for The Lawn on D.

The Lawn on D is a vibrant, flexible, program-driven landscape and event space located along Boston’s rapidly revitalizing D Street Corridor. Since its opening in the summer of 2014, the 2.7 acre park has become a popular, well-loved part of Boston’s Innovation District, drawing over 30,000 visitors from all areas of Boston to experience the park’s high-impact, well-rounded programming. The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority (MCCA), the public-organization that owns the space located at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, tasked HR&A with the development of a catalytic programming strategy that would serve as an innovative placemaking exercise and driver of neighborhood revitalization. To frame the park as Boston’s new go-to destination for the area’s diverse customer base of residents, workers, and conventioneers, HR&A developed a vision that emphasizes play and leisurely interaction with culture, incorporating interactive playscapes, high-impact art and design, a diverse calendar of events, and local food and drink concessions. The resulting Lawn on D delivers high-quality, interactive programming – within a flexible, experimental event space and traditional passive park – to strengthen the connection of the convention center to the surrounding urban fabric.

 

HR&A worked with the MCCA to translate this programming vision into an implementable, defined strategy, and devised the planning, implementation, and management strategy for the park’s past four operating seasons. HR&A created a business and operations plan for the MCCA, which outlined a management structure and revenue sources. We also oversaw program concept development and implementation, to ensure its alignment with the MCCA’s vision for The Lawn on D and the surrounding D Street Corridor. This included vendor selection and management. As project manager, HR&A provided ongoing analysis of The Lawn on D’s programming performance and revenue targets to inform the MCCA’s future operations and management of the space.

 

During its operating seasons, The Lawn on D is open to the public seven days-a-week, hosting a mixture of recurring public programming such as daily morning exercise classes and weekly move screenings, as well as special events and exhibitions, including food festivals, art installations, and ticketed-concerts. Since its opening in 2014, the park has gained notoriety throughout Boston, and the country, as a new model for innovative, high-impact placemaking and received numerous awards for its programming and design.

 

  • 2015 Honor Award for General Design, Boston Society of Landscape Architects
  • 2015 National Small Project Award, American Institute of Architects
  • 2015 Downtown Merit Award for Public Space, International Downtown Association
  • 2015 Honor Award for General Design, American Society of Landscape Architects

Images Courtesy of: MCCA

Water Street POPS Upgrading Study

 HR&A studied the economic potential of improved privately owned public spaces in Lower Manhattan.

HR&A teamed with Beyer Blinder Belle Architects (BBB) to develop concepts for the improvement of privately owned public spaces, or POPS, along Lower Manhattan’s Water Street. POPS are spaces that are provided and maintained by a private developer or company for public use in exchange for zoning relief. Due to the large quantity of office building stock and its key location between the East River waterfront and the Financial District’s core, Water Street’s competitiveness and brand as a commercial corridor is crucially important to Lower Manhattan’s future.

Water Street’s commercial corridor is characterized by inconsistent and underused retail that is set back from the street.  HR&A worked with New York City Economic Development Corporation and New York City Department of City Planning to develop strategies that use POPS to incentivize private investment in retail and the public realm throughout the Water Street Corridor. HR&A analyzed the retail and restaurant offerings around Water Street, and devised a high-level, stabilized-year cash flow model for new retail space at several POPS to inform a financially viable plan. HR&A also estimated the additional value generated by the proposed upgrades for commercial property owners.  With an overly wide street and underused public spaces, Water Street also has one of the largest concentrations of POPS in New York City. See the full presentation here.

Staten Island Storefronts

Staten Island Storefronts: The Race for Space Competition

HR&A designed and advised on the implementation of a competition to attract catalytic retail businesses and build a neighborhood brand for Downtown Staten Island.

The competition, Staten Island Storefronts: The Race for Space!, addressed high vacancy rates in the Downtown Staten Island area. This innovative economic development initiative, conceived by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), was designed to fill existing storefronts with businesses committed to the neighborhood and invested in its future; enhance retail offerings for local residents and visitors; and capture spending potential from the 2-million annual tourists and 70,000 daily commuters that pass through the area. The competition also builds on the momentum of other planned projects in downtown Staten Island, including the world’s largest Observation Wheel, a new city incubator space, and more than a thousand new housing units planned for the New Stapleton Waterfront.

The competition was run on a first come, first served basis, awarding prize money to all qualified applicants until the $425,000 prize pool was exhausted. HR&A advised NYCEDC on program design, recommended program guidelines and incentives, terms of leases, and award criteria. The competition yielded a diverse mix of businesses, which were required to sign their leases within three months of being designated winners and open their businesses within six months of the commencement of their lease.

 

In December 2013, NYCEDC awarded the prize money to nine winning businesses, totaling $425,000 to support leasing and capital improvements and leveraging the City’s support toward a total of $11 million in private investment. Together, the nine winners are estimated to occupy over 40,000 square feet of vacant storefront space in Downtown Staten Island, energizing the area and infusing critical economic activity into the waterfront neighborhoods. The winning businesses anticipated hiring 34 full-time and 83 part-time employees and opened their doors in summer of 2014, at which time they received their prize money.

 

Images Courtesy of: NYCEDC

New York Rising Meeting

New York Rising Community Reconstruction Program

HR&A led a multidisciplinary team to develop comprehensive, strategic resilience plans for at-risk communities that were severely impacted by Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene, and Tropical Storm Lee, and developed projects eligible for over $128M in federal disaster recovery funding.

 On behalf of the New York State Office of Storm Recovery’s New York Rising Community Reconstruction Program (NYRCR), HR&A led a team of engineers, architects, planners, landscape architects, healthcare and other specialists to run two rounds of the NYCRCR Program. In close coordination with the general public and planning committees, comprised of local civic and social leaders within each community, the HR&A-led team developed comprehensive community plans for investing over $128M of federal Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funding towards strengthening the physical, economic, and social resiliency in Lower Manhattan, Red Hook, Howard Beach, Broad Channel, communities across the Rockaway Peninsula,  Canarsie, Bergen Beach, Mill Basin, Marine Park, and several communities along the East Bronx Waterfront.

The HR&A-led team provided data analysis and technical evaluations to help residents understand real and projected risks and generated a spectrum of potential solutions to address issues and meet local goals. The team also estimated development and operating costs, evaluated funding options, and proposed phasing and implementation strategies. For example, the HR&A-led team:

 

  • Evaluated potential short- and long-term flood mitigation strategies for communities at risk from storm surge and wave action exacerbated by sea level rise;
  • Proposed low-cost loan programs to assist both business and residential retrofits;
  • Developed education programs to help the business-, home-, and building-owners learn, understand, make decisions, and take action; and
  • Proposed policy recommendations to ease the burden on building owners and increase access to more programs and funds.

 

In addition, HR&A managed the extensive community-led participatory process, running over 100 committee meetings and 40 large-scale public engagements, to iteratively gather feedback and present proposals and the community plans. In total, the team generated more than 120 near-term resiliency projects, each tailored for the specific community.

 

As of early 2016, Governor Cuomo has announced funding for four projects that the HR&A-led team drafted in collaboration with NY Rising communities: an energy resiliency feasibility study for New York City Housing Authority’s Red Hook Houses, a residential technical assistance pilot program in seven impacted communities, and two business corridor improvement projects, totaling over $12 million, for communities of the Rockaway Peninsula. The State is processing additional projects through the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development for implementation by City agencies and community organizations. In addition to this, FEMA has funded $1.2 million to advance technical and feasibility analyses of a double dune system in the Breezy Point community on the Rockaway Peninsula that was designed in concept in the NYRCR process and supported in the final plan. In his February 2016 State of the City speech, Mayor de Blasio announced a $91 million investment in downtown Far Rockaway, and has emphasized the importance of streetscape improvements in the Rockaway East community. The City has also approved the plans for implementing permanent ferry service to Rockaway West, a major priority advocated by the community’s planning committee.

 

A joint commitment by New York City and State in the amount of $100 million for an integrated flood protection system will protect Red Hook from future storm surges and the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery is more than doubling the City’s initial investment of $3 million in funding for the launch of the NYC Business Preparedness and Resiliency Program with an additional $4.51 million.

 

Game On Sidewalk

Game On! Programming for Water Street in Downtown New York

On behalf of the Alliance for Downtown New York, HR&A developed and implemented a programming and neighborhood branding plan that transformed Lower Manhattan’s Water Street Corridor into Lower Manhattan’s playground.

HR&A led the development of a distinctive programming and placemaking plan for the Water Street corridor, from June through Labor Day of 2014 on behalf of the Alliance for Downtown New York. In collaboration with Auster Agency and 3×3 Design, HR&A conducted and managed the planning and execution of an effort designed to shift perceptions about a once-staid area of the financial district, originally home to insurance company headquarters.

The resulting program series, called Game On!, activated public spaces on Water Street with pop-up installations including play-oriented programming, beer gardens, mini-golf, and a “beach” installation. These temporary public space uses encouraged local residents, workers, and visitors to utilize these areas in new, lively, and fun ways. Local businesses were also engaged by and benefited from the program, which provided coupons to local cafes and restaurants that incentivized visitors to patronize local businesses. Other components of the initiative, including program-specific branding and a website developed for the series, helped ensure its success:  Game On! attracted individuals between the ages of 25 and 33—37% of visitors—both on the weekends and in the evening in addition to people who work near Water Street, ensuring that Water Street remained active throughout the work day and into the evening.  ADNY found that the Game On! brand resonated with 60% of those surveyed, as a result of a strategic advertising strategy, and that

 

Game On! and other initiatives on Water Street, such as the Downtown Alliance’s WiFi program and HR&A’s work with Water Street POPS, sought to leverage underused public spaces throughout the corridor. These neighborhood programming efforts evince the Downtown Alliance’s commitment to the revitalization of the Water Street corridor into a vibrant center of downtown life.

Images Courtesy of: 3×3 Design

BigApps 2015

NYC BigApps

The NYC BigApps competition awarded over $200,000 to innovative civic tech startups and piloted new models for collaboration between tech and the public sector.

In 2014, the New York City Economic Development Corporation selected HR&A as program administrator of NYC BigApps, a trendsetting civic tech competition that has helped launched more than 500 apps and devices. HR&A has led all aspects of program design and management for BigApps 2014 and 2015, developing two interactive web platforms; producing more than 25 events; securing more than $500,000 in cash and in-kind sponsorships; managing partnerships with more than 100 organizations; and overseeing the selection processes that awarded $230,000 to 16 high-impact tech products.

HR&A led a major redesign of BigApps in 2014, the competition’s fifth year. To facilitate more targeted submissions, HR&A partnered with New York City agencies and nonprofit organizations to craft more than 30 “BigIdea Challenges” that awarded extra prizes for specific solutions. To engage the public, HR&A produced 11 events, including the BigApps Block Party, a day-long tech showcase that attracted more than 1,000 attendees. The competition received 117 submissions, the most of any competition year. Among the 2014 winners was Heat Seek NYC, which uses low-cost sensor technology to track heating violations in apartment buildings. Since winning $25,000 in prizes, Heat Seek has been accepted into two prominent incubator programs, introduced an improved sensor and software platform, and launched a winter 2015 pilot program that deployed 120 sensors across 40 low-income buildings throughout New York City.

 

For BigApps 2015, HR&A again recruited more than 30 City agencies, civic organizations, and private sector firms, but this time focused on four high-impact Challenges: Affordable Housing, Zero Waste, Connected Cities, and Civic Engagement. These Challenges were designed to support Mayor de Blasio’s OneNYC: The Plan for a Strong and Just City. Over a four-month period, partners co-created products with teams and committed to supporting the implementation of winning products. In December, BigApps awarded $125,000 to seven impactful civic tech products, including Benefit Kitchen, a mobile app that helps low-income New Yorkers access public benefits; JustFix.nyc, a web platform that empowers tenants to improve their living conditions; and Addicaid, a digital support network designed for individuals struggling with substance abuse. In addition to prizes, teams won four months of Incubation at Civic Hall, including access to meeting and work space, targeted workshops, access to professional networks, and expert guidance on business planning, marketing, funding strategies, and product development.

 

Read more about BigApps at NYC .gov, EDC.nyc, AM New York, and Crain’s NY Business.