Cities collaborate to earn innovation award

Collaboration between Coon Rapids and Brooklyn Park staff members has earned the two cities a local government innovation award.

Matt Stemwedel, Coon Rapids assistant city manager
Matt Stemwedel, Coon Rapids assistant city manager

The award, along with 17 others from the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs in partnership with the Bush Foundation, was presented Dec. 12 at an awards ceremony and reception at the Humphrey School.

The awards recognize government entities for their creative and effectiveness in redesigning how they do business, according to a press release from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

There were six awards presented in the city category; other categories recognized counties and schools.

“Each year cities, counties and schools are challenged to do more with less and these awards recognize those who are most creative doing that,” said Jay Kiedrowski, senior fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

The partnership between Coon Rapids and Brooklyn Park, which began in 2012, is called Cities Unlimited.

Through the program, the two cities share staff expertise and training in nontraditional ways, according to Matt Stemwedel, Coon Rapids assistant city manager, who worked with his counterpart in Brooklyn Park, Mike Sable, to launch the project.

Stemwedel and Sable have known each other professionally prior to their present jobs, Stemwedel said.

By sharing staff expertise and training with each other, Coon Rapids and Brooklyn Park have avoided the cost of hiring consultants, thus saving money, as well as developing internal talent, he said.

For example, when Coon Rapids decided to create an employee innovation team to make city government more efficient, outside help was needed to get the project started, Stemwedel said.

Through his contacts with Sable, Stemwedel knew that Brooklyn Park had an innovation team in place and tapped the resources of its staff rather than hire a consultant to be a facilitator, he said.

The Brooklyn Park innovation team developed and led a series of meetings with the Coon Rapids team to better understand the challenges, group dynamics, the scope of the work plan and how to move the process forward, according to Stemwedel.

Coon Rapids saved between $4,000 and $5,000, by not having to retain an outside consultant to train the city’s innovation team, Stemwedel said.

The Coon Rapids innovation team comprises 16 members from all departments and includes managers and front line workers, he said.

There are also three sub-groups focusing on mission, vision and values, Stemwedel said.

Reciprocating, Coon Rapids staff, including himself, have coached Brooklyn Park staff on improving its performance measurement program, according to Stemwedel.

In addition, the two cities have collaborated on staff training programs, Stemwedel said.

“We have sent staff to Brooklyn Park for training programs and vice versa,” Stemwedel said.

The collaboration between staff from the two cities has been very successful and productive, he said.

“In a sense, we are bartering services that benefit both communities,” Stemwedel said.

“It costs us nothing except staff time.”

According to Stemwedel, Cities Unlimited could expand its scope to include more cities than Coon Rapids and Brooklyn Park.

For example, Vincent Vu, Coon Rapids deputy city clerk, has been using his expertise to help the city of Shoreview human resources department roll out an online employee application system, which Coon Rapids put in place a year ago, but which Shoreview had been having difficulty implementing, Stemwedel said.

This collaboration came from conversations regarding sharing employee expertise and will save the city of Shoreview the cost of hiring someone to implement the program, he said.

In their local government innovation awards entry form, Stemwedel and Sable state that the program is very sustainable and easy to replicate because collaboration among local government occurs frequently.

“Making it into a formal program has expanded the potential and has allowed us to think of nontraditional ways to share knowledge,” Stemwedel and Sable state.

“Taken to another level, the program could involve any number of organizations including other government agencies, nonprofits and potentially private business.

“The concept only requires that organizations be willing to share expertise knowing that they will receive a benefit from another organization when needed.”

The local government innovation awards program is co-sponsored by the League of Minnesota Cities, the Association of Minnesota Counties and the Minnesota School Boards Association.

A panel of judges considered 94 entries for their creativity, sustainability and collaboration.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]