Why do other consultants talk about thinking outside the box? Because, at Public Works LLC, we invented the box.
In the wake of unprecedented nationwide school violence, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer and Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin asked Public Works to study what could be done to prevent, prepare for, and react to school shootings and other such “critical incidents” on school grounds. In addition, because California – and many states across the country – already had a number of laws and a lot of reports, but no easy action steps for schools and local law enforcement to prepare for and respond to a critical school incident, Attorney General Lockyer turned to Public Works for something concrete that schools and law enforcement could actually do: Our explicit directions were to create not another report, but something “three dimensional.”
So, we interviewed first responders to school shootings across the country, identified what these responders wished they’d had on hand in such critical incidents – everything from electronic yearbook pictures of students to electrical and hydraulic diagrams of the school – and designed the “Crisis Response Box,” a clear and effective toolkit implemented statewide to make sure educators are ready and schoolchildren are safe.
The program actually results in schools and police working together – rather than simply mandating it. It was subsequently replicated in several other states. You can download the toolkit here and provide it to local school and law enforcement officials in your community, too.
Public Works’ strength – and where we have been of most assistance to states and localities across the country – has always been our ability to think strategically and creatively about practical solutions.
We think of this as “cutting the Gordian knot” – or looking at an intractable problem from a slightly different angle to see solutions that others don’t. This isn’t always just a technical challenge, but often a problem where the conventional technical solutions resist political acceptability or practical implementation.
These are the kinds of problems where we have been able to offer creative solutions – on everything from modernizing securities regulation in West Virginia to reimaging a deserted old movie theater, a moribund catering hall, a little-used bandstand in a public park, and a quiet Main Street into a regional arts & entertainment district. From designing a college scholarship program for one of the country’s poorest urban areas, and anti-poverty initiatives in cities like Dubuque and Atlanta, to devising a way to fund property tax cuts for suburban families across New Jersey. We reimagine what governments are and what they can do in the 21st Century.
Here are some further examples:
An innovative solution breaks the legislative deadlock and earns national attention.
California’s brownfield clean-up legislation had “sunsetted” because the environmental and business communities couldn’t come to an agreement on clean-up standards. Without a way to regulate and finance the remediation and redevelopment of poisoned industrial sites, the California Environmental Protection Agency turned to Public Works to help develop and enact landmark brownfields legislation that both business and environmentalist groups would support, and the legislature would pass. We worked closely with agency staff for two years in the role of “chief policy deputy,” bringing personnel together across internal and external boundaries, developing concepts and turning them into specifics, helping develop legislative strategy, and seeing the effort through until the Governor signed the measure into law. We devised a funding strategy for the new cleanup program that produced maximum financial leverage for enabling projects to proceed for the minimal funding available from the legislature and proposed the creation of a revolving fund to be paid back through Tax Increment Financing by successful projects – which made it possible to stretch the initial public capitalization into years of additional cleanups.
Novel. Precedent-setting. Unique. That’s how the national Superfund Report described the environmental cleanup program we devised in California, under the headline “California Considers Novel Insurance Subsidy For Brownfields”:
When California Governor Gray Davis needed to increase teachers without making a huge dent in the state budget, he asked us. Our idea: Instead of simply increasing salaries, increase disposable income by lowering teachers’ mortgage payments through loan guarantees. This put more money into teachers’ pockets and helped root them in the communities they serve at virtually no cost to the taxpayers. Our inspiration was a similar program to increase home-ownership among police officers in Charleston, South Carolina, and replicated nationwide by the US Department of Housing & Urban Development under the name, “The Cop Next Door.” We recognized that the same principle could be applied to teachers and insight has since been replicated nationwide.
Read our “conventional wisdom”—busting series on the future of government in The Atlantic here.