01 Mar 2019
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Tools and Training for a “Wicked Problem”


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When Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller (MBA 2005) outlined his citywide plan to address homelessness in September 2018, his approach included some time-tested best practices from cities with more experience grappling with the issue. Increasing emergency shelter options, using a voucher program to help the homeless transition to affordable housing, and expanding behavioral health services and substance abuse treatment programs are all part of the plan; when it comes to its implementation, however, Keller will draw on tactics he picked up as a participant in the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative.

One such tactic, from HBS professor of management practice Mitchell Weiss, is “fast experimentation,” which combines the concepts of parallel processing, piloting, and learning to drive change at a faster rate, with more impact. In addition, a Homeless Advisory Council, announced in January 2019, draws on a cross-sector collaboration between residents, government, nonprofits, and the business community to coordinate action on the city’s initiatives. “Homelessness is a harsh reality in Albuquerque,” says Keller. “We’re changing our city’s approach by taking a more active role to address the root causes of homelessness, in addition to collaborating with partners to meet immediate needs.”

Keller experienced the intake process—boarding a shuttle and registering at an emergency housing shelter—to get a firsthand sense of his city’s system. “The causes of homelessness people shared with me are things that could happen to many people in Albuquerque, whether it was a medical emergency or a lost paycheck,” he said. “That’s why we’re stepping up to create a safety net that works. Thanks to the Harvard Bloomberg program, we have the tools and training to take a big bite out of such a wicked problem.”

Launched in 2017 and funded by Michael Bloomberg’s (MBA 1966) Bloomberg Philanthropies, the initiative aims to inspire and strengthen city leaders by giving them the necessary tools to lead high-performing, innovative cities. A collaboration with HBS and the Harvard Kennedy School, it is co-led by HBS professor Rawi Abdelal and HKS lecturer Jorrit de Jong.

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