Case #2209.4

A Task Force with Teeth?: Driving City Performance in Lawrence, MA Practitioner Guide

Publication Date: February 23, 2021
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This practitioner guide accompanies HKS Case No. 2209.0.

After taking office, Mayor Daniel Rivera created a new task force to combat blight in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Although blight and distressed properties were not on Rivera's campaign agenda, he soon realized the matter required his attention. The issue was complex and far reaching, impacting his city's public health and safety, inequality, and real estate prices. However, on-the-ground progress was elusive, as the list of distressed properties was growing faster than the city could act to resolve them.

Rivera seemed to have little confidence in his staff, and he had limited flexibility to change staffing resources on a short-term basis. Still, he endeavored to motivate his team with a forceful management style. But creating a united task force from entrenched, disparate groups posed challenges. Effecting change is slow, and Rivera often felt frustrated with the task force.

One area of progress, however, was data collection. The case describes a data tracker for collecting information on distressed properties from various sources, containing over 600 properties with more than forty input fields. The case paints a picture of a city that embarked on a journey to become more data driven, collaborative, and performance-oriented, but had not yet progressed beyond a rudimentarily level in developing these capabilities. Participants and students are pushed to consider: Once a team has been formed and data has been collected, how does one use it across departments to address pressing problems effectively? How do you map out milestones toward solving a problem that will expedite the process and motivate a diverse team?

Learning Objective:

The overarching learning objective of this case is to help leaders and practitioners examine the challenges of building capabilities for problem-oriented government action. More specifically, participants and students will have the opportunity to learn the following:

  • How to diagnose a problem: Unpack the difference facets of a problem, distinguishing its root causes, symptoms, and consequences.
  • How to find the right data for the problem: Identify the kind of data needed to better understand performance and progress against benchmarks and milestones.
  • How to know the right collaboration for the problem: Identify the type of cross-boundary collaboration needed to effectively and efficiently manage a problem. 
  • How to definite the role of leadership: Gain a better understanding of the role of leadership in driving performance, leading change, holding people accountable, and motivating collaborators.
  • How to identify challenges: Gain a better understanding of what the challenges are in problem-oriented work in a large and complex government bureaucracy. 




Other Details

Case Author(s):
Jorrit de Jong, Lisa Cox
Faculty Leads:
Jorrit de Jong
Pages (incl. exhibits):
North America
Funding Source:
Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative