A revitalized culture of collaboration and data-driven decision making has taken root in the Cook County Bureau of Economic Development — and it’s directly traceable to the UChicago Civic Leadership Academy (CLA), says Xochitl Flores, the bureau’s chief.
The six-month CLA program – based at the Harris School of Public Policy – is led by William Howell, the Sydney Stein Professor in American Politics at Harris Public Policy, and Sadia Sindhu, Executive Director of the Center for Effective Government. CLA includes valuable insights from faculty from the University’s professional schools and practitioners from around the city, county, and beyond. The program aims to strengthen the capacity within Chicago nonprofits and government agencies by bringing together their emerging leaders to learn critical skills, connect with one another, and explore new ways to find solutions to institutional challenges. CLA is the flagship program of the new Center for Effective Government at Harris, which is committed to solving major systemic challenges in our institutions.
Flores is an alumna of the CLA’s 2015 cohort and leads the bureau’s work to spearhead regional economic development in suburban Cook County, with a particular eye toward racial equity. She and her staff work closely with the Department of Transportation and Highways — whose superintendent and assistant superintendent are CLA alumni — as well as the Department of Environment and Sustainability (where the director of financial control is a CLA alumnus) and the Justice Advisory Council.
“What I learned in the CLA helped me develop a broader lens — I don’t see things from just a bureau perspective anymore. That’s instrumental in government because while the needs are great, budgets are such that we can’t make the impact we need to on our own.”
“Linda Ginzel [clinical professor of managerial psychology at Chicago Booth] taught us important lessons about not staying focused on your immediate sphere of influence,” says Flores. “We have several projects that we’re looking at collectively, so we can leverage one another’s resources without being confined by structures of our bureau or department.”
CLA content about the power of data analysis and planning also inspired Flores to champion the development of a fellowship program to embed data analysts in all four Cook County offices. “The analysts collaborated on a cross-departmental project to map the investments that each department makes in our municipalities, so we can start leveraging funding together,” she reports. “Understanding the value of data-driven decision making is changing the way we function in the bureau and among departments.”