Stories

How to Design for Catalytic Change in Government

At FUSE, we are often asked how we develop our fellowship projects. The process is a partnership from beginning to end.

Each FUSE fellowship begins with a conversation. Six months before a fellowship commences, our team starts engaging with government leaders around the country to learn about the problems facing their communities, and to explore the ways in which a FUSE fellowship might be able to support their existing priorities.

We work to identify a high-level understanding of the agency’s priorities, its vision for the future, the challenges it faces, and existing efforts to overcome them.

During those conversations, we work to identify a high-level understanding of the agency’s priorities, its vision for the future, the challenges it faces, and existing efforts to overcome them. We delve into the broad context of the work, how the problem has evolved over time, and why now is the right moment to tackle the work in a new way. We also try to gain insight into what kind of leader or executive skills are needed to move the work forward. These exploratory conversations help develop the general contours of a potential project.

Once a specific fellowship opportunity has been identified, we work closely with the relevant host agencies to scope out the details of each project. FUSE acts as a facilitator and thought partner during these discussions, with our government partners driving the definition of each unique project. Agency leaders articulate project goals, define the fellow’s scope of work, and set the deliverables and the factors that will determine success. They identify the key stakeholders, anticipate barriers, and assess the skills and competencies that are necessary for a fellow to achieve the desired outcomes. They also identify both a project supervisor and an executive sponsor — senior leaders who can be high-level champions and resources for the fellow.

We’ve learned over time that there are several factors that help set up fellows for success. For example, it’s preferable when host agencies can identify achievements that will constitute success and have a means for measuring them, whether quantitative or qualitative. Goals should be ambitious while also being achievable within the course of a single year. And the fellow’s role within the broader context and structure of the organization should be both clearly defined and well-suited for someone with executive-level experience.

This dialogue culminates in a project description that provides a blueprint for the fellowship, ensuring that FUSE, the host agency, and the fellow all start on the same page. Knowing that elements of project scopes sometimes evolve over time, our process allows room for changes to be made by government partners and fellows as they delve into the work. For example, the experience and expertise of the fellow, who’s hired several months after the project description has been finalized, often play a determining factor in the project’s scope. The knowledge gained from the fellow’s research phase, which happens within the first several weeks of the fellowship, might lead to changes in the original framework. And changes within the government agency also might affect the project. To ensure that we accommodate this fluidity, we designate a time within the first two months of the fellowship’s start to potentially re-scope the project with our fellows and government partners.

We repeat this process of inquiry for every potential project. Each fellowship is different, so these steps are essential to creating a high-impact, one-year project. In the end, our goal is to catalyze transformational and systemic change, the kind that equips our partners to sustain the work we helped them begin and continue moving forward long after the fellowship is over.

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