The Working Cities Challenge has encouraged smaller legacy cities in New England to embrace a cross-sectoral approach to some of their most pressing problems.

The Working Cities Challenge is a program of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston that seeks to help small, older industrial cities in New England build capacity by working across sectors to improve outcomes for low- and moderate-income residents. The Challenge was borne out of research done by the Boston Fed that found that the key factor distinguishing resurgent small legacy cities from their peers was a strong civic infrastructure that resulted in collaboration across sectors.

Seeking to put this finding into action, the Boston Fed worked with a group of philanthropic partners to create a competition for grant dollars that fund collaborative implementation of a program that benefits lower-income people. Small, older industrial cities within a state compete against one another for funding, and each city can only submit one application, requiring all partners from different sectors  to agree on a common approach. Cities that are selected receive funding to implement their plan, as well as intensive technical assistance and leadership development from the Boston Fed.

The Working Cities Challenge began as a pilot in 2013, and has evolved in its scope and design since the initial phase. Researchers from the Boston Fed have uncovered a number of valuable lessons about building stronger civic capacity and creating successful cross-sector collaborations. Many of their findings are documented in an article published in Communities and Banking in the spring of 2017: “Sparking Change in New England’s Smaller Cities: Lessons from Early Rounds of the Working Cities Challenge.”