With a recovery framework in place, we must now turn to implementation

Last week, Gov. Sisolak unveiled his ‘Every Nevadan Recovery Framework,’ which is intended to “serve as a foundation to ensure the best use of [American Rescue Plan - ARP] funds received directly by the State of Nevada.” Now that we have a recovery framework in place, the hard, albeit rewarding, work begins. Nevadans must work together to elaborate a vision for the state and a theory of action that guides our recovery plan. Most importantly, we need to identify clear goals and metrics so as to ensure Nevada is a state that strategically invests its multi-billion-dollar federal aid package, not merely spends it.

The Every Nevadan Recovery Framework is intended to “initiate a strategic planning process focused on prioritizing the expenditure of ARP funds on the direct needs of Nevadans – resulting in a successful recovery in the immediate and a stronger Nevada for future generations.” With the foundation in place, here is how we should think about the path forward.

1.      Create Vision

Every strategic plan begins with a vision. The Every Nevadan Recovery Framework initiated the conversation by identifying four broad bands of priorities: Basic Needs, Communities, Economy, and Quality of Life. These are supplemented with seven categories of “strategic enhancement” (or strategic goals) (e.g., increasing access to health care and community-based services, strengthening public education). We must now articulate a compelling vision that will anchor and guide our collective work. By way of example, in 2015, former Nevada Superintendent of Public Instruction Steve Canavero articulated a vision that Nevada would become “the fastest improving state in the nation.” 

2.      Strategize

How we recover and grow matters. With the broad priorities identified, the next critical step is to develop a theory of action for Nevada’s recovery plan. Outlining a theory of action in the planning stages allows policymakers to develop evidence-based rationales for their selected strategies to ensure the proposed interventions align with the intended outcomes and impact. If we consider housing under the priority of basic needs, a theory of action could suggest: “If we implement strategies to expand affordable housing, then we can reduce housing insecurity and homelessness and build household wealth.” A theory of action will enable Nevada’s stakeholders to map out how we are going to realize a “successful recovery” and have a “stronger Nevada for future generations.”

Once we have the theory of action in place, we need to identify what we are going to do. Nevada’s recovery framework currently identifies seven strategies (“strategic enhancements”). For each strategy, we should identify a few major opportunities, select the proposed actions or interventions that align with the impact we want, map the existing resources that we can leverage to implement the programs (inputs), and articulate the expected outputs and outcomes of the intervention. (In other words, we need a logic model!).  

3.      Organize

After strategizing, we need to organize ourselves to successfully execute Nevada’s strategic recovery plan. The question of who will own and lead the strategic recovery plan is critical to Nevada’s ability to recover quickly and equitably.  

The current Every Nevadan Recovery Framework is vague on how Nevada will organize itself to implement its strategic recovery plan other than to note that the State “looks forward to working in a collaborative manner with local governments, school districts, and other stakeholders in an effort to coordinate plans and maximize funding by avoiding duplicative programming.”

One strategy might be to stand up a new government department (or repurpose an existing one). By way of example, in late 2014, Detroit launched an Office of Development and Grants to manage federal grants (and related development efforts). In January, Nevada’s state leaders announced the creation of a Governor’s Office of Federal Resources. Could this new office also take up the task of convening stakeholders, articulating a vision, and managing the implementation and evaluation of Nevada’s strategic plan?  

Nevada may want to follow the example of other states that have created a nonprofit organization to oversee and manage the implementation of their strategic plans. In Detroit, stakeholders created Detroit Future City to oversee the implementation of the Detroit Strategic Framework. San Antonio set up nonprofit SA2020, and Utah launched Envision Utah, a nonprofit that manages the “bottom-up, nonpartisan, collaborative decision-making process to engage the public in planning for [Utah’s] future.”

Alternatively, Nevada may want to consider standing up regional recovery coordinating councils, as proposed by Brookings Institution researchers Bryan and Berube. (In theory, Nevada might create four regional councils that reflect the four quadrants of the state — each of which have very different needs and economies). Ideally, the composition of these regional councils would be broad and include “the usual regional planning suspects,” as well as representation from nonprofits, neighborhood leaders, businesses, “diverse community organizations, next-generation leaders, and nontraditional entities (like minority-serving higher-education institutions and/or community colleges).” Each regional recovery council would be tasked with drafting a “comprehensive inclusive recovery plan with quantifiable goals and metrics” that would include an articulation of “local assets, challenges, economic anchors, physical infrastructure priorities, and human capital development needs.” The regional councils would be required to identify the ways that federal ARP funds would help (e.g., to close budget gaps, catalyze innovation and development, etc.). Additionally, the regional councils would articulate how the recovery plans (and investments) align with the state’s overall goals and priorities. Regional councils would track outcomes “using a set of common metrics” (or shared measurement – more on this below) so that stakeholders can determine what recovery strategies are effective.

One variation to the model of regional councils could be to stand up coordinating councils for each of the seven strategic goals that the Every Nevadan Recovery Framework identified (e.g., strengthening public education). The composition, scope and responsibilities of these coordinating councils would remain the same; they would simply be organized by strategic goals rather than geographic region.

As we begin this process, it is important to acknowledge that we are not starting from ground zero. Nevada’s county and city governments have published many thoughtful, content-heavy plans – master plans, regional plans, and sustainability plans, etc. – that include recommendations for improving our quality of life – one of the priority areas identified in the Every Nevadans Recovery Framework. Demonstrated progress on some of the existing plans has been limited: in some cases, it was not made explicitly clear who would manage and monitor implementation of the plan; in other cases, jurisdictions lacked sufficient resources to implement the recommendations. The first challenge underscores the need to ensure Nevada’s leaders clearly identify and designate responsible stewards of our state’s strategic recovery plan. Fortunately, the infusion of ARP funds may be able to address the second challenge. The point here is that Nevada’s recovery plan should build on, leverage, and, to the extent possible, align with the good work that many communities have already undertaken. 

Finally, we need to prioritize, encourage, and facilitate broad community input. In a Las Vegas Sun hosted roundtable discussion in 2008, Gov. Kenny Guinn counseled that conversations about strategy and planning had “to be a broad, collaborative effort. We cannot any longer let one person decide that. It needs to involve the business structure, the citizens at large, and certainly our legislative body, […].“ Nevada’s leaders should use and leverage technology to expand access to the process and include resident participation and input into the design, planning, and evaluation processes.  Envision Utah, for example, shared that it had received public input from over 50,000 residents during its public planning process.

4.      Evaluate

Measurement can reinforce the status quo, or be a force for change and meaningful impact, depending on how it is used – and by whom. In order to ensure that Nevada has strategically invested this federal largess and not simply spent it, Nevada needs to articulate specific goals and metrics. How will we know if we are better off in ten years’ time if we have not measured it?  How will we define success? The importance of this task underscores the need to identify a specific government department or (new) nonprofit to measure and track progress. Envision Utah and SA2020 both publish annual reports and publicly track the progress they have made. Nevada must do the same. Here is an example of what that could look like (taken from Envision Utah’s website):

The recovery plan outlines seven strategies. In order to ensure that strategies are aligned to the state’s strategic plan and systems are aligned to the strategic plan and community needs, we should use a system of shared measurement. As described by researchers at American Institutes for Research (AIR), shared measurement means “developing and using a common set of measurable goals across systems that reflect a shared purpose and priorities. It involves defining what to measure and how; deciding where, when, and from whom to collect data; choosing specific metrics, data sources, and methods; and understanding what measurement means in the context of communities’ own histories, narratives, and experiences. Using a system of shared measurement could ensure that the plans developed by regional councils or councils organized around the seven strategies would ensure that stakeholders across all systems are working in tandem towards Nevada’s recovery.

With the passage of the American Rescue Plan (and the potential for additional federal funds over the next 12-24 months), Nevada has won its own jackpot of sorts that has the potential to significantly alter the state’s trajectory. A compelling vision, intentional planning, effective organizational structures, clearly defined owners of the implementation and evaluation processes, and a commitment to measure and track progress will help ensure that Nevada strategically invests these resources in ways that helps our most vulnerable residents recover in the short-term and serves all Nevadans over the long term. 

Nancy Brune, Ph.D. is the founding executive director of the Guinn Center, a statewide, independent, nonpartisan policy research center. She is a senior fellow at the Boyd School of Law and serves on the Law and Leadership Program Advisory Council. Dr. Brune received her Ph.D. from Yale University and her Master of Public Policy and B.A. degrees from Harvard University. Prior to joining the Guinn Center, she was a senior policy analyst at Sandia National Laboratories, where she worked on issues of national security. You can follow her on Twitter @NancyBrune or email her at nbrune@guinncenter.org.