The red brick and weathered stone of city hall stretch three stories above Manchester, New Hampshire’s central business district, topped by an elaborate, Gothic Revival spire. Sunlight streams through the arched windows of the building into a winding stairwell lined with portraits of city leaders, from 1846 to the present—neat rows climb from black and white to color; all stern gazes, mustaches, and crisp shirt collars. The march of masculinity is broken by the very last portrait—a smiling blonde woman.
Joyce Craig, Manchester’s first female mayor and a participant in the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, was elected in 2017. “It was never a goal of mine to be in politics,” she said. “But I’m very grateful for the opportunity that I’ve been presented with.”
Politician or not, the nature of the job of mayor is to hit the ground running, and Craig did just that: She spent her first few months in office getting up to speed with department heads, meeting local business leaders, and talking with residents at community centers and clubs. One of the things she repeatedly heard from businesses, residents, and nonprofits was a rising concern about how best to address homelessness in the city.
Manchester shoulders a disproportionately large share of the state’s homeless population, with nearly 30 percent of New Hampshire’s homeless, while representing only 8 percent of the state’s total population. Of Manchester’s homeless population, 42 percent have either a severe mental illness or substance use disorder, presenting a significant challenge for the city and nonprofits struggling to meet the demand for treatment and housing in the face of shrinking state and federal resources, as is the case for countless other cities across the country.
“The laser focus for me when I first took office was on the opioid crisis because of the shortfall in treatment options,” said Craig. “But as a piece of that, it was also helping individuals who were homeless given that many of them are also suffering from substance use disorder and mental health issues. To a certain extent, it was all connected.”
As she made strides up the steep learning curve of local leadership, Craig realized there was little in the way of guidance or resources for how to govern as mayor. “When you take the office of mayor, there’s no training,” she said. “And, when you think about being a mayor, it’s kind of a lonely job because it’s not like there is another mayor in your city that you can callfor advice or guidance.”
In the spring of 2018, Craig jumped at the chance to join the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, a yearlong leadership, management, and professional development program led by Harvard faculty, funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, and housed at the Ash Center. Craig and her city were among 40 chosen to participate in the second-ever cohort of the initiative, which provides mayors and their senior officials with classes geared toward encouraging the development of concepts including innovation, strong collaborations, teaming, negotiation, narrative, and the effective use of data in cities—plus additional programming and support from Harvard staff and graduate students. “What really attracted me to this program is that I would be working with 39 other mayors from around the world, so that we could share ideas and then bounce ideas off each other,” recalled Craig.
In addition to the intensive, in-person classroom learning component of the Bloomberg Harvard program, Craig also chose to participate in the program’s supplemental data and evidence track, which helped increase the city’s capacity to use data to improve municipal performance. Through the program, Craig was also assigned a mayoral coach—a former mayor or city leader—to help distill the techniques taught in the classroom and provide real-world guidance and experience. Craig’s coach was Stephen Goldsmith, director of the Ash Center Innovations Program and Daniel Paul Professor of the Practice of Government, who served as mayor of Indianapolis and deputy mayor of New York City. Having spearheaded the creation of the Center’s Data-Smart City Solutions project, which works to catalyze adoption of data projects on the local government level, Goldsmith was well positioned to help guide Craig and her team on how best to leverage data to improve decision-making in city hall. “She brings to difficult community problems, including complex issues like homelessness, a mandate to develop responses that produce results,” said Goldsmith. “During my conversations with her about using data she made it clear that she has tasked herself with leveraging evidence for better outcomes.”
The program also helped turn Manchester itself into a classroom of sorts, by giving Harvard students the opportunity to get hands-on experience working on operational challenges in municipal government. As part of the Greater Boston Applied Field Lab run by Linda Bilmes, Daniel Patrick Moynihan Senior Lecturer in Public Policy, and supported by the initiative, four students were embedded in city hall with Craig and her staff during the 2019 spring semester. Their mission was to give the mayor a better understanding of the myriad funding and other resources that were earmarked for homelessness services, including multiple pots of federal, state, and local dollars as well as the work of nonprofit and faith-based providers. “No one was really looking at the funding piece of [the homelessness issue] and understanding how much money was being spent or whether it was being spent effectively or where it was being spent,” recalled Craig. Untangling how resources were being allocated for homelessness prevention and response would be no easy task.
The student team from Bilmes’s field course included Allen Lien, DrPH candidate at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH); Emily Caplan, MPH candidate at HSPH; Josh Feller, MBA 2018 at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business/MPA 2019 at HKS; and Amanda Hallock MPP 2020 at HKS. At the end of the semester, the team submitted a detailed analysis to Craig of the various public and private funding sources dedicated to homeless services in Manchester. They found that at least $35 million is spent annually on these efforts in the city, but that the city itself has a direct role in allocating only $4 million of that funding. “What [the students] discovered was that there were dozens of small programs scattered across the city, and the funding was not necessarily being deployed strategically to intervene at the optimal point for preventing homelessness,” said Bilmes.
As mayor, Craig was responsible for crafting the city’s overall strategy to reduce homelessness, but her office controlled only a small portion of the resources to do so. “It was really interesting to get a sense as to what the total spend was and to understand where that money was going,” she said. While Craig did not have direct control over the purse strings of many of these programs, she could use her perch atop city hall to help coordinate the bevy of service providers in Manchester.
Recognizing the challenges of having so many organizations providing services to the city’s homeless community, Bilmes’s team saw an opportunity to more effectively coordinate the work of these stakeholders. Hallock began tackling this challenge over the summer as a Bloomberg Harvard fellow in Manchester. “The operational challenges demonstrated the need for more effective cross-sector collaboration to break down silos,” said Hallock, who spent the summer researching the feasibility of implementing a crosssectoral dashboard to track and coordinate homelessness services throughout the city. “Everyone has their own assessment, and everyone has their own approach, and what is hard to see is that, if they coordinated these, it might be better than anything they had before,” Hallock offered.
Another field lab student, Allen Lien, also received support from the Bloomberg Harvard program to continue his work in Manchester over the summer. Lien is a medical doctor who worked in sub-Saharan Africa before moving to Boston to pursue a doctorate in public health. He spent much of his summer examining why Manchester’s public schools had seen a spike in the number of homeless students enrolled, as have many communities across the state. “I wanted to understand why this number is growing and what kinds of services could be integrated in the existing school system so that we can better serve these students and their extended families,” said Lien. He focused on interviewing school nurses and social workers to understand if increased coordination of services would help better identify families who might be at risk of falling into homelessness.
For both Hallock and Lien, the experience working in Manchester with Craig and her team has been a capstone of their time at Harvard. Though neither of them is a stranger to working with government bureaucracy, they both marveled at how Craig and her staff opened the doors of city hall to them and invited them to be a part of her efforts to address homelessness in Manchester. “We were allowed to reach as far up and down in the ranks of government as we needed,” recalled Hallock. “And that was a very cool experience.”
* * *
Craig has made the most of the yearlong mayoral program by breaking down negotiation techniques with Harvard faculty, bouncing ideas for the regional airport off of other mayors, and workshopping how she communicates with the public and with her staff. And, her participation in the program has given her office, a hardworking staff of just three people, additional insight into how to address some of Manchester’s most intractable problems.
Reflecting on her year with the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, Craig said, “The relationships that I’ve formed, not only with the mayors, but with the staff from Harvard and from Bloomberg, have been instrumental in how we have changed and operated in this office.”
For the students and faculty who have worked with and gotten to know this reluctant politician, Craig and her work in Manchester have left a lasting impression. “Everywhere we go in Manchester, people of all walks of life come over to hug her. She is beloved and it’s clear why: she loves the city and everyone there,” observed Bilmes. For the initiative’s next mayoral cohort, she’s left some big shoes to fill.
By Anna Burgess and Dan Harsha