The question on the table is how to break institutional silos and bring influential partners together – this is one of the key ingredients needed to create systemic impact in Israel. A few weeks ago, my staff and I visited Tzfat, a city in Northern Israel, which suffers from high poverty levels and high rates of unemployment. When meeting with the Director-General of the municipality, he explained to us how central the JDC Institute for Leadership and Governance has been in assisting the city, through our Forum for Regional Directors of Government Ministries.
He noted that thanks to the Forum’s work with him and Tzfat’s mayor, the Government of Israel approved an important resolution – to establish an inter-ministry committee, led by the Prime Minister’s office, which will prepare a plan to develop and preserve the old city of Tzfat. The plan is to be submitted within 12 months, and $260,000 were allocated by the government for this purpose.
What is the Forum for Regional Directors, and how did it lead to a government decision?
In Israel, the work of most government ministries is divided into regions – North, South, Haifa, Jerusalem, and so on. The Regional Directors of the ministries are very senior civil servants, who report directly to the Director-Generals of their respective ministries. They are uniquely positioned to connect between the national government and the local municipalities, as they are the representatives of the national government who work most closely with the “field”.
However, the Regional Directors don’t have a platform for collaborating with each other. It is therefore important to create opportunities for increased coordination and collaboration, which will make their work more effective, and will increase their ability to make systemic impacts. To address this challenge, a few years ago JDC initiated Forums for Regional Directors. In addition to Regional Directors of government ministries, the Forums include regional representatives of additional government bodies, such as the police, the Israel Antiquities Authority, and more. Presently, there are two operating Forums, in the Northern and Central Regions.
Here is how it works. The Forums meet every few weeks, and each time a different participating ministry hosts the group. The goals:
1. Learning from each other about the major topics and issues the Regional Directors are dealing with, and developing a network for collaboration. Not a given in Israel.
2. Creating Impact. Each Forum chooses a geographic area to focus on, with the goal of creating practical impact. The Forum in the North decided to focus on the city of Tzfat. The Regional Directors became more involved and aware of the city’s challenges, needs and potential, and shared their findings with their ministries at the most senior levels. As a result of this increased interest in Tzfat, the government resolution that I mentioned earlier was drafted and approved, a resolution which will have a significant impact on the region.
The Institute’s role is to convene the forums, facilitate the meetings, identify needs, assist in deciding which topics to focus on, and provide ongoing guidance to the group.
Our government partners see the Forums as critical for advancing the regions, and as part of the Institute’s new contract with the government, I am excited to share that this program will be scaled up very significantly in 2012. Each of the existing two forums, in the North and the Center, will be expanded to include additional participants, and a new Forum is being developed for Jerusalem and the south of Israel.
Most notably, a new National Forum for Regional Directors is being established, which will convene all the regional directors from across the country, in order to address cross-regional issues, form networks, and provide professional development opportunities for the regional directors. In an exciting development, we recently received notice that Amram Kalaji, the Director-General of the Ministry of Interior, has agreed to lead the steering committee of the National Forum. This is very significant because the Ministry of Interior regulates the work of the municipalities, and his involvement will help Regional Directors bridge gaps between the national government and the municipalities.
These programs for Regional Directors and the leadership of Tzfat are a microcosm of what the Institute can achieve when we bring partners together, in order to create systemic change in Israel.
ps – come meet Shoni Goldberger, Regional Director of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, Jerusalem District. Shoni is a steering committee member of the new Regional Forum in Jerusalem. He also recently graduated from the Institute’s Training Program for Senior Civil Servants.