teaching cases

A Task Force with Teeth?
Driving City Performance in Lawrence, Mass.

by Jorrit de Jong, Lisa Cox, and Alex Green


After taking office, Mayor Daniel Rivera creates a new task force to combat blight in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Although blight was not on Rivera’s campaign agenda, he soon realizes that the issue is worth his attention. The issue of blight and distressed properties is complex and far-reaching, having to do with his city’s public health and safety, inequality, and real estate prices. Although Rivera feels he has little flexibility to change staffing levels on a short-term basis, he endeavors to motivate the team members he has. But creating a task force from entrenched groups poses challenges. Effecting change is slow, and Rivera often feels the task force is not making a dent in the problem. The case describes a data tracker for collecting information on distressed properties from disparate sources, and the tracker includes over 40 input fields.

This case allows participants to understand how such a tool is developed, but pushes them even further to understand how to use data to address pressing problems once the data is collected. An accompanying teaching note includes theory and conceptual frameworks to lead classroom discussion on the case.

Thanks to a gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies, no permission is required to teach with, download, or make copies of this case.

Learning objectives:

The overarching learning objective of this case is to help leaders and practitioners examine the challenges of building capabilities for problem-oriented government action.

More specifically, participants have the opportunity to learn the following:

  1. How to diagnose a problem.

  2. How to identify the data required to address a problem.

  3. How to identify the type of collaboration required to address a problem.

  4. How to define the role of leadership in driving performance, leading change, holding people accountable, and motivating collaborators.

  5. How to identify challenges in problem-oriented work in a large and complex government bureaucracy.

Cases were traditionally designed primarily for professors and practiced case teachers. This case, however, is accompanied both by a conventional academic teaching note, or educator guide, and by a “conversation note,” a practitioner guide that enables a much wider range of people working in—and with—cities to quickly spur insightful discussions and engage in illuminating conversations with their colleagues.