Developing a Program to Improve Cooperation Among Federal, State and Local Leaders When Responding to Natural and Man-Made Disasters

Dates of Project: 2006–2011

Field of Work: Training leaders in meta-leadership for disaster preparedness

Problem Synopsis: There is an urgent national need to improve cooperation and connectivity among the government, business and nonprofit sectors to prepare for, and respond to, natural and man-made disasters. The concept of meta-leadership has emerged as a way for leaders to engage in cross-agency strategic thinking and collaboration.

“Government cannot do it alone. In disaster situations, businesses, philanthropies, nonprofits and safety net organizations all are doing what they think needs to happen to be helpful. But when you are not doing it in a coordinated way, you get in each other’s way. You end up with truckloads of donated items that are not what a community needs.”—Charles Stokes, President and CEO of the CDC Foundation

Synopsis of the Work: From 2007 to 2011, the program team conducted 36 Meta-Leadership Summits for Preparedness across the United States, targeting the largest cities and regions. The summits brought together leaders to learn critical problem-solving skills and build organizational connections to strengthen preparedness for responding to emergencies.

Key Results

Some 5,000 business, government and nonprofit leaders were trained in meta-leadership concepts through one-day summits. Most summit sites engaged in post-summit activities, focused on networking, resource sharing, communication, discussion-based exercise or training.

Evaluation Findings

Evaluators surveyed summit participants and conducted case study interviews. They found that most participants reported they valued the summits highly, had applied lessons from the summit to their work within the last six months, and had established connections that allowed them to call on organizations within and outside their sector. Among survey respondents that had experienced a crisis or stress event subsequent to the summit, a majority reported concrete, positive results from applying concepts from the summit.

Case study participants said a major barrier to continued application of meta-leadership was lack of follow-up. Overall, case study participants did not feel that the summits had a lasting impact on preparedness in their communities, although many felt better equipped personally to reach out to others in a crisis.

“During Irene, I had no time to stop and reflect on what I was doing and the reasoning behind why I was doing it. In the aftermath, I was able to see the clear alignment between my actions and those principles taught at the meta-leadership summit.”—John Maguire, Emergency Operations Center (EOC) Manager for the Nassau County Office of Emergency Management (OEM).