We envision resilient, equitable, and vibrant communities where our local governments and leaders are empowered and equipped to proactively serve the needs of all community members.
Through National Service, CivicSpark contributes to this vision by:
- Building local public sector capacity to address entrenched and emerging issues;
- Serving as a social purpose career accelerator for future leaders; and
- Fostering lasting, authentic community engagement.
What is CivicSpark?
CivicSpark is a Governor’s Initiative AmeriCorps program dedicated to building capacity for local public agencies to address community resilience issues such as climate change, water resource management, housing, and mobility. CivicSpark is a program of CivicWell (formerly the Local Government Commission).
Each year, CivicSpark recruits Fellows to build local public agency capacity for 11 months. During their service year, CivicSpark Fellows implement a needed sustainability and resilience project, while also building long-term capacity to ensure the work is sustained after their service year is completed.
Local public agencies receive dedicated project support from emerging professionals who receive professional development and sector training. Local benefits include:
- Direct support for specific resiliency project needs with defined outcomes.
- Increased capacity for sustainable communities and response community resilience needs.
- A pipeline for future resiliency efforts.
- Stronger State-local partnerships for information and expertise exchange.
- A workforce with local expertise in climate change, energy, water, or social issues.
- Access to affordable resources, resulting in increased capacity and hands-on training.
- Increased volunteerism at the local level.
How does it work?
The CivicSpark program offers a unique opportunity for emerging professionals to gain experience in the sustainability and resilience sectors, gain professional and technical skills, and have a strong statewide network of professionals, all while having a lasting impact on communities. Fellows assist with various levels of project planning and implementation of critical projects on a wide range of topics, including water resources and management, climate adaptation and mitigation, affordable housing, and mobility.
Fellows serve at least 1,700 hours over 11 months with their host agency. CivicSpark Fellows provide capacity-building support to local governments while simultaneously supporting volunteer engagement. This approach offers a unique opportunity to accelerate local community resilience efforts.
CivicSpark project partners provide project oversight and professional development support, which includes identifying a site supervisor who will help the Fellow(s) set project-specific and professional goals. CivicSpark Regional Coordinators conduct monthly Fellow trainings and act as the liaison between the partner and the program.
Our Theory of Change
The well-being of communities relies on their resiliency – the ability of their institutions, infrastructure, and environments to withstand stresses and shocks. A failure of resiliency affects the well-being of individuals and their environments for years to come. Communities across the country are facing major stresses from emerging environmental and socioeconomic threats.
Climate change is affecting all of the US. While states, to varying degrees, recognize that communities are facing significant resiliency challenges in these areas, achieving progress is highly dependent on local government planning and implementation. However, local governments are lagging in efforts to mitigate climate and water risks and are having limited success in preparing to adapt to anticipated changes. Outdated local plans and policies have left many residents with unaffordable housing, limited access to digital infrastructure, and high transportation burdens.
Local government resources are often limited – maintaining the status quo can take up the majority of resources, leaving little capacity or resources to diagnose or respond to emerging opportunities and challenges. These threats are also unprecedented in scale and complexity, which means addressing them requires new knowledge, innovative policy approaches, and more dynamic and responsive solutions, which local governments have a hard time developing or acquiring. Solutions for such complex problems are often best addressed through integrated approaches (e.g. consideration of climate impacts of housing choices) that require strong internal coordination and deep community engagement that is challenging for under-resourced local governments. For all these reasons, persistent capacity gaps among local governments remain a significant factor in the perpetuation—or even exacerbation—of these resilience challenges within communities.
CivicSpark AmeriCorps Fellows working with local governments to implement targeted research, planning, or implementation projects, while simultaneously supporting volunteer engagement, offer a unique way to accelerate local government climate, water, and opportunity access action efforts while contributing to our collective response to these pressing problems.
This model of change leverages the strengths of the AmeriCorps service model to support resilience capacity building for local governments by providing beneficiaries with:
(1) tangible resource or system development outcomes (e.g. reports, inventories, plans, etc.), which provide stakeholders and staff with concrete actionable information and resources they need to increase efficiency, effectiveness, or scale/reach (2) opportunities to engage stakeholders (including volunteers) so that activities completed have broader and longer-term support and (3) direct experience working with new tools and resources to refine existing skills.
In the longer term, CivicSpark Fellow service will support local adoption of policies and programs that reduce environmental (e.g. climate change & water resource) risks or address critical socio-economic threats (e.g. affordable housing & mobility), thereby improving resilience for the community and state as a whole.