Comments? Click here.

Build local government capacity

Build local government capacity

Local governments play an essential role in developing and implementing community goals for the future. Cumulatively, such choices shape quality of life for all residents, help our economy thrive, and determine whether additional regional goals are met. Thus, municipalities and other local governments are the front line for implementing ON TO 2050 through local plans, regulations, infrastructure investments, programs, and services. Many of these groups act with limited staff and funds, however, or may not have the knowledge, training, or technical resources to achieve their goals and support a favorable quality of life. Leaders throughout the region should champion efforts to build local capacity that helps municipal staff and officials, community organizations, nonprofits, and others to govern their vital day-to-day decisions. Efforts to build capacity are broad and range from training and building technical knowledge, to ensuring sustainable funding, to networking and enhancing partnerships to share resources.


Training for staff as well as elected and appointed officials has significant benefits. Local planning and governance are increasingly challenged by fiscal and staffing constraints, which require strengthening public services even while reducing their costs. Capacity building trainings can help stretch local governments' resources by enhancing expertise despite dwindling staff and increasing responsibilities. While many of the professional organizations present in the region do an excellent job providing continuing education for existing staff and specialists, new staff or newly elected or appointed officials need opportunities to learn about fundamentals and best practices. This is most critical for issues such as municipal operations, public administration, planning topics, and economic development.


Some local governments are not able to offer or fund ongoing trainings, which is especially challenging due to frequent turnover of elected and appointed officials. See the Draft ON TO 2050 Indicators Appendix for an indicator to track the percentage of municipalities within the region that arrange for training of their appointed officials is under development, beginning with baseline data established via CMAP’s 2018 Municipal Plans, Programs, and Operations Survey.


It is often a challenge for municipalities -- especially those without adequate staffing -- to allocate resources for special projects, plan implementation, and other capacity building activities. In such cases, they may require targeted assistance to build new processes and grow available resources. ON TO 2050 implementation will require technical assistance and strategies for building capacity, with a focus on each community’s need for expertise and systems that promote resilience and growth.


Building capacity in the communities of northeastern Illinois will help improve local quality of life and create greater economic opportunity. For this reason, efforts to strengthen EDAs and disinvested areas are especially important to support inclusive growth, which will benefit those communities and the regional economy as a whole.


Other implementers also provide important technical assistance that builds capacity. Some counties, for instance, take an active role in municipalities with less capacity. The Invest in Cook program provides technical and financial assistance for local projects in disinvested areas that align with the county's long-range transportation plan. It takes a coordinated approach by identifying performance-based transportation investment opportunities, then leveraging Cook County government to help local governments and ensure successful implementation. This approach can be replicated by other counties for high-priority infrastructure projects in lower capacity municipalities and for coordination of projects spanning multiple jurisdictions.


The following describes strategies and associated actions to implement this recommendation.

Build on successes of the Local Technical Assistance (LTA) program

Currently, CMAP’s LTA program provides technical assistance to local governments, nonprofits, and intergovernmental organizations to address local issues at the intersection of transportation, land use, and housing and advance the principles of the region’s comprehensive plan. Since its creation in 2011, the program has completed nearly 200 projects, including comprehensive plans, neighborhood plans, bicycle and pedestrian plans, parking management studies, ordinance updates, and sustainability plans. Augmenting current LTA approaches with greater attention to capacity building activities will help project partners achieve local plan goals and implement ON TO 2050 recommendations. In particular, communities with lower capacity may need assistance beyond what CMAP currently offers.


To help lower capacity communities remove barriers to implementation of local and regional goals, CMAP can leverage LTA resources and partnerships. For example, many local governments lack connections with critical nonprofit, government, and private sector implementers that have relevant expertise, authorities, and other required resources. Yet making these connections can strengthen planning efforts, establish enduring partnerships, and help ensure implementation. Trainings, workshops, and other follow-up assistance can also support implementation by familiarizing plan partners with key objectives and clarifying the roles of staff and officials for specific actions.


Without clear guidance and assistance from CMAP, ON TO 2050 will not be implemented by local governments. Providing materials that clearly communicate the local applicability and implementation potential of ON TO 2050 recommendations will help develop local expertise while advancing regional goals. Such guidance may, in part, be built from ON TO 2050’s Local Strategy Maps, which translate the plan’s broad regional recommendations into community-level actions. For example, the Regional Urban Flooding Susceptibility Index illustrates areas at higher risk of flooding in the region, but communities may need guidance on how to incorporate it into local planning efforts. MPOs in other regions have created programs to help partners implement regional plan goals at the local level, assisting municipalities in the short term while building long-term capacity.[1]


CMAP should build implementation-focused workshops and trainings into LTA projects and strengthen partner connections to critical implementers during each local planning process to build capacity and prepare communities to accomplish their goals.


CMAP and partners should continue to provide technical assistance to lower capacity communities, and develop new ways to build their capacity over time.


CMAP should coordinate with partners to provide supplemental planning staff for local governments with limited or no planning staff to help with program activities determined in consultation with each municipality, after determining their priorities and needs.


CMAP should partner with other entities such as professional organizations, universities, and civic organizations that can access and provide professional expertise to assist with the full set of resources required to build capacity, such as legal, accounting, and finance advisement necessary for consolidations and certain intergovernmental agreements.


CMAP should create topical ON TO 2050 implementation guidance materials and pair them with trainings and workshops for local government staff and officials.

Build municipal, nonprofit, and private sector capacity

Addressing the myriad of challenges in disinvested communities requires concentrated, comprehensive resources. While investment and assistance from state and regional entities are critical to forge a new path for disinvested communities, building the capacity of communities, institutions, businesses, and residents of disinvested areas can sustain long lasting change. Lack of staff, funding, technical knowledge, and other resources can limit the ability of municipalities with a high proportion of disinvested areas to interrupt the cycle of disinvestment or meet their economic and quality of life goals.


Capacity building is also required for the private sector. Small businesses in low market areas could benefit from education on and connections to educational and financial resources. Creating a pipeline of local developers and business owners is also important. Beyond large scale, national firms, few developers have the requisite combination of skill, interest, and capacity to build projects in disinvested areas. Given this, the region needs more programs like the Chicago Urban League’s Chicago Contractor Development Program (CCD) or the Community Housing Development Organization (CHDO) set-aside in the HOME Program to grow and strengthen small-scale developers and contractors.[2] Many mission-driven affordable housing developers -- like Preservation for Affordable Housing (POAH) or Hispanic Housing Development Corporation -- also provide capacity-building opportunities for smaller firms by intentionally including emerging firms and subcontractors in their projects. This strategy also appears in the Community chapter, under the recommendation to Invest in disinvested areas.


CMAP and partners like the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago should work to bring banks and lending institutions together with municipalities to ensure that weak market communities have access to capital and financial services that support economic development.


Local governments should build relationships with financial institutions to access the resources they provide under the CRA.


Local governments should build their expertise about available capital and financial resources, develop a plan to attract those resources, and help businesses and residents to apply for these resources.


CDCs, nonprofit housing developers, and larger municipalities should progressively employ and cultivate smaller scale, minority and women-owned businesses to build their capacity.


Foundations and advocacy groups should continue to explore grants and other funding opportunities to help small-scale developers bridge funding gaps.


CMAP and partners should target technical assistance, trainings, and other assistance to municipalities in low income or low market areas.

Provide professional development opportunities that increase the capacity of staff and officials

Training and professional development for local government officials and staff is critical for attaining local and regional goals. Given the time constraints of public service and personal lives, local government staff and officials often do not allot time and resources for professional development. Yet those who do regularly engage in continuing education are more familiar with best practices and more capable of providing and improving services. Training can be costly, but there are many strategies to provide effective training with limited resources. Training jointly based on geographic proximity or shared interests can reduce costs by using existing frameworks or gaining economies of scale. For example, if one county has a successful leadership training program for internal purposes, it could be expanded to include other local governments. Networking with peers is also important for sharing successful strategies, strengthening relationships that lead to partnerships, and leveraging conversations to improve communities.[3] 


CMAP should collaborate with partners such as the Illinois Municipal League, COGs, the National League of Cities, and professional organizations to ensure ON TO 2050 topics are included in trainings for elected and appointed officials.  


CMAP, MPC, and MMC should perform an inventory of available trainings relevant to local governments, identify topical or geographic gaps in coverage, and regularly engage training providers to collaborate and broaden networks of potential attendees.


Local governments should regularly schedule trainings for staff and officials, and seek to train jointly with other governments.


Local governments should create professional development plans for staff and officials and support completion of relevant training.


COGs and counties should engage community colleges to provide input on continuing education programs that serve the needs of government employees.


Counties should evaluate the potential to include municipalities and other local governments in their training initiatives or provide those trainings on a fee for service basis.


CMAP, MMC, COGs, and partners should encourage peer networking and host events that allow local government staff to coordinate efforts to achieve common objectives.


[1] For examples, see: Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, “Municipal Outreach Program,”

[2] Chicago Urban League, “Chicago Contractor Development Program,” 2016,

[3] For more information on networking in other regions, see Mid-America Regional Council, “Local Government Services,” and Delaware Regional Planning Commission, “Strategies for Older Suburbs Roundtable Series,”

To Top


Return to Draft Plan Home