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Bush School Capstone Researches College Station’s Contracting Practices

January 16, 2009

Capstone studentsThe City of College Station provides funds for local nonprofit agencies through the Outside Agency Funding Program. The nonprofit agencies and programs funded are selected because they substantially increase the amount of services provided to the citizenry, and their services are not typically provided by City employees. Examples of the City’s nonprofit collaborations include the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, the Research Valley Partnership, and Keep Brazos Beautiful. Over the last few years, the City has worked to streamline the application, selection, and monitoring processes of the Outside Agency Funding Program, but recently decided to limit its funding of outside agencies. At the same time, the City decided to ascertain whether its current nonprofit funding program compared favorably with nonprofit programs in other university towns of similar size and asked the Bush School to help them make that judgment, using Bush School students and faculty expertise.

Specifically, the Bush School was asked to “benchmark” or compare the City of College Station’s nonprofit funding process to the process used by other cities of similar size to determine nonprofit agency staff and board perceptions of the funding process, determine the outcome or success of the services provided by the program, and provide recommendations about how it might be improved.  Dr. Edwina Dorch and her class took on the assignment as a capstone project. 

At the beginning of the fall semester, the class divided itself into teams. A benchmarking team consulted the Federal Office of Budget’s performance-based contracting guidelines to obtain an appropriate set of benchmarking criteria and selected comparison cities based on the size and ethnic demographics of their student and non-student populations. In the spring, this same team will review the City’s budget and conduct telephone surveys of staff in the contract sections of the comparison cities to determine if they regularly engage in best practice quality assurance contracting techniques. At the same time, a second team will conduct site visits to nonprofit agencies funded by the City of College Station to determine staff and board member perceptions about the City’s nonprofit funding process and to gather their views about how these agencies should be evaluated by the City.

This project teaches students the value of several research methods: utilization focused research—accumulating knowledge for its own value—and “democratic” research—providing information useful in government decision making. By engaging both in utilization-focused and democratic research, the professor and the graduate students hope to increase the City’s capacity to compare its contracting practices and its capacity to evaluate future agencies funded by the City.

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