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Playbooks and Silver Linings 2

Published by USC Bedrosian Center on

by Raphael Bostic

Last time, I wrote about the need for “playbooks” to help practitioners in the field advance plans and goals for development and progress.  A question came back: what does a playbook look like?

Thinking about this, two different potential models come to mind.  One model of the playbook is for it to look something like a user’s manual or construction guide.  We have all worked through user guides to set up cable with a new television and followed the instructions in putting together shelving or furniture from a store like IKEA.  While there are occasionally hiccups in the process, we almost always successfully install or build the product.  The step-by-step instruction approach embodied in manuals or guides is designed to allow non-technical people to complete a task without having to have a lot of technical knowledge. It is an optimal strategy in situations where the process is fairly routinized and the building blocks are easy to produce and identify.

A second model emerges from the sports world, where teams have documents that are actually called playbooks.  A team playbook includes a list of all the plays a team might use during the course of a game.  The playbook can include plays for offense or defense. It includes many plays, some of which are only best used in very specific situations. And it includes the assignments each player is to fulfill during the play, so that a team can work as a coordinated body to reach a unified goal.  The value of a team playbook is that it becomes a canon for the team and ensures that everyone is on the same page at all times.

Economic development, and policy in general, doesn’t neatly fit either of these models.  ED strategies are rarely one-size-fits-all, and so it is difficult to identify a “routine” that will always work.  In addition, the necessary preconditions for success are not agreed upon and are sometimes difficult to determine.  So the user manual type playbook can be hard to produce.  Similarly, the team playbook is problematic in that there is rarely a “canon” of economic development that includes each and every policy that might be pursued along with the specific assignments that each player should be fulfilling.  Local context means that roles might be more fluid across people and institutions, and that adjustments could be necessary.

The problems with perfectly applying either playbook model notwithstanding, I do think there is value in trying to develop each in some form.  User guides, even if for products or outcomes that are only similar to the ones being sought, can be instructive and at a minimum can highlight some parameters that practitioners need to consider when trying to craft their own effective strategy.  And given that a team playbook would represent something of a policy “holy grail” – allowing individual policy makers or a policy-making body to get together and map out a coherent, coordinated strategy – putting together something that even approximates this would undoubtedly add value.

The question we face is what policy contexts are conducive to the creation of either model.  Along with faculty colleagues here, I am working to develop something like a team playbook for the local provision of some services.  But this cannot be the only area where this can work.  Suggestions?

Bedrosian Center