The Center pursues four major themes in its work.
First, it examines the nature of innovation in local governmental and the process of diffusion of innovation across the local government sector. The Center identifies new practices, examines patterns of adoption by local governments, and investigates the factors related to innovation. It is developing new approaches to training designed to promote innovation in local government organizations.
Second, the Center is interested in local government change and emerging approaches to establishing and carrying out social goals. A key factor that shapes the work of local government is the formal structure of government. Unlike most countries, the United States uses two major constitutional models for organizing local government reflected in different forms of government, and research is being conducted on the changing distribution in the use of these forms and their relationship to governmental innovation and other aspects of performance. In addition to the interest in formal structure within individual governments, the Center examines “new governance” that involves increased interaction across governmental jurisdictions and national boundaries, joint activities between the public, nonprofit, and business sectors, and expanded engagement of citizens in policy making and service delivery.
Third, the Center is interested in alternative approaches to leadership by elected officials and administrators. Leadership is central to the process of innovation, and research on individual behavior complements the interest in institutions. The research demonstrates that different models of leadership are appropriate to different governmental structures as to traditional and emerging institutional arrangements.
Fourth, the Center is concerned with values in local government. The normative implications of local government change are examined, and projects focus on topics related to ethics and social equity. There is a special interest in sustainability both as an example of governmental innovation and also as a newly emerging normative commitment of local governments.