Bridgebuilders: How Government Can Transcend Boundaries to Solve Big Problems

Bridgebuilders: How Government Can Transcend Boundaries to Solve Big Problems – a Discussion with William D. Eggers


The USC Price School’s Center on Philanthropy & Public Policy and Bedrosian Center on Governance hosted William D. Eggers, executive director of the Deloitte Center for Government Insights, to talk about his book Bridgebuilders drawn from insights about public-private partnerships. Co-authored with public management and policy scholar Donald F. Kettl, Bridgebuilders presents innovative methods for transforming how government agencies can join with private enterprise, philanthropy and the nonprofit sector to address urgent challenges such as climate change, pandemics, disaster relief, homelessness and refugee resettlement.

“Bill and Don shine a light on the inherent challenges in public policy today,” said Price Dean and C. Erwin & Ione L. Piper Chair Dana Goldman in his welcoming remarks. “How do you take ideas to solve enduring problems and actually translate them into demonstrable results and solutions?” In Bridgebuilders, Goldman added, the authors “capture a truth that is all too evident but seldom fully realized – that to do so there is a need to work across sectors.”

“Public-private partnerships are not new, but they are more frequent,” noted James M. Ferris – the Emery Evans Olson Chair in Nonprofit Entrepreneurship and Public Policy at USC Price and director of the Center on Philanthropy & Public Policy – while introducing Eggers. Also, Ferris emphasized, “they are more complex and complicated than … most people think.”

Eggers began his talk by reflecting on his own commitment to bridging the public and private sectors, including his work with educators in bringing government closer to business and philanthropy. “USC probably does this better than any other school in the country,” Eggers observed, adding that the school provided “an incredible model” for other institutions to follow.

Citing examples including misguided 19th century English red-flag laws restricting automobile travel and baseball scouts ignoring gifted players because they lacked the “right look,” Eggers addressed the importance of moving beyond outmoded or inaccurate ways of thinking to facilitate progress. “Because if your mental model is flawed,” he said, “it obscures the ability to really see a lot of the possibilities.”

Opening up new ways of thinking so novel approaches can be turned into positive action is at the heart of Bridgebuilders, Eggers explained. “We wrote this book because we really wanted to provide a new vision of governance in the 21st century that reflects how government actually operates today,” he said. “And at the core of our proposition is that no single problem that matters anymore can be solved by a single organization.”

Achieving solutions therefore demands what Eggers calls a symphony approach, in which diverse entities come together to play “from the same sheet of music.” Ensuring such cohesion requires someone to take on the role of orchestra conductor, according to Eggers—or, citing the book’s title—bridgebuilders who work across boundaries. Among the 10 key principles for those who rise to the challenge are:

  • Knocking down barriers to prevent silos from standing in the way of success
  • Building trustworthy networks of diverse partners
  • Understanding that data is the new language and sharing it is crucial

Ultimately, Eggers sees Bridgebuilders as a call to action. “We profiled dozens of bridgebuilders in this book,” Eggers said. But, he emphasized, “we need millions more … to address our problems and start to have much more effective government working across the sectors.”

Following Eggers remarks, he was engaged in further conversation with Bedrosian Center Senior Fellow Mark Baldassare and Robin Kramer, managing director of the Smidt Foundation. Baldassare asked about trust and how to engage the public in the process of bridgebuilding. Eggers replied that, at the federal or “wholesale” level, “it’s really hard to move the needle because a lot … depends on if your party’s in power or not.” However, at the local, “retail” level, you have more options. For instance, dramatically simplifying consumer interactions with the government online can transform perceptions and instill trust, he explained. Kramer wondered, , and what would it take to do that?”

Answering with optimism that the most popular club in business schools is the social entrepreneurs club, Eggers emphasized the importance of bringing together people interested in real estate, in business and in philanthropy. “USC has done that,” Eggers said. “We just need to do it in a much bigger way.”

The Center on Philanthropy & Public Policy promotes more effective philanthropy and strengthens the nonprofit sector through research that informs philanthropic decision-making and public policy to advance community problem solving. The Center is a part of the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, which works to improve the quality of life for people and their communities, here and abroad.

The Judith and John Bedrosian Center on Governance and the Public Enterprise is dedicated to understanding and fostering effective democratic governance as an essential component in ensuring the betterment of communities within the United States and around the world.

For more information: Please contact Bhanu Anton Cruz, Senior Associate Director, The Center on Philanthropy & Public Policy, at [email protected] or 213-740-1776.