What I learned at ICMA

An ICMA intern shares what she learned about local government in America, especially in comparison to her native Germany.

BLOG POST | Apr 13, 2018

by Galina Maerker, ICMA Intern 

In this blog post, I would like to share the experiences I gained during my three-month internship as part of the Research and Policy (RAP) team at ICMA.

First of all, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Galina Maerker, and I am from Mannheim, Germany. Currently, I am studying public management at the University of Applied Science – Public Administration and Finances in Ludwigsburg, Germany. As this is a dual course, I am already a civil servant of Baden-Württemberg, Germany, during my studies. The structure of this study program is divided into different parts. All in all, students spend two years at the university where we acquire the theoretical principles necessary for working in local government. In the remaining two years, we complete internships in different departments related to public administration.

This structure provides a perfect mixture of theoretical and practical experiences so we will be optimally prepared for our future work in local government administration. During the practical phase, we have the opportunity to expand our personal and professional horizons through an internship abroad. ICMA has made this practical phase possible for me.

During my internship, I am part of the RAP team. I have already learned a lot about the organizational structure of ICMA and its collaboration with local governments in national and international settings. In the first two weeks, I attended different training sessions to become familiar with ICMA’s working methods and its high ethical standards. Most importantly, I learned about the great importance of ICMA’s Code of Conduct, which covers binding operational principles for staff members. I also attend various joint meetings, including the bi-weekly team meeting, the RAP team budget meeting, and the ICMA-US all-staff meeting. Thus, I have gained interesting insights into the team’s functioning and its various responsibilities within the association.

My daily tasks mainly consist of research on international smart city case studies and ICMA’s Municipal Form of Government Survey. Since ICMA already examined U.S. smart city projects in cooperation with ICMA Strategic Partners Siemens and SAS, my task was to find comparable projects all over the world. I recognize that local governments around the globe use advanced information and communication technologies to deal with challenges that public administrators must confront. My own research resulted in a list that included a wide variety of projects: smart streetlighting, increased energy savings, safety with parking guidance systems, and bike sharing to avoid congestion and pollution. In my opinion, one of the most impressive projects is 22@Barcelona, which aims to transform a complete former industrial area into an innovative and intelligently connected place to live and work.

As already mentioned, I am also supporting the team and working with ICMA’s Municipal Form of Government Survey. In this context, I research missing information on specific forms of local government for ICMA's database. Including both county and municipal governments, there are eight possible forms of government a community could choose. For communities in the U.S., deciding on which form depends on the state and its specific legal situation. In comparison, in Germany, we basically have only one form, the mayor-council form. Although these governmental systems in the U.S. and Germany are completely different, my prior knowledge about local governments was of great use for this task, and I have been able to learn a lot more about the American system and the functioning of local governments.

I am really enjoying my time at ICMA as it changed my perspective from being a public servant to working together with and for local governments. I also took the chance to attend different webinars and technical trainings, which have perfectly completed my wonderful experiences. Introducing innovative and more sustainable leadership styles to local governments enriched my personal and professional knowledge. Hopefully, I can bring ICMA’s message of “creating and sustaining thriving communities throughout the world” to Germany.

What is even more important, I have met so many wonderful people who are making my stay in the U.S. as unique as it is. Thanks to all the people who made this experience so special and including me in fun things like cheering the basketball teams at March Madness, celebrating together with the authentic Elvis imitation at a staff person's retirement party, or attending ICMA’s unique chili contest – only to name a few of them! I will always have good memories of my time at ICMA, and Washington, D.C. already has a special place in my heart! 

Related Resources 

New Hampshire Students Learn the Ins and Outs of City Management Amid Snowstorm. This 2018 blog post tells the story of one ICMA student chapter that witnessed first hand how city management works. 

How Two Management Fellows Experienced the ICMA International Summit in the Dominican Republic. In 2017, two of ICMA's Management Fellows were able to experience ICMA's International Summit and shared what they had learned in this blog post. 

9 Mentoring Tips for the Local Government Mentee. This 2018 post gives you ideas on how to maximize working with a mentor. 



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