You may have noticed that public, private, and NGO sector leaders and legislators often struggle to overcome differences and reach a consensus regarding important public policy. Unfortunately, that division and discord has become increasingly more commonplace in our world.
But, progress does happen. In the Pacific Northwest, for example, contentious issues have been tackled through collaborative processes, methods, and tools. A few highlights include:
- Protecting environmental resources on farmland, while also preserving agriculture;
- Advancing the use of wood-based jet fuel by overcoming technical, economic, and environmental obstacles;
- Preventing flooding while restoring salmon in the Chehalis Basin;
- Creating consensus on residential options for the developmentally disabled;
- Removing PCBs and other toxins from the Spokane River; and
- Helping the State of Washington form a planning “road map” to reach its desired future.
The William D. Ruckelshaus Center has been behind these successes. In 2004, it was formed as a partnership between Washington State University (WSU) and the University of Washington (UW) to address public policy problems that are resistant to resolution through traditional policy-making processes, cost communities and institutions untold resources, and limit the ability to achieve an agenda.
Key Steps to Fostering Collaboration and Reaching Agreement
In the 15 years since the Ruckelshaus Center began, it has become a trusted third-party facilitator and mediator. The Center uses a toolkit for alternative dispute resolution and collaborative governance and draws on the impressive knowledge and resources available at its partnering universities to help diverse interests come together to create a consensus to the challenges they share. Although the Pacific Northwest is one of the pioneering regions for collaborative governance, the process has spread across the U.S. and into other countries and led to many successes. It is becoming the emerging framework for public policy and governance. This process involves the following key stages:
- Consultation—Is a collaborative approach worth exploring?
- Assessment—Are circumstances right? And if so, how should the process be structured?
- Process Design—Applying the assessment to design a fair and productive process.
- Capacity Building—Ensuring individuals and organizations are prepared to participate in a collaborative process.
- Information Base—Establishing a set of shared facts needed to reach an agreement.
- Facilitation/Management—Enabling groups to be more effective and reach an agreement.
- Implementation—Implementing the agreement(s), which includes monitoring, evaluation, and adaptive management.
While the Ruckelshaus Center works diligently to create solutions to complex public policy challenges, it also works to inspire the public through its two marquee events. Each year in the spring, it hosts the Statespersonship Luncheon in partnership with the Slade Gorton International Policy Center. The event welcomes former and current political leaders as they discuss their experience and opinions on what it means to lead as a statesman or stateswoman. The Ruckelshaus Center also hosts its annual Chairman’s Circle Luncheon, which is a means to express its gratitude to its most dedicated supporters, members of its Chairman’s Circle of donors, and as a forum of knowledge for the public on topics relevant to the Center’s mission such as collaborative leadership, bipartisanship, civil discourse, and participatory democracy. Over the years, the event has featured noteworthy authors, politicians, journalists, and political analysts, from former US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice to former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and NPR’s award-winning journalist and host, Robert Siegel.
Ways to Get Involved
No matter what side of the aisle you support, we understand that seeing leaders and legislators unable to come to a consensus is frustrating. Here’s how you can drive progress toward solutions:
- If you know of a complex policy issue that needs solving, contact us.
- Learn more about collaborative governance as a means to creating solutions for divisive issues.
- Invest in the research and projects of the William D. Ruckelshaus Center.
- If you’re looking for resources beyond the Pacific Northwest, check out the University Network for Collaborative Governance, the Association for Conflict Resolution’s Environment and Public Policy Section, and the National Coalition for Deliberation and Dialogue.
Original contribution by Michael Kern, Director at the William D. Ruckelshaus Center.
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