Sowing the Seeds of Collaborative Governance


Sowing the Seeds of Collaborative Governance: Palma Strand, Creighton Law School
The University Network for Collaborative Governance (UNCG) convened for the third time early this summer.  UNCG consists of university departments and centers that seek to promote awareness of, teach skills for, and facilitate the practice of collaborative governance—the process of public, private, non-profit sectors and communities jointly addressing public issues.
The Werner Institute is the sole Midwest representative of this 25-member group, which is made up of institutions located mostly in the Pacific, Mountain, and Eastern time zones.  My colleague Mary Lee Brock and I attended the June meeting, held in Portland, Oregon.
Just being in Portland was a treat.  The city has gracious public spaces, convenient (and subsidized) public transportation, and a casual but not un-serious feel to it. Add to that a day spent seeing the sights (including Mt. Hood on a clear June day from the Rose Garden), and you have a most appealing combination.   Even the infamous Oregon rain was gentle and friendly!
At the conference, we heard from UNCG members and also Portland-area luminaries such as Congressman Earl Blumenauer and Dean Larry Wallack of host Portland State University.  Comments about making cities bike-friendly mixed with insights on how to build community.
Lest you fear that I have somehow been derailed, this travelogue on Portland relates to something the conference really brought home to me:  Collaborative governance is place- and context-specific.  
In Portland, political leaders, environmentalists, and farmers came together in the 1970’s and created an urban growth boundary to control sprawl and protect farmland.  That consensus shaped the physical city today.  
Similarly, the way that decision was made led Portland to collaborative governance—with strong support by public officials.
The paths UNCG members have traveled to arrive at collaborative governance are markedly different.  
Some work in regions in which collaboration offers promising ways to move forward, though with political dynamics that are markedly different and often less hospitable than Portland’s.
Some hail from environmental work, where collaborative decision-making has proven especially useful.  
Some were commissioned to offer governmental bodies—especially at the state and local levels—the very best tools available for policymaking and policy implementation, and they have noted and responded to the emergence of collaboration as one of those tools.
Others come from dispute resolution and have seen that working together before the fact can prevent disputes after the fact.
Still others seek to strengthen the voice of individual citizens or marginalized communities and have found non-adversarial approaches useful in doing so.
All of these UNCG members have been working to establish shared definitions and goals, and the Network has now turned to principles and values.
Important as the similarities are, the differences are just as important.  UNCG itself proves that collaborative governance is not a one-size-fits-all template.
The challenge for UNCG now is to spread the word about collaborative governance while making clear that this is one seed that can—and should—sprout very differently from time to time and place to place.



Palma J. Strand, Creighton Law

Associate Professor Palma J. Strand has a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Stanford University, a J.D. from Stanford Law School, and an LL.M. from Georgetown University Law Center. Prof. Strand clerked for Judge J. Skelly Wright on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and for Justice Byron R. White on the United States Supreme Court. She most recently has been an Adjunct Professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, and previously was an Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland. Prof. Strand was a Hewlett Fellow in Alternative Dispute Resolution and Legal Problem-Solving at the Georgetown University Law Center from 2002-2004. She was also the co-founder and principal of the Arlington Forum, a civic organizing initiative based in Arlington, Virginia, that worked with community institutions to broaden and deepen civic engagement in the area of schools, land use, youth, and government processes generally.

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