Rick Morse is a School of Government faculty member
One of my primary research interests is the emerging practice of collaborative governance. I have recently blogged about some of my own research on the topic and am happy here to recommend an excellent book I have recently read. Professor Carmen Sirianni (Brandeis University) recently published Investing in Democracy: Engaging Citizens in Collaborative Governance (2009, Brookings Institution Press), an engaging book that captures the many interweaving facets of collaborative governance and brings the concepts to life with three richly drawn case studies. This book will be of interest to a wide variety of people, including community development practitioners.
Sirianni’s contribution to the growing literature on collaborative governance is two-fold. First, he masterfully integrates several related streams of literature into eight “core principles of collaborative governance and policy design.” The eight principles (discussed in the book’s second chapter) are:
- Co-produce public goods
- Mobilize community assets
- Share professional expertise
- Enable public deliberation
- Promote sustainable partnerships
- Build fields and governance networks strategically
- Transform institutional cultures
- Ensure reciprocal accountability
The principles are not meant to be seen as a checklist–not “all inclusive, or all-or-nothing,” but rather “represent a selective menu whose various combinations might be relevant for some governance and policy problems but not for others” (p. 41). What is most helpful about the distillation of principles in this manner is how the many different aspects of collaborative governance are brought together. Collaborative governance encompasses inter-agency collaboration, multi-sector partnerships, and civic (or stakeholder) engagement. Too often these practices are considered in isolation when, in fact, they all represent different dimensions of collaborative governance. Sirianni’s articulation of core principles is a huge contribution of itself.
The book has much more to offer though. Moving from the conceptual to the actual, the majority of the book discusses–in great depth–three cases of collaborative governance in the U.S. that illustrate the eight principles in practice. Here the ideas are brought to life in the stories of Seattle’s innovative efforts around neighborhood empowerment, Hampton, Virginia’s efforts around youth civic engagement, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) shift away from “command and control” toward a more collaborative approach to working with communities.
The Seattle case examines the city’s many interrelated programs designed to empower neighborhoods, including a system of district councils (that bring together neighborhood and city governance), neighborhood planning efforts, matching fund program, and community gardens. Taken together, the programs illustrate how the city as a formal institution can proactively design processes and structures that correspond with each of the collaborative governance principles. The empowerment and collaboration has yielded not only significant community development outcomes in the neighborhoods, but also a transformation of the city government’s organizational culture. The Seattle case also demonstrates how community development can be bottom-up and top-down simultaneously.
The Hamtpon, Virginia case underscores the value of including a vastly under-utilized community asset: youth. All too often communities plan for and on behalf of youth, but fail to engage them in those processes. The Hampton case is particularly noteworthy because it goes beyond isolated examples of involving youth and illustrates how community institutions (government, schools) built an “institutional scaffolding for engaged youth.” A formal youth commission, youth planning program (in the city planning department), principal’s and superintendents advisory groups, and a partnership with a local non-profit work together to provide “many institutional components and structured pathways for youth leadership” in the community (p. 152).
The EPA example takes us from the local to national level and demonstrates that collaboration and collaborative governance are applicable at a much broader level. Even an agency that has long been defined by “a relatively clear regulatory paradigm of command and control” can be transformed to be seen as an innovator in collaborative governance (p. 155). Watershed protection is a prime example of boundary-spanning, “wicked” problems that necessitate collaborative approaches. Over the years the agency has experimented with and developed several mutually-supportive programs that have enabled “ordinary citizens to share in the core work of generating the usable knowledge needed for active protection and restoration of watersheds” (p. 183). The EPA has also developed a model of “community-based environmental protection” that integrates multiple agencies, levels of government, and sectors.
A short blog post cannot do justice to the richness of the cases and the wealth of insights available in this book. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in collaborative governance, both from an academic perspective as well (and perhaps most importantly) as from a practitioner’s point of view. There is much still to learn about how to best design collaborative governance processes and structures to solve public problems and create public value in communities and regions. This book represents an important leap forward though.