Democratic Skill Building and Shared Responsibility

Though much of what we have discussed in this chapter relies upon the collaborative platform and the public sector participants to monitor and steward their legal obligations, the practice of collaborative governance is much more likely to be constitutionally and democratically sound if the collaborative group itself develops what Vera Vogelsang-Coombs calls a “democratic group dynamic” (91). As Stephanie Newbold put it in the context of public administration, “leaders must have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to create an organizational culture that recognizes the central role of the law and democratic-constitutional norms and values in public service” (20).

In practice, democratic group dynamics and democratic skill-building have tremendous overlap with the definitional norms set forth in chapter 1. If the collaborative governance process meets the definitional norms of public purpose, cross-boundary participation, representativeness, inclusiveness and belonging, shared authority and power balancing, and deliberativeness, it is much more likely to spread the responsibility for constitutional and democratic awareness across the collaborative governance group.

In addition to those definitional norms, participants in collaborative governance groups are obliged to take individual responsibility for ensuring that the collaborative governance process does not just serve their particular interests but that it is compatible with underlying constitutional values (Fredrickson 409). That may go so far as keeping a constitutional perspective when boundaries between the public interest and private interest start to blur or when the separation of powers becomes compromised (Newbold 15). It may also extend to ensuring that all the affected interests are well-represented when making public decisions or considering collective action.

In that sense, we recognize that collaborative governance processes require more from government agencies, civil society participants, private-sector representatives, and the public itself than most of the well-established processes embedded in traditional governance. By asking citizens across a variety of interests and roles to meet face-to-face to problem-solve in service of the public good, the responsibility for both addressing important public issues and protecting democratic values belongs to everyone involved.

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