Table of Contents:

Public Involvement

Because collaborative governance concerns itself with public policy and the public good, its impact extends beyond the group represented at the collaborative governance table. As discussed in chapter 6, participants in that core group should consider how best to seek input from the broader public.

This is where the delicate balance between the norms of representativeness and inclusion come into play. Whether it is for agreement-seeking or collective action, decisions made in a collaborative governance process will affect the general public. Consequently, the public should be informed and offered the opportunity to give input in some way.

We have seen several ways in which the general public can be engaged in a collaborative governance process. First, most collaborative governance groups have a list of interested persons who are not participating at the table but who are able to observe the meetings, receive meeting notes, and so forth. Some project teams provide public comment or questions at each of their meetings. Many attend or schedule special public gatherings to hear additional public input.

We’ve also seen collaborative governance groups design and execute a fullblown public engagement process to inform their work, proactively reaching out to educate and hear from broad segments of the public, including historically underrepresented communities and multiple language groups. There is a growing recognition in the United States of the need to dismantle barriers that have prevented Black people, Indigenous people, and other people of color from fully participating in community decision-making. In one recent collaborative project with a high potential for controversy, representatives from the collaborative governance team spent two years attending neighborhood meetings, hosting information booths at street fairs and community celebrations, sending out a periodic newsletter, and scheduling a series of special meetings to inform the community and answer questions. In another project involving school boundaries, our staff spent six months engaged in a community involvement process conducted in six languages and using many culturally specific forms of outreach. We conducted small deliberations in a sewing circle for Somali mothers and held community conversations during the Spanish-language coffee hour at an elementary school. Each of these conversations eventually informed the framing of the issues, as well of the makeup of the collaborative governance group. Only after that process was complete and a full report was issued summarizing the results did the collaborative governance group begin deliberating in earnest.

Public involvement is its own democratic art form, and we will leave a detailed discussion of its theory and techniques for another day. We wish here only to emphasize its importance as an adjunct to the collaborative governance process.


As always, how a collaborative group goes about its deliberative work makes a difference. Paying attention to the steps in the deliberative process can result in better decisions and help a group overcome the inherent challenges, whether in agreement-seeking or collective action. If done well, tending to such details should also make groups’ decisions or agreements easier to implement.


1 Though we often distinguish how practices play out in collaborative systems as well as the other two types of collaborative governance, in this instance there are no such distinctions.


Adler, Peter S., et al. Humble Inquiry :The Practice of Joint Fact Finding as a Strategy for Bringing Science, Policy and the Public Together., 25 Feb. 2011.

Carlson, Christine. A Practical Guide to Collaborative Governance. Policy Consensus Initiative, 2007.

Carpenter, Susan L., and W. J. D. Kennedy. Managing Public Disputes. Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1988.

Coleman, Peter T., et al. The View from Above and Below: The Effects of Power Symmetries and Interdependence on Conflict Dynamics & Outcomes. IACM 21st Annual Conference Paper, 9 Nov. 2008.

Ehrmann, John R., and Barbara L. Stinson. “Joint Fact-Finding and the Use of Technical Experts.” The Consensus Building Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Reaching Agreement, The Consensus Building Institute, 1999, p. 375-399.

Ostrom, Elinor. “A Behavioral Approach to the Rational Choice Theory of Collective Action: Presidential Address, American Political Science 1997.” American Political Review, vol. 92, no. 1, Mar. 1998.

Susskind, Lawrence E., and Jeffrey L. Cruikshank. Breaking Robert’s Rules. Oxford UP, 2006.


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