SECTION 3: Skills to Improve Collaborative Governance
Although the theoretical grounding provided in section 1 and the nuts-and-bolts view of process set forth in section 2 are essential to understanding and practicing collaborative governance, the questions we get most often are related to what might be called the “people challenges” inherent in collaboration: How do you collaborate with someone who is not collaborating in return? How do you prevent one or two people from dominating the conversation? What do you do when the parties just don’t trust each other? In this section, we take a pragmatic look at these and similar challenges that frequently arise in collaborative governance.
Rosemary O’Leary and Lisa Bingham have written that “[c]onflict resolution is effectively group problem solving” (6). Indeed, we would argue that group problem solving is actually the common element linking agreement-seeking, collective action, and collaborative systems. In all three cases, various parties are attempting to solve a public problem by working together. Why are some groups better at it than others? What does effective group problem-solving look like? In chapter 9, we explore these questions and set forth some of the practices and interventions that can maximize the effectiveness of collaborative governance groups.
In chapter 10, we describe what individual participants can do to provide leadership and improve collaborative outcomes.
While the practices we explore in this section are based on theory and research, our intent is to provide pragmatic advice and suggestions that will help make collaborative processes more effective and more rewarding for participants and will provide guidance for those charged with facilitating or convening these processes.
O’Leary, Rosemary, and Lisa Blomgren Bingham. A Manager’s Guide to Resolving Conflicts in Collaborative Networks. IBM Center for the Business of Government, 2007.
Strengthening Collaborative Governance Groups
Over the course of the previous chapters, we explored the preconditions that can either promote or constrain collaboration. We also described some of the elements of process design and structure that are important to success. However, even the right preconditions and the right process cannot guarantee positive results. How the elements of process are put into practice can make a substantive difference. In this chapter, we address group traits that can make the difference between extraordinary public solutions (what Huxham and Vangen call “collaborative advantage”) or long, drawn-out frustration (“collaborative inertia”) (59). These group characteristics speak directly to the quality of the deliberative process that is central to collaborative governance.
First, we define what we mean by success in collaborative governance, and then we highlight five characteristics found in the most successful collaborative groups:
- • Joint ownership of the problem and the process;
- • Broad and balanced participation;
- • A willingness to deal with conflict and difficult issues;
- • Ability to rebuild trust;
- • Attention to results and accountability.