Tag Archives: collaboration

Collaboration: Accounting For Conflict

Some conflict is like a latent staph infection in a body that otherwise seems healthy – waiting to flare up and dangerous when it does.   Well-meaning efforts to engage the public can founder in the face of such a flare-up.  We have seen this happen to public officials who proudly announce a new economic development effort expecting to be praised for working to create jobs, and are instead attacked for hiding information, playing favorites, and engaging in conspiracies.  We have seen this happen to public officials who schedule “town hall meetings” and are surprised with angry venting and personal attacks.  And we have seen many times when the underlying conflict is so deeply rooted that no one shows up to scheduled meetings, dismissing them as mere “window dressing” intended to manipulate a gullible public into believing they actually matter.   How can you know whether your effort is at risk before you begin?

You can start to assess this risk by analyzing issues or arguments that arise repeatedly within your community.  Group these into broad areas, like development, law enforcement, resource allocation, etc.  Then analyze whether certain themes are repeated in how these issues are framed, and what groups tend to appear within each area.  Do those themes suggest the conflict involves deeper differences than differences over interests or information?  For example, is there a clash of values, or arguments regarding the “justice” or “fairness” of governance systems?  How intense are the conflicts?  One measure of intensity is the inflammatory nature of the language used and the tendency to characterize others as “enemies” or “fools”.   Efforts to engage on issues related to areas where conflicts are recurrent, deeply rooted, and intense are more likely to see flare-ups and require careful planning on when, how, or even whether to engage.

If you are interested in systematically assessing your community’s resilience in the face of conflict and its readiness for productive collaboration, we have developed a workbook that will help you do so.  For more information, contact us at info@buildingdialogue.com.

Collaboration: Ready or Not

In our last post we talked about  the importance of assessing your community’s readiness and resilience before determining how to move forward.   Some communities are ready to collaborate, and public engagement efforts will work there relatively well.  Other communities are not.   A community that is clearly ready to work through difficult issues together will exhibit the following characteristics: a strong sense of community, clear vision, strong and collaborative leaders, easy flow of information, and a demonstrated ability and willingness to work through conflicts.   At the opposite end of the readiness spectrum would be communities that have high levels of distrust (demonstrated through either high levels of conflict or active disengagement),  few shared values or interests, and leaders who behave in a highly partisan manner.

Most communities, of course, fall somewhere in between these two extremes.  Determining where your community falls on this “readiness spectrum” will help you identify the capabilities that can be engaged and those that need to be built, and to identify likely bumps in the road.  This kind of assessment and planning will in turn help you to figure out how to foster the civility and respect that is needed for effective dialogue, to provide needed information, and to build an understanding of how government structures work and their boundaries.

If you are interested in systematically assessing your community’s resilience in the face of conflict and its readiness for productive collaboration, we have developed a workbook that will help you do so.  For more information, contact us at info@buildingdialogue.com.

Collaboration: Resources That Help

We noted in our last post that, prior to embarking on a collaborative process,  it is useful to take stock of the resources available in your community that can help you collaboratively work through conflict.   What are these resources?  They include, of course, monetary and in-kind resources for funding a process and ensuring adequate administrative and technological support.  They also include a community’s general level of civic participation, relationships among groups, and the support of government and key community leaders.  Other assets less typically thought about include the level, type and ease of access to shared information within the community, existing process skills, past positive experiences in the community, a shared vision for the future, shared interests and values, a strong communal history, and governmental systems that are open and accessible.  The more assets a community has to start with, the more likely it will be successful in launching a collaborative process.  If your community is lacking significant assets you can still plan a sequence of actions that will help you to both build more assets and provide for some form of public engagement.  What you don’t want to do is start a process that is likely to fail, creating a pattern of cynicism and low expectations that will make future collaborative efforts more difficult.  Choosing where and how to start, or when to expand your collaborative efforts, will be the subject of our next post.

If you are interested in systematically assessing your community’s resilience in the face of conflict and its readiness for productive collaboration, we have developed a workbook that will help you do so.  For more information, contact us at info@buildingdialogue.com.

Collaboration: Getting Ready for the Right Intervention

Engaging citizens in joint problem solving or collaborative discussion of issues can help you move through the conflicts that inevitably occur in our diverse communities.   This does not mean though that simple invitations to sit down and talk will allow you to move forward and avoid a partisan stalemate.  Just as a doctor diagnoses a patient before deciding on an intervention, collaborative approaches work best if you assess your community’s readiness and resilience before determining how to move forward.  This includes analyzing both the sources of conflict  and the level at which they are occurring.   If there is little trust, or of even greater concern, patterns of hate that are active among community members, you will want to start in a different way and at a different point than you might if community members are already comfortable working together.   Put another way, if trust issues are not addressed upfront in designing your collaborative process, efforts to find joint resolution on substantive points are likely to founder on bipartisan resistance to “cooperating with the enemy.”   In addition to analyzing patterns and sources of conflict, is is also useful at the outset to take stock of the resources available in your community to help you work through conflict.  These will be the subject of our next post.

If you are interested in systematically assessing your community’s resilience in the face of conflict and its readiness for productive collaboration, we have developed a workbook that will help you do so.  For more information, contact us at info@buildingdialogue.com.

A More Collaborative Future

One positive outcome of the current political discourse at the national level is that many citizens and leaders are looking for a different approach than partisan bickering.  Cities in particular are experimenting with avoiding partisan divides through more dialogue based approaches.  Recently ICMA asked administrators to predict what local government would look like in 2020.  Those predictions included several that are aligned with the emergence and growth of ongoing dialogue and collaboration between government and citizens. These included:

  • Resident engagement will become the norm.
  • Quality of life and a sense of place will be important to residents.
  • Teamwork and consensus building will be essential skills.
  • Working effectively with diverse and aging populations also will be a major skill.
  • Performance measurement, quality control, and benchmarking will be emphasized.

As we have noted in prior posts, building a more collaborative future takes commitment and learning new skills – both by citizens and those in government.  It can be hard to discern when and where to start, and what tools are needed to have an effective dialogue.  Efforts to just “get citizens together” often turn into what one recent meeting participant we met  called a “primal scream fest”.   He had attended a meeting called by a local official to allow citizens to “discuss their differences”.  There was no preparation beforehand,  no facilitator, and an “open mic” rather than small group dialogue.   Every one “had their say” but little got accomplished and tensions increased.  Such meetings are more likely to delay rather than enhance the use of effective dialogue in a community, although they are not uncommon.  In our next series of posts we will be reviewing how you can assess your community’s readiness for dialogue, and choose the level and type that will help you move forward, towards a more collaborative future.