This month’s Public Management magazine has a great article about collaboration and coordination among municipalities in public engagement efforts. Although much of the focus is on saving money by creating shared services agreements across multiple organizations or municipalities, several of the observations are applicable to any engagement process.
As the author notes in Steps for a Successful Collaboration, collaboration across multiple municipalities can be quite difficult and coordination can take quite some time. As we have discussed over the last few weeks in our series on guidelines for engagement, careful planning and developing a clear structure to guide the process will help you move forward. Although engaging city officials and staff from different jurisdictions as stakeholders, rather than citizens, the same general process of engagement will work. You have to to make sure that your goals for the shared services agreement are feasible, you need to lay out a specific plan for engaging all of the relevant parties, you need to keep all parties informed about and connected with each step in the process, and you need to follow up afterward to inform them about implementation and next steps. If you think this process will be contentious, you may consider hiring a professional facilitator to manage the dialogue and resolve conflict as it arises.
The author also notes that an important factor in controlling costs in shared services agreements is identifying opportunities for standardization. Although this is of particular value in a shared services environment, standardization of the steps in other public engagement efforts can also save both time and money, as well as provide the benefit of helping citizens feel comfortable and safe as they learn what to expect. This sense of comfort can help move your community up through the Stages of Community Life.
The author also notes the importance of piloting and evaluation and points to several recent projects undertaken by the North Central Texas Council of Governments. The author points out that the goals of the more successful projects were customer driven. This has been a lesson learned in many citizen engagement processes — the more effective ones are citizen driven in defining goals and outcomes, and allow flexibility for citizens to make adaptations in the overall process.
The final three points of the article are good reminders for anyone involved in engagement: (i) underpromise and overdeliver, (ii) begin with the end in mind, and (iii) start small while constantly evaluating and refining your approach. We recommend that you read the full article for further insights on how government stakeholders can be brought together to jointly create processes that bring greater value to all.