Given the issues in Flint, with DPS, EAA, pipelines and soon with the new Gordie Howe International Bridge Project and redistricting,  I have an idea to help resolve these complex  and often politically-charged policy disputes.

I would like to suggest that the Governor create a program similar to one modeled after Oregon Solutions, (http://orsolutions.org), which provides a system and process for problem solving, using collaborative governance as a method of public decision-making, in which government leaders involve stakeholders from many areas of society, including community members, businesses, other government agencies and non-profit organizations in making decisions that affect how people are governed or how public resources are used or alternatively, a pool of trained neutrals to help resolve other issues.

For example, when an issue seems intractable, Oregon Solutions calls on Oregon Consensus (http://oregonconsensus.org) to mediate and resolve the conflict.  Oregon Consensus focuses its work on issues regarding the environment, economic development, transportation and public health.

Both Oregon Solutions and Oregon Consensus are not government entities, but they are affiliated with Portland State University. The State of Washington also has a similar system and the last time I checked, they received some state funding. 

Similarly, at a city level, Salt Lake Solutions is part of the city government. It is charged with the task of solving community problems by cultivating inclusive collaborations of public and private support. Ralph Becker, the Mayor of Salt Lake City, took that same model in Oregon to create Salt Lake City Solutions, an office, in the city’s planning department, that is dedicated to community engagement and facilitation.

These organizations provide a system and process for problem solving - This includes:

  • Assess situations and bring the right people to the table to discuss them.
  • Design and facilitate meetings to make sure all viewpoints are considered.
  • Help groups sort through information to support sound decisions.
  • Help groups convey their recommendations or agreements in writing.

It takes the burden off the elected officials to drive politically charged issues to a neutral organization that can create the process to resolve them. This model could also be used to ensure the equitable distribution of any funds.

Each issue comes to the organization’s attention after the Mayor, Council or Governor defines a problem that needs to be solved. The Mayor/Governor designates an impartial convener to bring people together and develop an assessment of the proposed project. If the issue meets the criteria for resolution, a neutral / convener is selected to manage and help resolve the project through facilitated meetings. 

There is no organization in Michigan equipped to handle these complex disputes, other than the Governor creating the task forceI would therefore like to propose a model similar to Oregon’s or Salt Lake City’s. Alternatively, I recommend a model similar to how the University Research Corridor was created to develop a program similar to Oregon Solutions and Oregon Consensus.

As we both know, public policy disputes have the potential of polarizing communities with the affect of delaying important decisions on vital issues of public policy, often resulting in diluted policies or no action at all.  Facilitation helps resolves some of the high-profile policy disputes and finds resolution through controversy and clarity amidst chaos. To assist governments in resolving disputes by and between each other, the disputants need a trusted third party neutral who is knowledgeable about the issues and the process, while being sensitive to the politics of the issue in order to help others rise above the politics and help deal with the emotions of an issue productively. 

Given all the issues the State of Michigan faces, I believe now is a great opportunity to create Michigan Solutions, to help create a process to resolve these difficult issues. In the past I have worked with Brian Pappas, a law professor at Michigan State University and the State Bar of Michigan Public Policy Dispute Resolution Section on addressing complex issues in the state, such as facilitating an urban transit strategy in Washtenaw County, an economic development strategy in Inkster and community mental health issues in Wayne County.

Relentless positive action is a thing of the past.  What the Governor needs now are creative solutions to some of our most challenging problems to help Michigan Move Forward. 

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