Yesterday I heard a state legislature tell me that the best place to train for legislative leadership is in the minority. After spending a few years as a Democrat in a Republican House of Representatives, this person when on to become the Majority Leader when the Democrats gained control. 

Politics is cyclical. Those in the minority may soon have control of either or both chambers. Yet, according to an article in The New York Times, Polarization: It's Everywhere. According to the article and a new study from Pew Research, Republicans in Congress don't trust Democrats (and the feeling on the other side is mutual) and the voters certainly don't think very highly of those that we put in office. 

When we don't trust each other we don't work well together, but in creating sound public policy we need that trust. To help restore the ability to work together, to accomplish a common goal or mission, I propose the creation of a Center for Public Policy Dispute Resolution. They exist in states such as Washington and Oregon and in city's like Salt Lake City, but we need to bring these models to other centers of power where politics trumps policy and progress.

There will always be politics and opposing views and debates on issues -- that is healthy, but what Oregon Solutions or Salt Lake Solutions provides is "process".

To formalize and sustain this process, I propose creating an office similar to Oregon Solutions, 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.

Oftentimes issues are brought to the Governor’s attention through Regional Solutions Centers (RSCs), which are places for state agencies to collaborate with each other and among key stakeholders.  

When an issue seems intractable, Oregon Solutions calls on Oregon Consensus to mediate and resolve 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 Oregon Legislature continues to fund this program ($1.2M). Washington also has a similar system. 

Similarly, at a city level, Salt Lake Solutions is jointly funded by the City Council and the Mayor and 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 and created 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, using community governance. 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.

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 or convener is selected to manage and help resolve the project through facilitated meetings.

If we can agree to disagree than let's work together to at least build a process to help resolve our differences.