*Daniel Cherrin spoke at Wayne State University Urban Public Policy Resolution Conference on stakeholder engagement, "Giving Voice To The Community." This is his presentation on The Third Way -- The Way Forward and how we can take the politics out of the policy making process. *To view this presentation in its entirety, visit http://youtu.be/R6MXd36XAuk.
The Founders of our country told us that we should have more perfect union…. they did not say we have to agree on everything.
Yet, a more perfect union is a union that is built based on trusting those whom, Yet, a more perfect union is a union that is built based on t rusting those whom, we elect to make decisions on difficult and often times controversial issues, to help move government decision making forward.
There has to be a better way for local governments and state governments to resolve public policy differences In a perfect world that is why we elected our mayor, city council, governor and legislature.
Sure they have their political differences but in the end and once elected, they are supposed to focus on making policy and not playing politics.
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.
Consensus building is a process by which the parties seek unanimous agreement.
Facilitation helps resolves high-profile policy, planning and development 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.
A facilitator can help disputing parties find consensus through controversy. They can help bring multiple stakeholders, including: a city council together with a mayor, along with the community they represent to extract the politics and find clarity through all the minutia.
Facilitators don’t take sides or make decisions. They simply create the path for people to move beyond their differences, join together, and discover a new way forward.
So while (1) elections are important to our Democratic system, (2) legislating just does not seem to work and before an issues gets passed, if it ever gets passed or in some cases punted to the voters and before it gets to the courts.
There has to be a third way, a better way of creating public policy. I am not talking about dispute resolution, or mediation.
I am also not really talking about Community engagement or civic engagement .And Collaborative Government is just a fancy name for getting everyone together with a stake in the issue or outcome to talk about what ought to be done. While town halls tend to be one-sided. Even in city council meetings you only get one minute. I am really talking about stakeholder engagement.
And if those stakeholders include members of the community or simply the people that we elected to decide. If I am going to put an 1,800 megawatt off shore wind farm in Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair, store petroleum coke along the Detroit river, inject toxic waste one mile into the earth or build a 15 block mixed use development that includes a professional hockey arena in your background I imagine that the community will want to have their say.
You will want to provide your input into these projects and as a community, you will organize and want to be heard …. and will not stop until you are heard or in most cases the project dies and companies go away.
As the developer I may not always want to listen to you but I know I should and how we talk and interact should be facilitated so our conversation can be productive and we can learn how to become good neighbors so you realize we want to be good neighbors.
However, ultimately, the issues will be decided by a city council, DEQ or developer but that your input could often time make or break a project.
We can help governments, developers and companies achieve better, more effective governance by creating a process to bring communities and their leaders together in making decisions on the tough issues we face.
And I am not sure if a community benefits agreement is the solution – it should just be good business to gain public input.
There is a third way to help our lawmakers move difficult issues forward, giving the legislature and others an alternative process for resolving polarizing issues.
Given today’s political climate, a similar entity should be created in Detroit or Lansing
A neutral organization established by Executive Order, act of the legislature or through a collaborative effort of our state’s universities established to resolve differences, by bringing elected officials from both parties together with other key stakeholders and find new approaches to public issues.
There are models already.
In Oregon and Salt Lake City, issues come to the organization’s attention after the Mayor, Council or Governor defines a problem that needs to be solved.
The Mayor or Governor designates an impartial convener to bring people together and develop an assessment of the proposed issue.
If the issue meets the criteria for resolution, a neutral is selected to manage and help resolve the project through facilitated meetings.
Lawmakers may argue that they were elected to resolve difficult policy issues, however, in today’s political climate politics often trumps sound public policy.
While lawmakers may agree on a common vision for our state, getting there is another story.
Currently in Michigan, there is no comparable organization, but there could be. Creating such an organization can take the burden off our elected officials to drive politically charged issues to a neutral organization that can create the process to resolve them and ultimately vote on them.
We have all seen how 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.
Policy-makers tend to avoid controversial issues or postpone crucial decisions hoping to avoid conflict.
Conflict among lawmakers and regulators is inevitable.
However, carefully structured dialogue, facilitated by skilled neutrals could offer a more effective and durable method to resolve conflicts and build consensus around controversial and often complex public policy issues.
Facilitation can help find resolution through controversy and clarity amidst chaos to resolve some of the most difficult issues facing our state. It also has the benefit of helping lawmakers develop more trusting relationships with their adversaries and provides them the tools to help resolve future conflicts on their own.
It is time to shift how government decisions are made and for our elected leaders to find a new way to decide tough issues, while seeking consensus instead of controversy.
It is time our leaders lead us forward, not back. Great leadership requires finding common ground among diverse interests.
It is time for the people we elected to emerge from the wells of the legislature as leaders and find the third way to resolving tough issues so that we can all move forward – Together.