Printer Friendly

Need and opportunity for collaboration has burgeoned.

As our country exhibits growing poverty and increasing income and wealth inequality, state and local governments find themselves facing shrinking budgets, layoffs in their workforces, demands for more services, and increasing resistance to new taxes. As a result of global and national economic forces and political decisions, growing numbers of people are without shelter of affordable housing, cannot sustain vital nutrition, do not benefit from adequate health care, and/or are denied access to appropriate education, job training, and employment opportunities that can support families.

No matter what state and local governments think about the role of the federal government in this context, it is unlikely that significantly greater federal financial resources will be made available in the near future for local communities, even as federal taxes are raised, unless there is a massive political mandate to do so.

On the contrary, it is more realistic to expect that the fiscal consequences of large federal budget deficits, the long-term consequences of the current recession, the substantial cost of the savings and loan bail out, and other economic factors will greatly limit political leadership for domestic spending.

In 1991, interest payments on our $4 trillion national debt (which was expected to grow by $350 billion in deficit spending in fiscal 1992) totaled nearly $300 billion annually, one dollar for every five spent by the federal government. Such payments pose great problems because they increasingly drain vast amounts of taxes from socially productive uses and simply transfer them to private bondholders.

As a result of these and other economic and political realities, the nonpartisan Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations has suggested that state and local governments (and local communities in general) will be in a "fend-for-yourself" political reality for several years to come.

Within this reality, states and local communities are making a wide variety of choices in response to requests for limited resources. Among these choices are: (1) advocating for increases in federal support; (2) increasing local taxes; (3) enlarging the local tax base; (4) cutting services and their workforces; (5) increasing user fees; (6) improving tax and payment (such as child support) collections; (7) borrowing from public employee pension funds; (8) experimenting with "structural" and "customer-based" public service redesigns; (9) privatizing government services by shifting them to the for-profit sector; (10) expanding or reducting contracts with nonprofit service providers; (11) becoming more effective at inter-governmental collaboration; and (12) working collaboratively with the private and nonprofit sectors (multisector collaboration).

States and local communities will continue to use a mix of these options, but are likely to focus greater emphasis on improving multisector collaboration for a variety of reasons.

As the success of many community-based initiatives suggest, the ownership of any social change process is among the most, if not the most, important of its characteristics. There are few more fundamental indicators of whether community initiatives will have long-lasting benefits. Ownership is also a reflection of a community's capacity for self-determination and can be enhanced or limited depending upon how collaboration is designed and implemented.

Two basic ways of designing and implementing multisector collaboration are "collaborative betterment" and "collaborative empowerment." Each has particular effects on community ownership, self-determination, and the long-term sustainability of the collaborative's efforts.

Collaborative Betterment: Collaborative betterment begins outside the community within public, private, or non-profit institutions and is brought into the community. Community involvement is invited into a process designed and controlled by larger institutions. This collaborative strategy can produce policy changes and improvements in program delivery and services, but tends not to produce long-term ownership in communities or to significantly increase communities' control over their own destinies.

Collaborative Empowerment: Collaborative empowerment begins within the community and is brought to public, private, or nonprofit institutions. In this context, empowerment refers to the capacity to set priorities and control resources that are essential for increasing community self-determination. An empowerment strategy includes two basic activities: (1) organizing a community in support of a collaborative purpose determined by the community, and (2) facilitating a process for integrating outside institutions in support of this community purpose.

The empowerment approach can produce policy changes and improvements in program delivery and services. It is also more likely to produce long-term ownership of the collaborative's purpose, processes, and products in communities and to enhance communities' capacity for self-determination.

Collaborative empowerment advocates that those most affected by a collaborative change effort should be full partners in decisions made about it. When all those in a collaborative have substantial ownership, there is a far greater likelihood that its primary purposes will be achieved and sustained. If this principle were better understood in Los Angeles today, residents of South Central Los Angeles would not have to fight with" "community partnerships" for recently created jobs to help rebuild their own neighborhoods.

Local governments play a wide variety of roles in collaborative initiatives. The following are among the most common local governmental collaborative roles. These roles are not mutually exclusive; one role often leads to or is integrated into another.

Convener: Local governments play the role of community conveners on significant issues that may, or may not, result in further community action. The convening role usually includes a highly visible public discussion of community issues. These discussions are often related to data gathering or studies which provide information intended to highlight a common understanding of the issues at hand. Such discussions are important prerequisites for collaborative community problem-solving.

Catalyst: Local governments may use the convening role to stimulate discussion but may have a longer-term strategy in mind. When local government is catalytic it means that it makes an early and clear commitment to participate in longer-term community problem- solving that begins with an initial discussions of issues. In this way, it uses its considerable influence and resource base to make the collaborative initiative "real" in the minds of various other potential partners who may be waiting for leadership before making their own commitments to an action agenda.

Conduit: Local governments may serve as conduits for the funding that is essential for collaborative action. For example, many federal grants require a local government to be the "lead agency" in providing grants for local collaborative initiatives. A similar situation occurs when foundation make grants with the condition that a local governmental agency be a lead partner.

This stipulation can be very problematic, however, if the local government's conduit role appears to be, or is in fact, a way for it to determine a collaborative process because of its fiscal role. This can result in conflicts related to power on the surface and to trust as a deeper undercurrent.

Funder: Local governments can encourage a variety of collaborative activities by being a funder, either alone or with other funding sources, of such activities. This is an increasingly common practice but, again, one with complexities. Many recipients of such funding find that funders--local government included--fail to understand that a collaborative is more than a proposal to which many organizations attach letters of endorsement.

It takes time to create a well designed, mutually respectful and trusting collaborative; unfortunately, funders often are not aware of this and, as a result, fail to provide such time.

Technical Assistance Provider: Local governments have substantial human and technical resources available to them which can be made available to community-based organizations to assist them in creating and sustaining collaborative efforts. These resources include, among others, data retrieval, new research and information gathering, planning expertise, meeting space, legal opinions, other specific expertise on a wide variety of subjects, access to information and assistance in preparing funding applications, and lobbying assistance. Local government does not have to be a highly visible or formal partner in collaborative efforts to provide many kinds of technical assistance.

Capacity Builder: Capacity building is usually part of longer-term local governmental strategy to increase the ability of community and neighborhood-based organizations to initiate and effectively follow through on problem-solving processes that, to a large extent, community and neighborhood-based organizations can determine. Capacity building would be a primary goal of a local government that chose to encourage empowerment, rather than betterment, strategies.

Capacity building can take many forms but usually includes. (1) acknowledging the important contributions of others; (2) inquiring about and, whenever possible, providing specific requested skill-development opportunities for those interested; (3) being honest and open about motivations and being realistic about what can and cannot be provided in what amount of time; (4) facilitating user-friendly access to resources that normally may be restricted to those only with power, status, or money; and (5) sharing risks when others may find themselves in situations that they perceive to be dangerous or threatening to their well being.

In a collaborative empowerment strategy, local government is not afraid of increasing the power of communities and neighborhood in relationship to the power that historically was more heavily based in city hall and "downtown" power structures. To the contrary: this strategy proclaims that the primary task of government is to increase power-sharing and community ownership rather than to a retain power as a method of control.

Partner: This would appear to be the most obvious role for local government in a collaborative, but, as has been noted, the way that this role is played greatly affects the quality of the collaborative process and the likely outcomes of its activities. If local government plays its partner role as part of a betterment strategy, it may could find that it has made progress on key community issues.

However, given the limitations of a betterment process in relationship to fully sharing the ownership of the collaborative's activities and outcomes, it may well find its partner role leading to relatively short-term successes. The sustainability of the betterment effort may be very difficult, while there is also the real possibility that a collaborative with relatively little power-sharing will elicit strong explicit opposition or meet apathetic responses.

As has been noted, empowering partners share risks, responsibilities, resources, and rewards in collaborative efforts. They establish mutually respectful, trusting relationships, take the time to understand each other's motivations and hoped for accomplishments, and state problems in a manner that provides opportunities for others to share in their solutions.

Facilitator: In this role, local government attempts to help make possible collaborative, community problem-solving efforts among nonprofit, business, labor, religious, academic, and other organizations. This can be difficult when local government, itself, is also a key partner because the facilitator role may be perceived as another way of adding greater decision-making authority to local government's role. When it works well, however, local government is valued as a source of fairness, encouragement, and as a resource to all those who might need it in the collaborative process.

Although local collaborative efforts are vital, they must also recognize the limitations of community and neighborhood-based solutions to our larger societal problems. While community and neighborhood-based efforts are now finding growing and well deserved attention, they must be coupled with substantial policy changes at all levels of government, particularly at the federal level, if such initiatives are to succeed.

There is a clear danger that we may expect far too much from communities and neighborhoods when most of our major societal problems result from national and international economic changes and political policies, particularly the loss of family wage employment and its devastating consequences on families and individuals. Therefore, because of this larger reality--both in terms of the scale and kinds of resources needed, and the power to redesign their delivery and redirect their focus--it is critical that collaborative empowerment partnerships are created between local communities and the federal government as well.

Arthur T. Himmelman served as one of the judges for the innovation awards competition. Himmelman is president of The HIMMELMAN Consulting Group (THCG) of Minneapolis.
COPYRIGHT 1992 National League of Cities
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Himmelman, Arthur T.
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Oct 12, 1992
Previous Article:Outlook good for housing program reauthorization.
Next Article:Women hold one-fifth of all local elected offices.

Related Articles
Adaptive Media's Envision3D Selected to Demonstrate at Prestigious David Coursey's Showcase '99 Conference.
Television chiefs look to future.
Teaming up with China for learning experience.
CollabraSpace Hires Sales Channel Manager to Expand Product Reach.
DNR Inaugurates Annual Menswear Awards: Names Tom Ford 'Person of the Year' and Dolce & Gabbana 'Style Icons'.
Glenmark Expects Launch of Crofelemer in ROW Countries(Developing Economies) by 2010 - Potential First-in-Class for HIV-Associated Diarrhea: Molecule...
Glenmark Expects Launch of Crofelemer in ROW Countries (Developing Economies) by 2010 - Potential First-in-Class for HIV-Associated Diarrhea:...

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters