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The metropolitan perplex: the new intercommunity governance.

The most pervasive concern of public officials in the 1990s may be responding to emerging challenges quickly enough, before the all too abundant threats explode into crises and the equally rare economic opportunities are lost.

Public officials, as well as other community leaders and citizens, are increasingly recognizing that they must have the governance capacity to identify emerging challenges and develop and implement strategies for addressing them, in a timely manner, or they will become less competitive and experience a declining quality of life.

Such governance capacity is especially critical for the complex, conflicted intercommunity challenges that cut across neighborhoods, governmental jurisdictions and often entire regions and demand equally broad-based solutions. For example, the threat of air and water pollution respects no community boundaries; the opportunity to attract a new business often requires intercommunity cooperation.

New assumptions, and especially new approaches, are needed to address the intercommunity challenge of the 1990s. The following five observations are based on working with public officials to achieve preeminence in addressing these challenges.

First, intercommunity challenges are emerging with increasing frequency and intensity, and overwhelming existing problem-solving and service-delivery efforts.

All types of community leaders--public, privat,e non-profit, civic and citizens--in region across the nation have been challenged with a plethora of crosscutting issues. For the most part, after some denial, "buck-passing" attempts, "go "go-it- alone" failures, they eventually fashioned collaborative problem-solving processes, bringing together at least some of the interests in the communities affected by these issues and developing semi-satisfying strategies for addressing them. And, if not distracted by the next round of challenges, they have assured implementation of these strategies through government and other service-delivery entities.

But all too often, too late. The threats have already become crises, the opportunities have already been lost.

This "muddling through" approach for addressing cross-cutting challenges is not only too late, it is often too "top-down" to include citizens and other interests, too rigid to try new tactics, too ad hoc to be applied to other challenges, or too weak to command the participation of some key leaders. Worst of all, addressing the most immediate issues, such as drugs and related violence, usually consumes the energies of leaders and citizens, thus precluding addressing more pervasive challenges, such as the widening fiscal disparity between central cities and suburbs.

In addition to the political frustrations with this ad hoc "muddling through," community leaders are concerned about the financial implications of ineffective processes, as they are confronted with shrinking state and national government largesse and, in some regions, declining taxpayer populations.

Second, economic competitiveness is demanding improved responses responses to intercommunity challenges.

The anxiety of community leaders about addressing intercommunity challenges is being especially heightened, however, by the fear of becoming less economically competitive.

Just as community leaders realize that only preeminent businesses will be competitive and survive, they also realize that preeminence will determine their communities' fates. Moreover, as the region emerges as the basic unit of global competitiveness in the post-cold war economy, they realize they are competing with other regions, not their city or suburban neighbors.

Whereas businesses still drive the local economic engine and create jobs, community leaders are concluding that economic competitiveness is increasingly dependent upon their performance in addressing intercommunity, and especially regional, challenges, such as educating and reeducating the work force demanded by growth industries.

Business development and governance performance have become interdependent.

Third, successfully addressing intercommunity challenges requires new approaches that include all community interests and balanced consideration of problem-solving and service-delivery.

The challenges of the 1990s require a more broadly-based definition of governance, one that goes beyond government and intergovernmental relations. This definition needs to be inclusive of all community interests which are affected by these cross-cutting challenges and are necessary to their resolution. It also needs to focus equal attention on creating collaborative problem-solving processes that can design timely strategies and on sorting out service-delivery entities to implement them.

Such a new definition could be called intercommunity governance or IG for short.

Public officials and their intergovernmental relations remain important, especially for carrying out strategies for addressing cross-cutting challenges, but IG approaches have become critical to assuring the timely involvement of other community leaders and citizens in designing and supporting the cooperative strategies.

Fourth, new visions and strategies are needed to strengthen intercommunity governance, along with the personal and financial resources to implement them

Communities which strive to be preeminent need to raise governance to a equal priority with economic development and other pressing challenges. All too often, governance is only a "secondary" concern in addressing other challenges, and then only given begrudging consideration to determine how agreed-upon strategies will be implemented.

We need to undertake intercommunity governance examinations, similar to their transportation of public education counterparts, and produce dynamic, unifying visions for the future of governance along with agendas of improvements for achieving the visions. Strengthening governance, especially making problem- solving processes more timely and service-delivery entities more flexible, is demanding. As such, priority community resources, now leftovers, need to be dedicated to implementing IG improvements.

Most importantly, we need to develop people resources to build IG preeminence. Public and other leaders need to become skilled in promoting IG improvements, professional staff in strengthening and intercommunity problem-solving and service-delivery mechanisms, and citizens in supporting IG preeminence.

And all of this needs to be sustained on an ongoing basis. Governance improvement is the pursuit of the marathoner, not the sprinter.

Fifth, intercommunity governance pioneers need our support.

Intercommunity governance pioneers are beginning to appear across the country. Entrepreneurial individuals and organizations are building bridges among inter-city neighborhoods and suburban municipalities; others are addressing challenges that cut across multicounty regions.

These pioneers are revitalizing existing IG mechanisms, such as regional planning organizations; or experimenting with new ones, such as leadership networks, citizens leagues and boundary commissions. Some are assessing the state of IG and holding IG symposia to raise community awareness. Others are establishing centers and programs for fostering IG preeminence, such as at local colleges and universities; or developing community leader, professional staff, and citizen skills to strengthen IG, such as through leadership programs. They are even reducing fiscal disparities among communities, such as with voluntary tax sharing programs or regional assets districts.

These IG pioneers need our support. At the local level, we need to support their IG examinations and strategies to strengthen intercommunity problem-solving and service-delivery. At state and national levels, we need to create incentives for IG initiatives.

Finally, I need your support. I am working on a book to provide practical guidance to public officials, other community leaders and citizens on strengthening intercommunity governance and welcome your suggestions.

Strategic Partnerships Consulting; 209 North Lang Avenue; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 45208; Telephone: 412-371-8124; Fax: 412-371-9524.
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Title Annotation:includes related information on current activities
Author:Dodge, William R.
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Dec 6, 1993
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