Collaborative governance has become the context for finding real solutions to complex public challenges faced by citizens around the country. In practice, principally at the state, regional and local levels (i.e. the "laboratories of democracy"), the public solutions collaborative governance system is one where leaders convene all sectors—public, private, and civic—to develop effective, lasting solutions to public problems that go beyond what any sector could achieve on its own.
The System is based on principles of: transparency and accountability; equity and inclusiveness; effectiveness and efficiency; responsiveness; forum neutrality; and consensus-based decision making. It relies on: a Sponsor (an agency, foundation, civic organization, public-private coalition, etc. to initiate support); a Convener/Leader (A governor, legislator, local official, respected civic leader, etc. with power to bring diverse people together to work on common problems); a Neutral Forum (an impartial organization or venue, etc. to provide and ensure skilled process management); and participation of all sectors (public, private, civic, etc.) to ensure representation of all interests and points of view.
In operation, this system involves the following six steps with continuous feedback among them. While they work in sequence, they also work together:
1. Sponsors identify and raise an issue or opportunity that calls for a collaborative response.
2. Assessment is made on the feasibility for collaboration and who needs to be involved.
3. Leader(s) convene all needed participants.
4. Participants adopt this framework for addressing the issue.
5. Conveners and participants frame (or reframe) the issue for deliberation.
6. Neutral forum/facilitator designs and conducts a process to negotiate interests and integrate resources.
7. Written agreement establishes accountability.
The Policy Consensus Initiative and the National Policy Consensus Center along with the University Network for Collaborative Governance have helped to produce both resources for leaders and convenors (http://www.policyconsensus.org/publicsolutions/ps_6.html) and resources for practitioners and neutral forums (http://www.policyconsensus.org/publicsolutions/ps_7.html).
The effective participation of federal agencies in collaborative governance initiatives at the multi-state, state, regional and local levels often is necessary to find solutions to the challenged faced but has proved to be difficult in practice. Federal agencies need more explicit encouragement and support. the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution based in Tuscon has made progress with the family of environmental agencies at the federal level. What is needed is documentation of best practices, guidance on memorandum of understanding that capture the roles and responsibilities in these efforts and hands on training, coaching and mentoring that is explicitly multi-sector in focus.