Collaboration can be hard work. I write that as someone who currently thrives in the extremely collaborative environment of the Civic Commons. If you’re not familiar with the Commons, it’s a virtual coffee house or pub where people gather to share ideas. Once engaged, community members can form plans that lead to action and solving community problems.
Comparing the Civic Commons experience to the process for creating a government collaboration risks inducing eye-rolls. Yet similar assumptions undergird both efforts: Stakeholders come together over a shared idea or desire. Then, they flesh out an end goal, fill in the steps that turn the idea into a plan and take those steps.
So where’s the hard work? Let’s take the Westshore Fire District as an example. The work up to and including the Feasibility Study delivered the original partners to the point when they had to assess the quality of service the joint design would provide to their individual communities. The question: Could the leaders believe and trust that the resulting, final collaboration, a joint fire district, would be worthwhile for their taxpayers?
This part is the hard part: calibrating what you gain against what you change, and then absorbing and responding to the constituents’ reaction.
Unfortunately, the number of participants in the joint dispatch project has decreased from eight – Lakewood, North Olmsted, North Ridgeville, Avon Lake, Westlake, Rocky River, Fairview Park and Bay Village – to only the latter four. According to reports, one reason often cited is the issue of how well-served a community would be by the change. In elected-office parlance (another hat I wear in a small East Side suburb), we call this the “quality of service delivered.”
Avoiding that outcome in which communities, and specifically individual leaders, withdraw from possible collaborations is one major focus of the Civic Commons EfficientGovNetwork project. Through podcasts, videos, resource lists, a curated newsfeed and real-time events like City Club forums, EGN builds the case for taking on the hard work. It offers support for the work necessary to change the municipal service provision default from one in which villages, townships and cities try to sustain needs on their own, to one in which their first thought is to find out what others are doing and to collaborate where possible.
Working towards more government collaboration, through a collaborative means like the Civic Commons, reinforces the virtues in collaboration.
Just as the Civic Commons is a collaborative environment that encourages and models collaboration, so must the collective pursuit of eliminating redundancies in local government get beyond the initial kumbaya of agreeing in concept and move toward expecting actual collaboration. If you are ready to press your elected leaders past their comfort zones, and maybe even your own, for the sake of our future region, there is no better place than the Civic Commons for seeing how far past perceived obstacles you can help take your community.
After all, it’s just a virtual pub or coffeehouse. How hard could collaboration be there?
Jill Miller Zimon is a Pepper Pike City Council member and the EfficientGovNetwork project director for theciviccommons.com, a website promoting civic engagement in Cuyahoga County and beyond. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. The next column from theciviccommons.com will appear in the May 30 edition.