The “Community Engagement Governance Framework” – Competency

Judy Freiwirth’s Community Engagement Governance Framework is proving effective with non-profit governance, but how well does it transfer to elected local and tribal governing bodies?

Freiwirth shares five competencies in her NPQ article on the Community Engagement Governance framework that the Engagement Governance Network believes are necessary for shared governance to be effective. They are strategic thinking, mutual accountability, shared facilitated leadership, cultural competency and organizational learning. I believe all five would also be important in governments, with a greater need for the fifth, organizational learning. It takes newly-elected officials time to fully grasp the complexities and breadth of the responsibilities of their unit of government. The kind of shared leadership encouraged by the framework would benefit greatly from organizational learning for the stakeholders sharing in the leadership discussion.

Successful implementation of the framework might depend on a term of engagement by stakeholders. Especially for boards with 2-year terms, it might be helpful for this term to match the term of office of the elected official. For longer 4- or 6-year terms, a 2-year term of engagement might also provide an additional level of learning and continuity to strengthen the value of the decision and power sharing arrangement.

Since this would be a volunteer arrangement, terms could only be recommended and some turnover would likely occur anyway. Some type of recognition for completion of the term could be utilized to encourage participants to go the distance. This recognition might also serve as a resume-builder as well.

The Engagement Governance consulting team has assisted the pilot organizations with their design, structure and processes. Some have added large group sessions, facilitated in a number of different ways, to gather member input ranging from annually to several times per year. E-governance and social media have been used as well.

Gaining the broadest possible input and participation from citizens and achieving the longer-term commitment needed in governments to raise the level of organizational learning might require a combination of the two approaches. Participants in the larger, once or twice per year sessions can provide the sense of vision needed for both the elected officials and the connected stakeholders, which I will call the cabinet for simplicity. The large session would need to open with some education about the powers and mandates under which the unit of government operates, enough so that participants understand that while they might want their county’s first priority to be providing them all with personal computers for example, it would be clear that county government has neither the funds nor the authority to do so.

The cabinet members, who would be assigned to functional committees according to their expertise, would combine the vision of the larger group with their increased level of knowledge of the local unit of government to help elected officials think through and develop policies driven by the stakeholder involvement. The cabinet members would also serve a valuable role in communicating back to the larger stakeholder participants how and why decisions were made, thus completing the two-way communication loop.

This is fourth in a series of six articles about the Community Engagement Governance framework on the Michigan State University Extension web site. Read more at:

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