The “Community Engagement Governance Framework” – Principles, Part 1

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?

Judy Freiwirth defines seven key principles of the Community Engagement Governance framework. The first is “Community impact at the core”, focusing on community needs rather than the effectiveness of the organization. This outward focus is an excellent match for governments, which also have an urgent need to refocus on results.

“Governance as a function, rather than a structure” is the second key principle. This principle aims to move the organization’s governance focus away from itself and toward effectively achieving the mission of the organization. Put another way, governance for the sake of accomplishment rather than for preservation of the organization. While governments may be more limited as to how much decision-making authority they can delegate, there are typically no limitations on their openness in gathering input and ideas. In fact, most are held to open meetings and deliberation statutes, which encourage citizen involvement in the process. Governments have constitutional and statutory requirements related to geography served, structure, and specific functions and services to provide. Most have wide discretion, however, to determine the best methods for gathering input from citizens and in designing ways to involve those citizens in the development of programs and solutions to problems.

This level of citizen involvement is appropriate and necessary, regardless of whether the elected decision-makers adhere to a political philosophy of minimal government size and scope, or widespread size and scope. All governments provide some services that are either constitutionally or statutorily required and other services that fill needs which the open market is unable to satisfy effectively. Most, if not all, services would benefit from greater involvement of citizens in the design of the service.

The third key principle is that power and decision-making are shared with key stakeholders, thus improving decision-making. This concept may present the biggest challenge to use of the framework by government boards. They have to give up some control. Legally, they must use appropriate methods to give final approval to decisions. Maintaining credibility, while implementing the framework, requires that the board’s final decisions honor the participation of the citizens. Implementation of the framework also requires the board to share information with citizens, and to provide education regarding the limitations of power which are often placed on local government decisions, as well as ensuring that both the members of the board, and the citizens are working together toward informed, comprehensive solutions rather than engaging in one-sided philosophical battles. This shared decision-making would go a long ways toward reconnecting government boards and their constituents.

This is the second 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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