One of my very first clients when I started working independently (I hung out my own shingle back in November 2003) was a group called the Policy Consensus Initiative, along with its sister organization the National Policy Consensus Center. I will always be grateful to PCI’s founder Chris Carlson and NPCC’s director Greg Wolf for giving me that needed boost in the early days. My work with PCI-NPCC involved helping them develop a strategic plan along with some key language and taglines.

PCI-NPCC works to increase the adoption of collaborative governance (where office holders use their innate convening power to bring together all parties to craft solutions to hard problems, working across sector and across jurisdictions) at the state and local level. Getting everyone involved together to work toward a solution seems like common sense, but one interesting facet of this work is that many of the rules and structures in government make it very difficult to do this.

I was therefore excited to learn of a new bill passed in Minnesota that establishes a “Collaborative Governance Council,” that includes office holders as well as others, with the goal of reducing barriers to collaboration.

Here is the article from PCI-NPCC’s newsletter:

Rep. Marsha Swails (l.) and Rep. Carol McFarlane (r.) high five after completion of the bill establishing Collaborative Governance Council

Rep. Marsha Swails (l.) and Rep. Carol McFarlane (r.) high five after completion of the bill establishing Collaborative Governance Council

The Minnesota Legislature passed a bill that was signed into law to create a Collaborative Governance Council that will increase collaboration between state and local government.

The law creates a 12-member council to develop recommendations to increase governmental collaboration by:

  • reviewing laws and rules that slow collaboration efforts;
  • using technology to connect entities and share information;
  • modernizing financial transactions and facilitating credit and debit card transactions, electronic funds, transfers and electronic data interchanges; and
  • creating model forms for joint power agreements.

The council will include the State Auditor and a member of the League of Minnesota Cities; Minnesota Association of Townships; Association of Minnesota Counties; Minnesota School Board Association; American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 5; MN Chamber of Commerce; Education Minnesota; and Service Employees International Union.

The bill was a bi-partisan effort, co-sponsored by Rep. Marsha Swails and Rep. Carol McFarlane.

Initially, Reps. Swails and McFarlane convened a work group to examine shared services among school districts in Minnesota. Swails, a high school teacher, described the work group as “an informal process that was more like a classroom than anything else.” McFarlane and Swails traveled across the state together, attending Education Service Cooperative meetings, and heard more stories about the challenges local governments encountered in attempts to share services among school districts or among other units of government, such as fire departments. From these discussions, McFarlane and Swails realized that the question underlying many of these conversations was “what are the obstacles that keep communities from sharing?”

Swails noted that while some groups were initially skeptical of what the workgroup would accomplish, “Carol and I kept asking them to come to meetings. Building trust was key to getting people to want to be part of a solution, and so we did what we could to break down formalities. Carol and I sat at the witness table facing the group in the galley and engaged them in lively discussions rather than a formal hearing process”

As the bill passed in the House, 108-22, Rep. Swails twittered, “True bi-partisan work brought this to reality. Most important bill of my two terms.”

State auditor Rebecca Otto, who will chair the Council, said, “”Local governments are already collaborating, but we want to identify other areas where they could collaborate in these tight times. If there are laws in the way of allowing that to happen, we will make recommendations to change current statute.”

The Council’s first meeting will take place by July 30th of this year.