The Collaborative Governance Resource Institute (CGRI) is a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing a new model of public/private engagement in pursuit of the public good -- to "make America work better" by creating real partnerships between government agencies and the wide world of private actors who share the goals of government and, more important, can substantively contribute to their realization.
For much of the twentieth century, the public depended almost exclusively on government to solve problems. And, for the most part, government held up its end of the bargain. In the last quarter century, however, government has been stretched thin, its effectiveness seemingly inexorably diminishing in the face of an ever-increasing array of issues calling for a response.
It's not just -- or even primarily -- bureaucracy that's to blame. As much as we all bemoan red tape, we insist, rightly, that government be transparent and accountable. Rather, contemporary problems are frequently bigger, more entrenched, and, in many cases, simply beyond the skills and capacity of government to resolve alone. 1970's-era New York City, teetering on the brink of financial collapse, was, given its many pressing needs, right to let Central Park fall into disrepair and decay. But the cost was the loss, for all practical purposes, of a jewel of urban greenspace, and with the passing of the Park as a communal gathering place and respite from the rush and tumble of urban existence, the City also lost a part of its soul.
It took the Central Park Conservancy -- a non-profit group formed specifically to reverse the Park's decline, and that continues to manage it to this day -- to overcome the Parks Department's lack of resources and wherewithal to resurrect Central Park, to convert it from a desolate wasteland to the shining treasure it is today. In the process, the Conservancy, without knowing it at the time, also created the intellectual foundation of the collaborative governance movement. To be sure, the Conservancy didn't -- couldn't -- act alone. It's efforts were borne of, and depended on, the visionary commitment of [name], the Parks Commissioner who approved the original agreement, and the hundreds of Department workers who, instead of being threatened by "outsiders," valued a shared commitment to a common goal and, instead of resisting, embraced the opportunity to save the Park they loved.
For proponents of collaborative governance, the story of Central Park is a touchstone of sorts, an inspirational example of the power of government and citizens to band together to get things done. It is far from the only example, however. In the intervening years, collaborative governance has increasingly come to be seen as a viable, even necessary, strategy for effective problem solving in myriad areas resistant to traditional approaches.
Awareness, though, is still limited, and much confusion remains about the distinction between collaborative governance and other forms of partnership between government and private players that have been around far longer. Stated simply, collaborative governance lies somewhere between traditional contracting for specific, well-defined and bounded services (road repair, for example), and traditional grantmaking in areas where government is absent. The elements of ColGov include many the same ingredients as standard public/private COOPERATION. The differences lie in the formal, long term arrangements that encompass a sharing of resources -human, financial and physical AND shared DISCRETION. The last element may be the primary source of leverage --hence the book on the subject is entitled FIVE [as in 2+2= ]. It is hoped and believed that some existingand future public/private cooperation might be enhanced by greater use of the ColGov ingedients.
The work of CGRI, and this web site, hopefully will do much to clear up the confusion, and, as a result, enhance the opportunities for collaborative governance to emerge as the game-changer it has the potential to become. 19th century America embraced a laizze-faire philosophy of extremely limited government. Andrew Carnegie built libraries; Vanderbilt created transportation networks. Government itself did very little. But the excesses of that age ushered in an era of government regulation and public works that became the dominant model for the next 100 years. Now, on the front-lines of the 21st century, we're faced with a similar challenge: to overcome the limits of government, and channel the energies, expertise, and ideals of an empowered community of foundations, non-profit organizations, businesses and dedicated citizens to solve our common problems, and to make America work better.
Frank A. Weil