Natural disasters pose collaboration and coordination challenges for communities that can escalate into conflicts. The Conflict Resolution Institute at the University of Denver co-facilitated its second workshop as part of the Colorado Collaborative Leadership Institute (CCLI). Founded in 2012 by a consortium of local universities, CCLI seeks to increase the collaborative capacity to address local environmental and public policy issues in Colorado. The April workshop took place in Boulder, focusing on inter- and intra-community collaboration for flood response and resilience planning. The event spanned two days, and was held at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Colorado’s Institute of Behavioral Sciences. The workshop's size of forty participants, drawn from local communities, non-profits, businesses, and various government sectors, allowed for direct interaction and sharing of experiences regarding the 2013 Colorado floods.
The workshop began with a panel focused on the importance of community outreach and collaboration during the flood response and recovery process. Chaired by Professor Tanya Heikkila of the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver, panelists shared their experiences with these challenges and offered an engaging discussion regarding the various aspects of collaboration and the importance of both preparedness and community resiliency. This panel introduced a major theme of versatility to the conference, as representatives from Lyons, Evans, and Jamestown provided perspectives unique to the flood’s impact on their community and the different processes needed depending on region demographics.
Interactive sessions offered participants opportunities to engage in activities with one another and learn facilitation and leadership skills to apply to their own field. Laura Kaplan, a Conflict Analysis and Resolution professional with a strong background in designing and implementing multi-party collaborative processes, conducted a workshop on meeting facilitation skills. This workshop provided insight into effective public meeting facilitation, including some of the main goals of a public meeting, pointers on delegating and prioritizing topics, and tools for organizing thoughts and questions. Participants talked about the “3 D’s” of leading a meeting: Deals, Delegate and Defer, and importance of tailoring the meeting to both the attendees and the goals of the facilitator. Note-taking was another focus, and Kaplan led a discussion about various media for recording thoughts and encouraging attendees to participate, including computer applications, white boards and flipcharts. The workshop was particularly useful given the topic under exploration, and leaders from various communities and professional fields expressed their appreciation for the training module.
The conference’s second panel was led by Professor Tamra Pearson d’Estree of the Conflict Resolution Institute at the University of Denver. Panelists from the County of Boulder and the City of Longmont provided valuable insight for balancing community needs and values during flood recovery. This segment concentrated heavily on the importance of communication. As Gabi Boerkircher, of the Boulder County Public Information Office, attested, “one of the things most striking for me was the amount of interaction the community really wanted. [They were] thirsty for any information we could give them.” Identifying the needs and desires of the community as quickly as possible was key to assuring the process would run smoothly and the community would feel informed and considered during the flood recovery process. Communication was important for spreading awareness, as well; a trending problem within all represented communities at the conference was the drastic differences in impact even within the same region. Gary Sanfacon of the County of Boulder’s Community Engagement department recalls complaints coming into the office regarding the noise of the helicopters; these residents had experienced light rain during the flooding and had no idea that the helicopters were rescuing other community members from trees and roofs just a few miles away.
The remainder of the panel keyed on the various unique aspects of each community which needed to be recognized, celebrated, and preserved. For example, many communities had economies which focused on tourism or farming. Participants from Longmont talked about the “jewel of Longmont,” the Greenway, which is a bike path running through the town and into the mountains. Boulder community members discussed the plethora of festivals year-round in Boulder, a defining quality of the city; many of these towns had large cyclist and hiking populations that were eager to see the roadways and trails restored.
In between activities, participants enjoyed refreshments and networking opportunities, connecting with counterparts in neighboring communities or sharing perspectives. Many participants chatted about the possibility of potential inter-region collaboration on future recovery projects.
CCLI continues to build capacity, transfer knowledge, and create dialogue around emerging environmental and public policy concerns in Colorado and is already in the planning stages for its next workshop. Read more information about the upcoming workshop on collaborative community planning amid controversies such as siting and fracking to take place in Glenwood Springs, Colorado in mid-October 2015.