CRI's 2006 conference took an intermediate, regional focus. Over Memorial Day weekend, a thoughtful group convened to address how universities in the West can be better utilized to promote collaborative governance and quality solutions to public disputes. The conference was entitled, "Public Conflict Resolution and Collaborative Governance in the West: University Centers as Partners and Conveners," and was co- sponsored by the Policy Consensus Initiative (PCI) based in Portland, Oregon. Attendees represented three primary groups: University-based centers that currently provide services for addressing public policy conflicts or who partner with those who do, people from western universities interested in this work, and regional private providers or government agency in-house conflict resolution specialists interested in collaborating with universities. The conference had wide regional representation, with ten other western universities attending: Arizona, Colorado State, Hawaii, New
Mexico, Oregon State, Portland State, Regis, Utah, Washington State, and Wyoming. Several locally based but nationally known private firms also sent representatives, including Keystone, Meridian, CDR, and RESOLVE.
Many western states share: (a) numerous disputes over environmental and other public issues, (b) lack of official institutional mechanisms for addressing these disputes productively, and (c) a network of providers that have evolved to serve this need, yet remain isolated and autonomous.
Universities are uniquely positioned to serve political and civic leaders who are seeking to address and solve today's difficult public problems, and to help make connections with the network of providers who serve this need. As neutral forums, university-based consensus building programs can take action without taking sides. As teaching institutions, they can increase the capacity of all parties to better work collaboratively to achieve their goals. They can provide education, training, tools, resources, and information about best practices for transforming conflict into cooperation. As clearinghouses, they can connect leaders and communities with providers of substantive and/or process expertise. As institutions with public credibility, they can provide both the place and the necessary expertise to assist governments, business groups, community members, and other decision makers to collaboratively improve the design and implementation of public policies.
According to PCI's report, Finding Better Ways to Solve Public Problems: The Emerging Role of Universities as Neutral Forums for Collaborative Policy-making, newly developing programs face a number of important design decisions. These
include choosing the appropriate location and context for the program; finding active and engaged champions; determining strategies for serving both the academic and service missions of the university; and setting a strategic program direction and a method for measuring results. In addition, program developers should consider working with partners both within and outside the university to overcome resource constraints and other barriers. They should devise outreach and promotional strategies to increase awareness and use of collaborative governance practices, enhance funding opportunities, and grow the number of advocates working toward the program's success.
CRI and PCI organized this conference to explore how to further enhance capacity in western states for collaborative governance processes, to better tap into and utilize university resources for these processes, to link and establish relationships between service providers, to make relationships within states work more effectively, and to network across states, e.g., for sharing best practices and for collaborating on research. The conference began with a public panel, "Solving Public Problems: Stories from the Field...(the Highway, the River, and the Public Square)" featuring speakers Kirk Emerson (U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution, Arizona), E. Franklin Dukes (Institute for Environmental Negotiation at the University of Virginia), and Peter Adler (The Keystone Center, Keystone, Colorado). One and a half days of sessions followed, including a variety of panels, roundtables, and open discussions. A range of topics were addressed, including: exploring university program models, building increased (internal) university capacity, building increased external capacity, bringing research to bear on public issues, and continuing to work together to address western states' needs.
Attendees were very enthusiastic about the value of the conference. Strategies were shared for addressing many ongoing challenges. Particular challenges specific to universities were also discussed, such as how to build a donor base, how to involve students in apprenticeship roles, how to walk the fine line of being involved in policy issues and yet often being a taxpayer-funded entity, and how to collaborate rather than compete with nearby entities also engaged such as private firms or government agencies.
In addition to the conference proceedings, which are currently being assembled, the conference participants decided to establish a listserve and an informal network. Washington State University professor Rob McDaniel has volunteered to host a follow up meeting of the network there in 18-24 months.
- T. P. d'Estrée