The case study I share herewith, speaks to what is possible when a group of committed individuals, supported by good civic process and civic leadership skills, approach solving watershed problems in a new way. Their story runs counter to what you will typically read in the “mainstream” media. Rather than focus on what divides us and what is hopeless, cynical, polarizing, or dysfunctional, this case study describes the work of a small number of citizens who made a hopeful and positive decision to take on the roles and responsibilities of renewing democracy, while also addressing the important water issues of our time. These civic leaders are making consistent and meaningful changes in their communities by renewing civic life and supporting each other in the process. Having been involved since the beginning of these pilot projects, I have watched each leader grow in their leadership skills and collaborative practice.

This case study profiles the efforts of people like you and I, who are taking responsibility for doing what they can to solve public problems in small, humble and imperfect ways for the common good. Each is finding new ways of re-imagining the way government and community-based organizations can collaborate to solve complex watershed restoration and protection problems. Their approach models hope, instead of hopelessness, inclusiveness, rather than exclusion, cooperation, instead of competition, and collaboration, rather than controversy. Their outcomes are never perfect, but they have found a renewed sense of purpose and greater meaning in their work, while getting better outcomes. Most importantly, there is a greater sense of momentum toward addressing the issues they care about.

This is the first of three cases studies I will be sharing on my website in the coming weeks. The first case study profiles the work of two central Minnesota county government professionals and a lake association leader who were frustrated with business-as-usual approaches to restoring and protecting public waters. These civic leaders have spent considerable effort working to reframe and reconsider their relationships with the public. Their new approaches and practices are increasingly outward-looking, collaborative and inclusive.

Using a Civic Organizing©/Civic Governance approach to watershed management, they began this effort by looking at their own ways of modeling democratic practices within their administrative roles. While they would say that their efforts are a work in progress, people collaborating with them have noticed the difference, and see that they are trying to model a more effective way of working together for the common good of clean water.

What is Civic Governance?

The Civic Governance Model: This specific approach, developed by Peg Michels and Tony Massengale, resulted from evaluating institutional governing practices over a period of 20 years. It is now being applied to specific water quality problems in several jurisdictions in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

This model frames the need for a new approach to politics and policy making that is grounded in the role and obligation we all have as citizens. Imagining citizenship as the public “office” we all hold in a democracy, expands the current meaning of citizenship from one that concentrates solely on the legal status that the title confers to one that elevates the role and capacity all individuals have to make decisions in light of the common good.

The authors of the case studies realize that this is a new idea for our times, but that it is also grounded in the legacy of individuals who have sacrificed greatly to sustain the word and the meaning of democracy as a just form of governance.

Each case study addresses:

The need for change in watershed governance –grounded in evidence that the current way governance is imagined, structured, and practiced, is a key barrier to achieving good water quality.

How the proposed model has been applied – using the model’s 3 defining documents:

Civic Governance Policy Agenda – which calls for investment in civic leadership development in many of our institutions (public, private, and non-profit). We argue that there is a need for civic leaders to learn how to organize a base of diverse stakeholders to the universal obligations of active citizenship (advancing the common good, contributing to solution strategies, and governing the process to ensure accountability to achieving goals), with the intent of addressing problems and policies that are impacting our ability to address key policy issues within institutions and society. Leaders can address specific public policy issues at the same time they renew and enhance the ideas of democracy and active citizenship in our day-to-day lives.

Jurisdiction Governing DocumentFrames the way in which the agenda can be advanced in specific situations. This document includes inspirational civic principles, as well as the practical skills and disciplines needed to be an effective civic leader.

Criteria for Membership in the Midwest Active Citizenship Initiative (MACI) The basis for accountability in determining whether the model meets the identified need.

To read the Civic Governance Policy Agenda, find it here:

To read the first case study, click the link to the Midwest Active Citizenship Initiative website below. Two other Civic Governance case studies will also be highlighted in future blogs. Please feel free to contact me with your questions.


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