Civic Governance (using a Civic Organizing© approach) can spark a new kind of community investment in problem-solving, can improve collaboration among civic and private sector institutions and support skill-building in civic leaders. It has the promise to renew our civic imaginations and create a sense of hope and possibilities.

Many of us have had moments in our professional and community lives when we were part of an initiative that really worked, where there was a sense of shared purpose, teamwork, and accountability around making a difference.

Can you remember such an experience? A time when you were given a meaty, substantive role to play as part of a team – something that challenged you to be more, to lead in a more inspired way, or to instill a sense of hope in others?  If you have, I am guessing that it left you with a sense of accomplishment, hope, and fulfillment.

Unfortunately, these opportunities don’t come along often enough in our work lives or even when we volunteer our time to good causes. Too often, a few leaders call the shots, dole out tasks and exclude those that implement the policies from key decision-making roles. By leaving people who are impacted by policies out of the policy making equation, we miss important opportunities and diminish our chances for long-term, sustained success in institutions of all kinds.

Staff and/or volunteers that have a minimal role in the dialogue, deliberation, and decision-making processes may never develop a sense of commitment or lasting dedication to a cause. This could result in their disengagement and the loss of their skills, gifts and passions. This is something that most organizations cannot afford to have happen.

Leaders in three community-based organizations in Wisconsin had experienced the kind of disengagement, burn-out, and turnover of staff and volunteers that often occurs when a top-down, service delivery approach becomes an organization’s “business model”. Service delivery organizations can often be characterized as having a strong, charismatic leader who takes on the main decision-making role and, with the help of staff, takes responsibility for developing and delivering services to specific clientele outside their organization.

In turn, their clients or customers typically accept or consume those services in a rather passive manner. Typically, there are very limited roles for the consumers in determining whether that service should be, or how it should be rendered.

The service delivery approach to governing an organization is common in government agencies, businesses and even non-profits. Yet, we know that this “business model” often leads to frustration, a sense of entitlement on the part of the consumer of the services, resentment, and in some cases, an inability to solve complex societal or business problems.

Our Wisconsin leaders decided to take a new approach to governing their struggling service delivery organizations. With the help of Civic Organizing© and its Executive Director, Peg Michels, they learned a new approach to governing, called Civic Governance. This framework/ model seeks to develop a new approach to managing organizations that shares the responsibility for governing among a broader set of leaders and stakeholders. In that sense, it is highly collaborative, fair, open, just, transparent, and democratic. The model seeks to teach and uphold the best of our civic principles, to elevate the role of all citizens in policy making activities, and at the same time, help organizations to meet their specific goals and objectives.

Before learning the Civic Governance principles, standards, skills and practices, the three Wisconsin community-based organizations had either been on the verge of dissolving the organization, had been unable to sustain collaborations within their community, or could not create the kind of civic structure and purpose that would keep community members coming back to the table to problem-solve over time. With a completely different approach to working in the community, they are now on a more successful, sustainable and collaborative course.

The organization leaders are not directive, authoritative, or isolated in their efforts to do good work in the community. Instead, they work to build bridges, to listen, to inspire the development of other civic leaders and to create a sense of accountability for getting work done that, heretofore, they had not been able to accomplish.

If you click the link below, you can read more about their experiences to date. This is the last of three Civic Governance case studies I promised to share with you this year. They all document the hopeful outcomes seen when Civic Governance is integrated within community organizations.

Please contact me if you would like more information about how you could use a Civic Governance approach in your organization.

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