A Regional Governing Body?
by Bill Dodge
Over the past month, I have worked with two regional leadership partnerships that are playing key roles in shaping their regions’ futures.
They have already attracted the participation of budding regional citizens -- leaders from all sectors who are committed to reaching across geographic/sector boundaries to address common challenges. They have also earned accolades for broaching these often controversial topics; analyzing them and even designing strategies for resolving them. They have attracted funding for exploring tough challenges and even published reports on the state of their regions.
Most importantly, they are confident that they can add any regional challenge to their agendas, no matter how controversial. Some of this confidence comes from their track records. Some of it is being reinforced by the public’s growing recognition that our inability to address regional challenges is undermining our competitiveness in the global farmer’s market and reducing our quality of life at home.
However, they are not sure they are making enough of a difference in addressing the tough regional challenges.
A bit of background.
The two regional partnerships are Joint Venture Silicon Valley (JVSV) and the Heart of Florida Coalition (HOFC).
JVSV brings leaders together in the southern San Francisco bay area. It has been exploring regional challenges over the past decade; raising public awareness, facilitating taking common actions with bay area, state, and federal organizations, and publishing periodic state of the region reports. It has a small professional staff, a few interns, and sufficient resources to analyze selected regional challenges. It operates as a nonprofit organization, guided by a board composed of public, private, and civic leaders whose organizations finance its activities.
HOFC brings leaders together in the Gainesville and Ocala areas of central Florida. It has only been exploring regional challenges for the past few years, sponsoring day-long regional summits and facilitating regional conversations with state and federal organizations. It has one part-time staff member, a limited budget, and operates as an unincorporated association. HOFC is attempting to create a partnership in central Florida that can work with the established partnerships in the Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa, and Western Panhandle regions.
Whereas JVSV is incorporated, and has a longer track record than HOFC, both are dealing with similar frustrations as they shape their futures, as do other cross-sector regional leadership partnerships. They all depend on passing their visions and strategies onto other organizations that can then design, finance, implement, and even monitor the implementation of the suggested actions. Sometimes they have success, especially with smaller, cheaper, uncontroversial challenges -- the often low-hanging fruit. However, they have little success with larger, costly, controversial challenges -- the unmentionables that require the unlikelies to do the unheardofs. In fact, they often have difficulty in determining where to send their visions and strategies, much less have anyone implement them. All too often their activities shed light but fail to engage action.
In sum, both JVSV and HOFC are having difficulty shaping futures that will sustain their confidence that they can address tough challenges successfully. For all of their good intentions, and growing participation, they are discovering that there is “no there there” for addressing tough regional challenges from identification through resolution. Even the most sophisticated of their regional organizations -- such as councils of governments, chambers of commerce, civic organizations, research institutes, and special authorities -- offer unpredictable support, due to their preoccupation with existing challenges or their lack of resources to address new ones.
Is it time to consider creating “regional governing bodies” that help assure addressing the tough regional challenges? If it is, are we ready to address the “turf” issues that are always associated with empowering any regional organization with real responsibilities? If it isn’t, do we have any hope of successfully addressing the tough challenges?
What would a “regional governing body” look like? For sake of discussion, I suggest calling it an All-Sector Committee of the Region. It would need to have representation from all regional interests, maybe through key regional organizations, all serving as equals. It would need to be empowered with specific, but limited, responsibilities, including:
· Exploring all regional challenges brought to its attention, even the ones that some of its members do not want to explore
· Proposing a process for addressing each regional challenge, and anointing responsible organizations, including postponing exploring some challenges with reasoned explanations
· Monitoring progress in addressing regional challenges, including reporting regularly to the public
· Submitting plans for addressing regional challenges to the public for approval, including proposals for funding priority actions, as necessary
· Having access to predictable, even dedicated, resources to carry out its responsibilities
Most importantly, an All-Sector Committee of the Region might be able to help empower the region to address common challenges as effectively as it can now address local ones. Designing an All-Sector Committee of the Region will test the willingness of all sectors to come together to share a small part of their sovereignty, and resources, to assure that they can collectively address the common challenges that are key to their and the nation’s future.
An All-Sector Committee of the Region would not resolve individual regional challenges, only make sure that they are addressed by others in the region until they are resolved. In theory, it might be possible to have more than one All-Sector Committee of the Region in a region, but in practice it would be like local governments having multiple governing boards. However, an existing regional organization could transform itself into the All-Sector Committee of the Region, especially one whose activities especially focus on the responsibilities enumerated above, such as the JVSV and HOFC.
I have suggested that the JVSV and HOFC consider designing and launching All-Sector Committees of the Region. Is it also time for other regions to consider launching similar organizations? Or, more importantly, are “regional governing bodies” key to resolving the challenges that are shaping the nation’s future?
Bill Dodge is looking for a few good regions that are interested in designing All-Sector Committees of the Region or other components of regional charters to strengthen their capacity to address tough common challenges. He is the former Executive Director of the National Association of Regional Councils, author of Regional Excellence, and is writing a new book on regional charters. WilliamRDodge@aol.com.