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Intergovernmental Coordination, Cooperation and Collaboration

“Without trust, we don’t truly collaborate; we merely coordinate or, at best, cooperate. It is trust that transforms a group of people into a team.” — Stephen Covey

Intergovernmental coordination for the purposes of this article encompasses how governments work with each other, both horizontally and vertically, i.e.

  • Horizontally with other local governments (cites/counties), other public entities such as the school board or other local elected boards , and local non-governmental organizations;  or
  • Vertically with regional entities such as water and sewer authorities, and state and federal legislatures and agencies.

Intergovernmental coordination is essential not only to resolve multi-jurisdictional problems but to

  • Ensure the most efficient and effective use of tax revenues,
  • Provide for orderly growth of communities,
  • Manage resources for the future and
  • Ensure adequate availability and maintenance of public infrastructure and services.

Traditionally, intergovernmental coordination has been hampered by 

  • Differences in organizational status and influence as well as funding capabilities;
  • Differences in political and personal philosophies and values;
  • Differences in personality and professional perspectives; and
  • Differences in perceptions about what the problems are and how to resolve them.

Resulting in

  • Ongoing controversies and enmities from years of conflicts;
  • Jurisdictional ambiguities and functional overlaps and conflicting policies;
  • Duplication of service delivery creating excessive costs i.e. fire and police;
  • Competition for scarce resources (time, money, tools, etc.);
  • Incompatible objectives; and
  • Interdependence of tasks.

All of which further complicate the ability to reach solutions. In order to move beyond these issues successfully, governments must work together collaboratively to:

  1. Isolate, determine and clearly define what the need or problem is and why it is a problem.
  2. Analyze the current processes and mechanisms used to address the problem.
  3. Assess how cost effective and efficient the current solutions are.
  4. Determine how suitable or if the current delivery system is adequate to meet not only current demands but respond effectively to future needs.
  5. Generate alternative strategies or solutions
  6. Assess the practicality and viability of the alternative solutions, including
    1. Long term economic impact and cost effectiveness of both current delivery and alternative solutions; and
    2. Determination of the political will and implementation realities
  7. Establish goals, strategies and timelines for implementation of alternative mechanisms.
  8. Develop policies, procedures, and necessary agreements to enforce and or guide implementation and provide for clear delineation of responsibility/accountability.
  9. Continue to collaborate and analyze the success of alternative mechanisms.  

  A truly collaborative effort must be established, in order to accomplish the required steps for intergovernmental coordination and reach consensus regarding alternative mechanisms to resolve problems.  Leaders, elected and appointed, as well as stakeholders must explore ways to get parties to work together toward viable win-win solutions.   The involved parties must come to the table ready and willing to LISTEN to each other with an open mind and understand and accept the other’s point of view.  In this way, positive efforts can be made to create strategies based on compromise that can move our communities forward.    We must think in terms of communities first.  If we are to provide local government services in an efficient and effective manner, we can no longer think first about the perpetuation of existing organizations and existing individual or organizational agendas  

As summarized by Barbara Gray, in her book, Collaborating, Finding Common Ground for Multiparty Problems,  

"We need to switch from an image of individual sovereignty over a problem domain [to] one of shared stewardship." 

If we as a community (counties, cities, developers, school systems, citizens, etc.) could adopt this perspective, I believe we could create a common vision with shared effective strategies for resolving our jurisdictional conflicts and effectively address the increasing demands on our limited resources.    Traditional mechanisms for intergovernmental coordination include intergovernmental agreements, contracting for services, and partnering.  Dwindling resources require alternative strategies which more local governments are now utilizing, due to the scarcity of resources, including consolidation of services or mergers of governments or specific government services, and privatization or contracts with private or not for profit providers.    Where practical consolidation has the potential to eliminate needless layers of duplication, increase coordination and provide more effective and efficient services based on greater economies of scale and associated cost savings.  Existing bureaucracies and ability and willingness to merge policy/administration and decision making, perceived loss of control, anxiety about change and concerns that bigger may not be better are just a few of the issues that threaten consolidation efforts.    With the current competitive structure of local governments, the economic crisis that we are facing may be the driving force which can move us beyond these parochial concerns to a focus on the greater good and true collaborative intergovernmental coordination.