Skillful Means
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At the beginning of the 21st century governing institutions, civic leaders, and citizens face unprecedented challenges:

  • Many more people with a stake in public problems demand a say in the political decision making process.
  • Complex and systemic public problems are no longer amenable to expert or top-down solutions.
  • Few people agree about the precise nature of the problems so few agree on solutions.
  • Little in the way of shared vision or values encourages concerted action.
  • Distrust and mistrust pervade the relationships between sectors, races, and other disparate groups and interests.
  • Most of these groups lack the skills to work effectively with others.

Despite the confrontational nature of much politics, around the world citizens and civic leaders have found ways to negotiate through competing interests and obligations to find real solutions to complex problems.

  • They have created inclusive and constructive public processes that complement and work in parallel with the formal institutions of governance.
  • they have cut across the divisiveness of adversarial politics to reach common ground.
  • they take the time to learn about alternative approaches to public problems and learn new roles for supporting them.

Rather than using resistance and confrontation, they create forums where contending points of view can be legitimized and understood and use dialogue to facilitate the emergence of a broader consensus.


Collaboration is a process, and a set of pragmatic tools, by which citizens and civic leaders hold their communities and regions to higher standards of civic engagement.

Through skillful collaboration we can ensure that responses to emerging civic challenges:

  • produce tangible, substantial, and sustainable results;
  • bring people together in ways that heal rather than divide;
  • engage citizens in new and deeply democratic ways in the process of defining visions and strategies for their communities and regions; and,
  • enhance the civic culture of the community or region.

Imagine if standards like these became the norms for how we make public decisions. The approaches described in The Collaborative Leadership Fieldbook can help make these new norms a reality.