The following post was originally published on February 28, 2015 in Outlook, a special section of the Chico Enterprise-Record.
One of the most valuable attributes of our community is the power of diverse peoples working together to get something done. Over the past year, two important initiatives have emerged that illustrate this power of collaboration.
The first initiative was a diverse array of community members working together with the police department and city management to create the Police Staffing Plan. This initiative brought together business leaders, service providers, homeless advocates, educators, and health providers to focus on the common good—in this case, public safety.
The second initiative was Reading Pals, a reading program in the Chico Unified School District initiated by community members and in collaboration with the school district, principals, and teachers. For an hour each week, a wide spectrum of community volunteers meet and read, one-on-one, with children. This collaboration is already producing significant results: children in this program are catching up to appropriate reading levels two to three faster than their peers.
In my own work, I’ve observed the elements of collaboration through which these initiatives flourish: a common goal, interdependent participants, equal input, and shared decision-making. Collaborators are characterized by the ability to have respectful dialogue, creating a level playing field where each participant has an equal voice and where each person values a diversity of perspectives.
In an era of political polarization and stalemates, collaboration has many challenges and barriers. And lest we blame politicians or other community leaders, the wild world of social media has become a commonplace for arrows thrown, misconceptions perpetuated, and civility lost.
To accomplish anything of lasting significance in our community these days, we’ll need to overcome these barriers and work together for the common good. Not just traditional community leaders, but widespread participation for the health and flourishing of our community. Together, we have the tools and resources to change from reactive leadership to proactive engagement.
Opportunities abound with much to be accomplished in our local community, if we can effectively collaborate. In our region, we have myriad challenges in education. For example, in Butte County, only 41% of third graders score proficient or higher in English Language Arts standardized exams. It’s a community challenge that requires widespread participation and collaboration. Another example: in Butte County, 1 in 4 children live in poverty. Let’s together work on breaking the cycle and giving alternatives through our resources of collaboration and participation to make effective solutions.
Public Safety is another concern. Gang presence and aggression in our region is increasing. Again, we’ll need nothing short of widespread participation and collaboration to address this at every level.
Water resources are an additional issue in our region. As daunting as the efforts may seem, again, we’ll need collaboration from all sides of the issue to come up with viable and acceptable solutions.
Collaboration often comes as a reactive response to a critical or pressing community need. It usually emerges from gridlock, which drives people to finally start working together. Only rarely does it come from proactive, visionary leadership. My outlook on this year is this: we’re producing results and making a difference, but we need to be more proactive and visionary when it comes to both leadership and action.