Coalition Building

Featured Contributor: Eric Holdeman

This is an interesting time in which to live.  The challenges we face are immense and the solutions necessary for success generally involve our learning to work together for the betterment of all.  One small example of that is the pursuit and acquisition of federal grant dollars to support our individual and collective efforts towards homeland security.

Just as we live in an interdependent society that requires a cooperative system of electrical power and telecommunications, that interdependency also extends to jurisdictions working effectively together before a disaster so that when a catastrophe does strike we are working seamlessly together.  On the face of it the idea of organizations working together for the shared good of all seems easy until one approaches the task of finding common ground and allocating resources between organizations.  This is when the difficult work begins.

Our political system is not necessarily aligned for cooperation.  The proliferation of cities, counties, and special purpose districts like school, water, and fire in reality separates our interests into small fiefdoms of control.  The general and pervasive feeling is that which supports independent action by each organization.  With independence brings self-determination for how to move forward towards solutions.  When we “mix it up” and start trying to work in concert with others it is an unnatural feeling.

The progression towards collaboration requires that people and organizations communicate with one another.  In the sharing of information and viewpoints relationships can begin to develop.  The ultimate outcome is to have all organizations who are joining together to achieve a level of trust in the actions and intentions of the other players.  Getting to this final point will take time and effort by all parties.  Without this trust you have organizations like two scorpions circling each other, ready to pounce while at the same time saying they are “working together.”

Regional collaboration is seen as a goal that can be rewarded with increased funding for the participating organizations.  Rather than taking grant money that is allocated and dividing it by the number of organizations, those participating in the grant and preparedness efforts should look for projects that benefit the collective whole.  This commonality of purpose is easier achieved by having regions not be some artificially contrived amalgamation of jurisdictions.  Rather, by having a region be one that shares a common population and resources.  By having this as a foundation it is easier to interact together and achieve some commonality of purpose between the organizations.

While most funding is going to the public sector it is advisable to include the private sector and nonprofits in the mix of organizations participating in the regional grant process.  They already are not aligned with individual jurisdictions and their broader cross jurisdictional functioning makes them a positive player in helping to align the use of resources with a regional approach.

Regional collaborative approaches are not for the faint of heart.  These efforts will take time to initiate, maintain, and grow.  Perhaps the access to increased funding will be the impetus for working together, but success will come when it is not about the funding, but the increase in interoperability that becomes the real goal.  When interoperability trumps just getting the funding is when collaboration will not be fueled by money, but by the interests of all parties in having a more effective regional collaboration.  This collaboration will make them individually and collectively stronger and more resilient in the face of future challenges that are sure to come.

Eric Holdeman is the Principal for Eric Holdeman and Associates. He has been recognized by Government Technology Magazine as one of the Top 25 people in the nation who, “challenge convention, confront entrenched bureaucracy and promote innovation.”

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