Resources for Leaders and Convenors

The Public Solutions Operating System involves leaders in the role of convener.

A leader acts as convener when he or she helps create a forum or place and invites key interests or stakeholders to come together to solve problems through a collaborative problem solving process.

This is different from a leader deciding what needs to be done and using his or her power to tell people what should be done. Rather, a leader acting as convener works with all other key interests to examine and reframe problems, establish strategies, and formulate responses. Convening is what leaders can do to build consensus around a recommendation for action.

A leader's authority to play the role of convener is based on the office, not the person. Other leaders can be given authority to convene by an elected leader who vests them with authority. An appointed convener can be effective in this role by virtue of his or her credibility and the "social capital" he or she has accumulated through previous leadership positions.

Here are eight suggestions for how a leader can be an effective convener:

  1. Be inclusive. Engage a wide variety of people from different perspectives. If important players are left out, any solutions the group develops will be suspect.
  2. Meet in a neutral place. The place needs to ensure an impartial process. When the issue is complex and divisive, it will be helpful to get assistance from an experienced facilitator in planning and conducting the process.
  3. Be impartial. To keep people participating, they have to believe the leader is not going to favor one side or another, rather that they are trying to find a solution that all sides can embrace. If people think a leader is taking one side or another, they won't stay with the process.
  4. Establish the purpose for the process. Let participants help frame the issues to open the way for discussion and problem solving.
  5. Direct, rather than dominate, the discussions. Bring people together to find agreement. Enable them to talk with each other, rather than talk only to you. It is often useful to get someone else to facilitate the discussions so you can listen and ask questions. Besides, busy leaders may not have time to run all the meetings.
  6. Keep people moving. Help keep participants focused and working together when their differences threaten to drive them apart.
  7. Demonstrate visible commitment. Even if a leader can't be present at every meeting, send signals demonstrating on-going interest and provide feedback to the group on their progress.
  8. Finally, make sure there's an outcome. The best outcomes involve written agreements that spell out different people's responsibilities. Leaders can ensure that the agreements they reach get formally adopted.

Convening: The Legislator's Powerful Role

PCI and National Council of State Legislators Legislative Effectiveness Committee Workshop at the 2008 Legislative Summit in New Orleans. 209KB PDF.

A Practical Guide to Collaborative Governance Excerpts

The following resources are excerpted from A Practical Guide to Collaborative Governance, a guidebook published by PCI. The 62-page step-by-step handbook walks readers through the stages of sponsoring, convening, organizing, and participating in a public policy collaborative process. Order the complete Practical Guide.



The Role of Convener


Articles offering practical advice and experience for leaders in implementing the Public Solutions Operating System:

Gridlock Impossible at Kitchen Table

By James E. Geringer and John A. Kitzhaber

Former Governors Geringer and Kitzhaber describe a new kind of role for leaders — that of convener. By bringing people together to solve public problems, and by helping people reach productive agreements collaboratively, all sides can gain more than they lose.

Seizing the Moment: How Leaders Lead by Convening Others

By John A. Kitzhaber

The office of governor carries with it the authority or power to create a forum and bring people to it. Generally, when a governor convenes a meeting, people from across the board are willing to come. Other leaders also have this same capacity to bring people to the table.

Agencies Build Agreements at Governor's Kitchen Table

By Jim Geringer

Building on the tradition of working things out around the kitchen table, Wyoming agencies found ways to communicate and cooperate, thus avoiding the arbitrary and bureaucratic entanglements that cause conflict — and rebellion — to fester.

Finding Winning Solutions - The Art and Science of Good Governance

By Ralph Becker

Salt Lake City Mayor Becker outlines his approach to decision-making, using the Public Solutions process, and describes the work of other leaders, both in Utah and across the country, that influenced him to adopt collaborative governance principles as an elected official.

Regional Conflict in Utah Leads Legislature to Consensus Process

By Ralph Becker

In an alternative approach to addressing a major regional planning issue, four legislators--two from each party--set up a working group of representatives from cities, counties, special districts, private utilities, associations of government, the Utah Transit Authority, the State Planning Coordinator, Utah's Geographic Information System (UGIS) agency, and a Utah intergovernmental advisory group.

Florida Senator Leads Three-County Collaborative

In response to his state's mounting challenges, and to several reports calling for improved collaboration among the region's jurisdictions and interests, Florida Senator Ken Pruitt initiated a new kind of collaborative planning effort — convened by the Governor — that includes key public, private, and not-for-profit stakeholders.

How Business, Government and Philanthropy Intersect to Solve Public Problems

Oregon State Senator Betsy Johnson addresses the Oregon Community Foundation about the intersection of business, government and philanthropy, and how these three entities must work together for states to solve their most pressing public issues.