From Community Engagement to Ownership: Tools for the Field with Case studies of Four Municipal Community-Driven Environmental and Racial Equity Committees

Recognizing the importance of collaborative governance in reducing inequities as a result of climate vulnerability, the Urban Sustainability Directors Network gave the Innovation Fund Project grant to four municipal community-based committees for racial equity and environmental justice. They were funded to learn and evaluate the collaboration process between community-based committees and the local governments utilizing the spectrum of community engagement to ownership (spectrum) as a tool to analyze the case studies. The four case studies include the Equity Working Group in Portland, the Racial and Environmental Justice Committee in Providence, the Environmental Justice Committee in Seattle, and the Equity Advisory Group for Ward 7 in Washington DC. The four groups contracted with Facilitating Power (FP), Movement Strategy Center (MSC), and the National Association of Climate Resilience Planners to establish an evaluation process of collaborative governance. After conducting surveys and in-person interviews, the research indicates that all four cases are still at level two (consult) on a scale of five on the spectrum. While some have shown the potential of moving toward level three (community involvement), none of these cases have arrived at level four (collaborative governance). Building on the findings and the spectrum, the project further suggests a learning and evaluation tool for assessing the process of collaborative governance.     

The spectrum of community engagement to ownership is a tool to assess the degree of community engagement occurring within a process. It was developed by Rosa Gonzalez of FP in collaboration with MSC, in part drawing on content from several public participation tools, including Arnstein’s Ladder of Citizen Participation and the Public Participation Spectrum created by the International Association for Public Participation. The tool serves four purposes: 

  1. Acknowledge marginalization as the status quo
  2. Assert a clear vision
  3. Articulate a developmental process
  4. Assess community participation efforts

The spectrum is comprised of six developmental levels that each have respective community engagement goals:

  • Ignore: Deny access to decision-making processes.
  • Inform: Provide the community with relevant information 
  • Consult: Gather input from the community
  • Involve: Ensure community needs and assets are integrated into process and inform planning 
  • Collaborate: Ensure community capacity to play a leadership role in implementation of decisions  
  • Defer to: Foster democratic participation and equity by placing full decision-making in the hands of the community; bridge divide between community and governance

This allows local governments, non-profit organizations or community groups to be able to identify the levels of participation, identify the impact of the stance towards community engagement, see examples of activities that should be taking place at each level, and set goals for further collaboration. Collaborative governance is crucial in shifting the decision-making processes from a systematic marginalization model toward a community ownership model. 

Collaborative governance entails the concept of multiple sectors’ co-definition of problems and the co-development of solutions. To achieve collaborative governance, coordination between various sectors is crucial and how different sectors act matters. The project first identifies two primary sectors, community-based organizations, and city or county staff; and two essential supporting sectors, philanthropic partners and facilitative leaders/intermediaries. Then based on the four case studies and other resources, the project indicates high-impact practices that are effective for collaborative governance. These high-impact practices are being grouped into ten essential conditions and color-coded to specify the timing when different sectors should act throughout the collaboration process: 

  1. Commitment to Collaborative Governance Model 
  2. Purpose Clarity
  3. Community Organizing & Power Building
  4. Community Resourcing 
  5. City/County Racial Equity Training & Capacity
  6. City Resourcing 
  7. City/County Capacity & Racial Equity Training 
  8. Power & Influence of Community Groups within City/County 
  9. Trust & Relationship Building 
  10. Principles and Practices to Ensure Equity at Every Step 

These essential ten conditions are then included as indicators for the Learning & Evaluation Tool: Assessing the Process from Engagement to Ownership - which is included as an Appendix in this report. This tool can help different sectors, particularly the community-based organizations and the government staff, to self-evaluate the current level of collaboration and readjust the approach of the decision-making process toward a community-driven governance model.


Publication Date: June 2018

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