Orange County Collaborative Governing Program Produces Healthy Communication By Steven M. Neuhaus, Orange County Executive
range County Government has established a model innovative Collaborative Governing Program aimed at fostering healthy communications amongst all interested parties with the goal of enhancing services and outcomes for those served by County Government. The first Collaborative Governing Program in New York State continues to be successful through a partnership with the New York State Association of Counties, The New York State Dispute Resolution Association, Inc. and the Dispute Resolution Center of Orange, Putnam, Sullivan and Ulster Counties (DRC). Now entering its fifth year, Orange County is proud to share with other governments some important points regarding its Collaborative Governing Program (CGP). The Orange County CGP is a comprehensive system for intragovernmental cooperation resulting in good public policy and cost-effective quality services. This is achieved through consultation, education and coaching of elected officials and government personnel in the skills of interest-based collaboration. CGP is rooted in proven Alternative Dispute Resolution communication skill practices and internationally acclaimed interest-based collaborative strategies. Orange County’s CGP started by focusing on the Legislative branch of government with the goal of bringing forward consensus on difficult issues. To facilitate that end, a training workshop was provided by CGP co-founders Dr. Bernadette Poole-Tracy and Niki Lee Rowe, as well as, other representatives from NYSDRA. The training showed that while agendas may differ, common goals and objectives could be reached. This initial training session provided the foundation upon which the program has grown. Taking the next step, specialty coaches were assigned as Legislative Committee Chairs to work one-on-one with DRC’s pool of trained mediators to assist with interest-based communication skills. This was accomplished by attending all legislative committee meetings and providing impartial feedback. This process resulted in exchanging ideas, improving communications, and creating positive working relationships aimed at a common goal of providing the best government for the people of Orange County. As a result, relationships were strengthened between both the Legislative and Executive branches of County Government which have helped to set the tone for inter-party collaborations.
With an increased level of healthy communication in the Legislative branch, the OCCGP expanded to the Executive branch where executive staff, commissioners, and department heads were trained in collaborative governing skills and interestbased negotiations. Through this process, an agreement was reached between both branches that would create a new Legislative Request Process; thereby saving time and increasing efficiency of county government. Regular “Leaders’ Meetings” were also an outcome of the OCCGP; whereby leaders from both Legislature and Executive were included in discussions and exchanges of information. As collaborative governing skills became embedded into the fabric of county government, the county’s commitment to the program continued. Several workshops were held for department heads, directors and middle management employees. Employees in the Department of Human Resources attended mediation training with the DRC. These employees are applying their collaborative skills in dealing with various dispute resolutions, employee relations and contract negotiations. The OCCGP encourages and fosters good communication between all branches of government and has produced significant accomplishments such as: 1. Healthy communication, 2. Increased productivity, including timely implementation of beneficial policies, 3. The establishment and testing of departmental mergers and consolidations, 4. Efficiencies of time and effort, 5. Increased budget efficiencies, 6. Increased cross governmental cooperation, 7. Certified mediators, and 8. Efforts to foster cooperation across local municipalities. Orange County has benefitted greatly from this partnership and is proud to be the first county in New York State to benefit from the many skills learned though the Collaborative Governing Program. NYSAC News | www.nysac.org
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