The tools of collaborative governance are useful in resolving conflicts, breaking stalemates, and getting "stuck" processes moving again. They can rescue or salvage an at-risk policy process.
But those tools are even more valuable early-on -- before there is active conflict, when leadership is still contemplating a challenge and how to address it, before the decisions and choices have been made that will either favor or hinder progress. Ideally, before the process has launched. Getting involved at this early stage is called "getting upstream."
Michael Kern puts a particular focus on working "upstream," because it is where his unique experience and expertise allow him to have an impact that results in fundamentally improved policy outcomes. Because he has interacted with upper and mid-level leaders across such a wide range of sectors, Michael can effectively engage decision makers at the early stages to influence their thinking and learning about the issues at hand, and to focus on the principles of collaboration and their own and others' interests, rather than positions and preconceived solutions. He can help integrate their newly refined thinking with others in their own and other organizations, at both the policy and technical levels. This can lead to significant positive changes in process design.
Another hallmark of working "upstream" is building the capacity for people to successfully participate in collaborative processes through teaching, training, and other skill-building. This has been such a focus of Michael's work that the Ruckelshaus Center named its Collaborative Capacity Building Initiative after him when he stepped down as its director. This website includes more information on Michael's Collaborative Capacity Building work.
Michael's "upstream" advice, strategy, guidance, design, and capacity building can help ensure that a process remains productive as it moves "downstream" from assessment, fact-finding, and design, to agreement-seeking, consensus-building, implementation, and adaptive management. Michael can also be helpful at those stages.