‘Governance’ can be a loaded word. In the context of this toolkit, the term refers to the formal structure and operating principles of a regional adaptation collaborative, which may or may not become actual governance.
Collaboration is based on relationships, both informal and formal. Informal relationships are often the first and most important, but as activities and desired impacts broaden, more formal structures can be crucial. A formal structure can help a regional adaptation collaborative better choose, receive, and administer funding, as well as alleviate potential conflicts. Furthermore, formal structures foster longevity, because they address the challenge of how to institutionalize the champion role so that the regional collaborative can maintain momentum and continuity even as the participation of key individuals or support of local elected officials fluctuates.
Developing a governance structure can be relatively quick and easy or can be a very lengthy and involved process. Determining the governance structure that allows you to function effectively yet preserves individual autonomy can be challenging, but is absolutely essential to your long-term success as a collaborative. Spending time on a decision-making structure helps create feedback loops, a clear path for new entities to get involved and a mechanism to help the collaborative be both proactive and reactive when opportunities emerge. Some formality can also help keep partners at the table as natural turnover happens at individual organizations.
A Greater LA: The Framework for Regional Climate Action and Sustainability’ started out as an academic exercise; governance transformed it into something real. We have just adopted our second iteration of a governance policy to reflect the evolution of the collaborative.
– Krista Kline, Managing Director, The Los Angeles Regional Collaborative for Climate Action and Sustainability (LARC)
Regional collaboration around adaptation requires a level of commitment of interested parties. The governance structure should capture interest and allow for the group to be effective, but does not supplant other authorities in the region. If interested parties include public agencies, as is likely, you will have to determine the rules of engagement. Consider the nature of public discussions in the development of a governance structure. If you create ‘safe spaces’ for members, they will more readily share ideas, which will help build the momentum of the collaborative.
There are many challenges that are unique to developing a governance structure for a regional adaptation collaborative versus another type of regional collaboration. First, there is the issue of authority and level of governance (if any at all). There are many existing authorities in a region, so it can be difficult to define what is needed, what is desired and what will be effective at moving regional adaptation issues forward. In some cases, no formal authority is needed to gather groups to meet and share ideas and move individual organizational efforts forward in a coordinated way. In other cases, that level of commitment and legitimacy might be critical, especially when shared funding is involved.
There may be different rules of engagement based on different adaptation topics. For example, a regional adaptation collaborative might want to provide input on an issue that is better handled by a water agency. An effective regional adaptation collaborative will be a part of key regional actions without hindering regional progress.
Another challenge related to governance is funding. Without a formal structure a regional adaptation collaborative cannot take in funding or be effective in bringing together regional funding at the scale needed to address adaption issues. If you add a fiscal structure, some of your flexibility will be removed; however, without funding, you will also be limited. You might consider a fiscal agent or other means to address this issue.