"Change is inevitable. How we as individuals, or as a community, react and adapt to change is important to everyone. The Island Institute is aware of our community’s issues and provides avenues and valuable tools that stimulate us to think creatively about common issues affecting Sitka. I particularly appreciate the Institute’s efforts to enhance civic awareness."
--Linda Trierschield, Sitka resident, Solid Waste Planning Initiative member
Sitka was torn by conflict during the 1990’s and typical battle lines were drawn. Long-running environmental controversies over logging in the Tongass National Forest had contributed to closure of Sitka’s pulp mill, Sitka’s largest employer; a crisis was brewing over how best to deal with municipal solid waste; issues of large-scale cruise ship visitation had produced deep division among neighbors and mistrust of local government.
The Island Institute ventured into this minefield with a sense of the urgent need to bring people together to find common ground. We initiated a number of projects toward this end before becoming aware of the outstanding work in this arena of David Chrislip, principal of Skillful Means in Boulder, Colorado. David agreed to work with us—and the community of Sitka—to develop a deeper understanding of the place of collaboration in civic life and democracy, and what is involved in putting it into practice. We are indebted to him.
The term collaboration is widely used and all too often superficial in its practice. But, as David observes, “collaboration is not just another strategy or tactic for addressing public concerns. It is a means for building social capital, sustaining a democratic society, and transforming the civic culture of a community or region.”
At the heart of successful collaboration is this premise: “If you bring the appropriate people together in constructive ways with good information, they will create authentic visions and strategies for addressing the shared concerns of the organization or community.” The work of carrying out this premise requires a genuinely inclusive process that, in its execution, leads to constructive decisions and successful implementation of agreements.
A brief history leading up to and including our work with David Chrislip:
• Arranged for Dan Kemmis (then mayor of Missoula, Montana) to visit Sitka, Juneau, and Haines to lead community discussions related to his book, Community and the Politics of Place.
• Convened, recorded, transcribed, and published the results of a public forum on “The Future of Tourism in Sitka”—winning praise from Sitka Chamber of Commerce.
• Sponsored community forums: The Purpose of Education; Beyond Community Conflict—Listening to the Other Side of the Story.
• Organized a tour of playwright and actor Todd Jefferson Moore’s one-man show In the Heart of the Wood about the human side of logging controversies. The U.S Forest Service supported tour went to Craig, Petersburg, Sitka, and Juneau.
• Launched a multi-year “Initiative for Civic Collaboration” under the guidance of David Chrislip. The first series of workshops, aimed at building capacity for consensus, led to a process adopted by Sitka’s Long Range Planning Commission to develop a long-term Municipal Solid Waste Plan. Based on the principles of Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle, it received approval and has been successfully implemented. (Included as a case study in Chrislip’s Collaborative Leadership Fieldbook: A Guide for Citizens and Civic Leaders.)
• Co-sponsored two “Learning from the Future” scenarios workshops, led by Chrislip, that spurred recognition of the need for collaborative leadership to deal with the highly contentious issues of tourism planning and affordable housing.
• For almost two years, Sitka’s Long Range Planning Commission shepherded widely diverse community interests to produce the first completed version of the Sitka Visitor Industry Plan, a striking document based on the Institute’s recommended collaborative process.