InterEnvironment's public policy projects incorporate fact-finding, informal consultation, structured meetings, outreach, and follow-up, and typically extend over one to several years. They center on state-of-the-art knowledge from both the practical and academic worlds, and stress concrete results. Problems and opportunities confronting California are of particular interest, but in a broad national and global context.
A distinctive style
InterEnvironment has a distinctive style of operating that is different in two ways from that of many convening organizations. First, it emphasizes collaboration rather than conflict resolution. The difference is encapsulated in a comment by Jean Monnet, father of the European Common Market: “Do not come together to argue and negotiate. Come together to solve a common problem.”
Second, rather than simply mediating stakeholders’ interests, InterEnvironment stresses the power of knowledge and ideas: people at the cutting edge of research and practice have important roles in every project. A program so structured has a strong likelihood of attracting high-level participation, breaking through customary patterns of thought, and producing beneficial results.
A kind of diplomacy
This kind of work is more akin to diplomacy than conventional policy or educational work; it requires seasoned leadership accustomed to interacting with policy-makers and linking ideas to action. The added value InterEnvironment brings to the policy arena is not expertise in the substance of issues, for which it can draw from many sources, but rather skills in the art of policy deliberation.
Convening projects are most useful when they help to shape an issue or intervene at an early stage in an issue’s development. While some topics lend themselves to planning over several months, others demand quick action. In either case, careful preparation is required. This includes framing issues to optimize results; meeting one-on-one with senior representatives of the major interests affected; surveying “who’s doing what” around the issue; and identifying key resource people.
A flexible format
Most of the Institute's policy projects are cosponsored by several major organizations and public officials capable of following up on project results. Work is guided by core groups made up of sponsors’ representatives as well as other carefully selected leaders and experts. Those invited typically include people from different levels and branches of government, as well as think tanks, associations, foundations, the private sector, and universities. The aim is a diversity of viewpoints. Since core groups are asked to consider how their ideas will be put into operation, experts in policy implementation are always included.
Projects have a flexible format. Although a few groups are able to reach their objectives in a single meeting, most meet over many months. Projects are designed to be adaptive. Core groups steer their projects as issues are clarified and new avenues need exploring, or as the political environment changes.
A long and broad view
Four basic dimensions are included in each project:
-- Taking a long-range view. Inter-generational thinking and investment are promoted at every opportunity.
-- Broadening the context. What are the issue's national and international implications? How is it handled in other states and countries? How does it impinge on other public problems?
-- Improving governance. How can governmental and other institutions be better structured and managed to cope with the problems being discussed?
-- Examining value choices. People make decisions based less on what they know than what they believe; it follows that value choices ought to be examined as carefully as facts.
A commitment to moving ideas into action
InterEnvironment's public policy projects aim at getting agreement on a consensus statement, specific public policy recommendations, or an agenda for further research and discussion. (The Institute is nonpartisan and takes no position on pending legislation.)
All too often, good ideas coming out of crosscutting discussions go nowhere because there is no obvious crosscutting structure to take responsibility for follow-up. The most important step InterEnvironment takes to ensure recommendations are acted upon is taken at the start of each project: recruiting participants capable of following up and likely to do so.
Informal agreements, mutual understanding, and professional contacts that emerge from such a process can be just as important as tangible products, but come only from working together on a concrete objective.
InterEnvironment Institute is a nonpartisan convening, research, and publishing organization founded in 1969. It is headquartered in Claremont, a university town in the Los Angeles area. A catalytic organization with a small staff and an extensive network in the United States and abroad, it has well-established credentials in both California and international affairs.
Although not an academic institute, InterEnvironment has been affiliated with Claremont Graduate University since 1972.
The Institute's experience with convening high-level policy projects began with a California energy forum in 1976 and has included projects on such topics as protecting agricultural land, managing toxic waste, preserving biodiversity, and improving research for state government needs.
In addition to convening policy dialogues and experimenting with different methods of conducting them, the Institute has studied the convening process, taken part in dialogues run by other organizations, promoted collaborative decision-making in California and internationally, and held an international workshop on “The Power of Convening.”
InterEnvironment's policy forums have been cosponsored by many public officials and organizations, including the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Senate President pro Tempore of California; state, federal, and international agencies; universities an research institutes; major business corporations; and associations representing a wide range of viewpoints.
"This kind of work is more akin to diplomacy than conventional policy or educational work; it requires seasoned leadership accustomed to interacting with policy-makers and linking ideas to action."