Matthew McKinney was named director of the Public Policy Research Institute at the University of Montana in 2003, after serving for 10 years as the founding director of the Montana Consensus Council. He is also a senior lecturer at the University of Montana’s School of Law, a partner with the Consensus Building Institute in Cambridge, and a faculty associate of the Lincoln Institute. Matt was a research fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, in 2000 and 2002, and a visiting fellow of the Lincoln Institute in 2000. During the past 18 years, he has designed and facilitated more than 50 multiparty public processes, helping leaders and citizens address issues related to federal land management, land use planning, growth management, water policy, fish and wildlife, and public health and human services. He has published numerous journal articles and is coauthor of The Western Confluence: Governing Natural Resources (Island Press, June 2004).
Land Lines: You have a strong background in facilitation and consensus building. How do you apply that to land use planning?
Matt McKinney: I come to planning largely from a process perspective. Land use issues typically involve multiple parties, and the challenge of planning is to integrate diverse, often conflicting, interests. In my current work with the Public Policy Research Institute I operate on the assumption that one of the most effective ways to develop and implement strategies to sustain livable communities and healthy landscapes is to create opportunities for stakeholders to come together with the best available information to address issues of common concern. In short, the planning process is most effective when it is inclusive, informed and deliberative:
- Inclusive participation means that a concerted effort is made to engage all viewpoints and interests, and participants’ input and advice will be considered by the decision makers and will influence the outcome.
- An informed process offers an equal opportunity to share views and information, fostering mutual learning, common understanding and consideration of a variety of options.
- A deliberative dialogue occurs when people listen to each other, consider the rationale or reason for competing viewpoints (the interests that underlie the positions), and seek solutions that integrate as many interests as possible.
This principled approach has been shown through experience to produce decisions that are broadly supported by the public, and it eases implementation because the key stakeholders have already played their part in shaping the proposed action or plan. Compared to lobbying, litigation and other ways of shaping public policy, it can save time and money. Last—and important for planners—this approach offers an effective way to integrate social and political values within the scientific, technical and legal framework of land use planning. It’s a more cooperative and constructive way for planners and public interests to work together.
LL: Can you give some examples of how these principles work in the real world?
MM: In the northern Rocky Mountains, many communities with limited staff, money and other resources are struggling with double-digit growth, strains on local infrastructure and cultural clashes between newcomers and those with traditional western values. But westerners are infamous for resisting government intrusion—a predictable backlash in a region where the federal government holds sway over more than half of the land base. As a result planners often face a steep climb just to gain the public’s ear on land use issues.
These situations are ripe for inclusive, informed and deliberative approaches, and there are many examples across the West. In Helena, Montana, we helped a broad-based citizens group—including open space advocates, neighborhood leaders, realtors and developers—negotiate new procedures for subdivision reviews. Developers wanted to streamline the subdivision application process, and residents of established neighborhoods wanted to ensure that safeguards remained in place to preserve the small-town feel and curb sprawl. In another case, residents of Jefferson County, Montana, started talking about zoning after a cement plant near an elementary school proposed burning hazardous waste as fuel. The “z” word caused some resistance from local business and industry, notably the cement plant and a nearby mining operation, but we brought in a facilitator who helped a working group of local residents, industry representatives, private property rights advocates and county officials develop a zoning plan.
In both cases, negotiations took the form of deliberative dialogue that lasted about a year. Both groups used joint fact-finding to gather information that was credible to all parties at the table. Then they crafted proposals and submitted them to formal decision-making arenas—city council and county commission, respectively. After careful review, both the new subdivision protocols and the zoning plan were adopted essentially unopposed.
LL: What role do planners play in such processes?
MM: We frequently recommend using an impartial, third-party facilitator to help build trust and more effective working relationships among the stakeholders. A facilitator can also keep the group on task and focused on a common goal. In some cases planners can play this role themselves, but more often they act as conveners or sponsors of a multiparty process, or as vested stakeholders and hands-on participants. Either way, planners can participate more effectively if they have a working knowledge of the principles and strategies of collaborative problem solving.
LL: How can planners obtain this kind of training?
MM: Since 1999 the Lincoln Institute and the Consensus Building Institute have cosponsored a two-day introductory course, Mediating Land Use Disputes, for planning practitioners and others interested in land use decisions. It presents practical insights into negotiating and mediating conflicts over land use and community development. Using interactive exercises, games and simulations, participants receive hands-on experience with collaborative problem solving and public participation. They learn how to dovetail these concepts with existing processes for designing and adopting land use plans and evaluating development proposals. In addition, we are reaching out to 100 planners across 10 western states to enroll in the Planning Fundamentals course offered online through LEO, the Lincoln Education Online program.
LL: What other planning-related programs do you teach?
MM: Again with the Lincoln Institute, I have been involved in a relatively new and much-needed program for state planning directors in 13 western states, modeled on a similar program in the Northeast. These seminars provide a forum for leaders within state government to compare their experiences, learn from each others’ successes and failures, and build a common base of practical knowledge that will serve them in their individual efforts and in the region generally. The intent is not to promote any particular approach to planning and growth, but to explore a range of strategies to respond to growth and land use challenges in the West. The level of interest goes well beyond the planning officials themselves, as evidenced by the list of cosponsors: the Council of State Governments-WEST (an association of state legislators), the Western Governors Association, the Western Municipal Conference and Western Planners Resources.
LL: Is regionalism in the West a new emphasis in your work?
MM: Land use issues often transcend political and jurisdictional boundaries. Coping with sprawl, water and air quality, economic development and the effects of globalization demands practical, local solutions that also work within the bigger picture. Research indicates that many land use issues are most efficiently addressed at a regional scale. Instead of stopping at the county line or the border between federal and private land, planners are now thinking in terms of the “problemshed” or the “natural territory” of the problem.
More and more regional initiatives are being designed to address transboundary matters. Some augment existing government institutions, but most are more ad hoc and rely on the principles of collaboration to engage people with diverse interests and viewpoints. When we inventoried such initiatives throughout the West, we were as surprised as anyone by the sheer number and variety of ongoing regional efforts. They range from ad hoc, community-based groups like the Applegate Partnership in the Siskiyou Mountains of southwestern Oregon, which seeks to promote and sustain the ecological health of land within its watershed, to substantial government entities with regulatory authority like the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (McKinney, Fitch and Harmon 2002).
LL: How do you transfer this work to other regions?
MM: Recently I have worked with the Lincoln Institute to conduct clinics on regional collaboration for several interstate efforts in the New Jersey-New York area, including a watershed management plan for the Delaware River Basin Commission.
Another project is a collaborative effort among local, state and federal agencies in the New York-New Jersey Highlands, the 1.5-million-acre region between the Delaware and lower Connecticut rivers. State and federal land managers are assessing changes in land cover and use, identifying significant natural areas for protection, and developing strategies to protect the 12-county region’s open space and natural resources.
In addition, we have designed a two-day course titled Regional Collaboration: Learning to Think and Act Like a Region. It provides a conceptual framework and practical skills to train planners, local elected officials, small business owners, advocates and educators to initiate, design, coordinate and sustain regional initiatives. With the involvement of several national and regional organizations, the Institute cosponsored the first course in spring 2003 in Salt Lake City and offered it again in March 2004 at Lincoln House in Cambridge.
McKinney, Matthew, Craig Fitch, and Will Harmon. 2002. Regionalism in the West: An inventory and assessment. Public Land and Resources Law Review 23:101–191.
Carbonell, Armando, and Lisa Cloutier. 2003. Planning for growth in western cities. Land Lines 15(3):8–11.
McKinney, Matthew. 2003. Linking growth and land use to water supply. Land Lines 15(2):4–6.
McKinney, Matthew, and Will Harmon. 2002. Land use planning and growth management in the American West. Land Lines 14(1):1–4.