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Example of a convening project:

The California Forum on Hazardous Materials

As explained elsewhere in this website (see The power of convening), InterEnvironment Institute, formerly the California Institute of Public Affairs, CIPA, has many years of experience with public policy dialogues. A good example of how an adaptive policy dialogue can be useful in a variety of ways - and lead to follow-up activities well into the future - is the California Forum on Hazardous Materials, which CIPA conducted in the late 1980s. The Forum came out of informal discussions among leaders of environmental groups, major corporations, and state officials on finding better ways of coping with toxic waste, which had become a contentious political issue.

CIPA assembled a steering committee including senior representatives of the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense, ARCO, Dow Chemical, the state Department of Health Services (then responsible for toxic waste), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and two county officials; it was chaired by CIPA President Ted Trzyna. Cosponsors included a bipartisan group of public officials, including the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Senate President pro Tempore, as well as the California Medical Association, California State Association of Counties, and other key associations. Principal consultant was political scientist Dan Mazmanian, then at Pomona College, now on the faculty of the University of Southern California Price School of Public Policy.

At its first meeting, held as a two-day retreat, the steering committee decided to focus on reducing the use of hazardous materials and recycling them, thus cutting back on the need to dispose of toxic waste.

Over two and a half years, CIPA experimented with a range of methods of bringing together disparate interests toward that end. The Forum held facilitated discussions of policy issues and organized briefings tailored for particular audiences, including state and local government agencies and industry leaders. It brought the heads of Canadian and New York-based programs to Sacramento to share ideas. It compiled a guide to information resources and published a hazardous-waste reduction manual. It worked intensively for a year with the metal-plating industry, a group that officials had found especially hard to reach. Finally, Forum participants agreed on principles for a state government program that was subsequently created to assist small businesses with toxic-waste problems.

Although several members of the steering committee were at odds in other arenas (notably over Proposition 65, a successful ballot initiative that enacted the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986), they continued to work well together in the Forum.

Wearing its research hat, CIPA made an in-depth study, conducted by Mazmanian and two of his graduate students, Michael Stanley-Jones and Miriam Green, of how collaborative approaches succeeded in resolving conflicts in this field (Breaking Political Gridlock: California’s Experiment in Public-Private Cooperation for Hazardous Waste Policy, CIPA, 1988), and Mazmanian drew on his experiences in the Forum to write an influential book, Beyond Superfailure: America’s Toxics Policy for the 1990s (with David Morell, Westview Press, 1992).

At a meeting in Australia in 1990, CIPA President Ted Trzyna and Michael Paparian, who had represented the Sierra Club in the Forum, discussed it with leaders of environmental agencies and groups from several countries. One of those present was Steve Robinson, Chief Executive of The Environment Council of the United Kingdom. As a direct result of that encounter, the Council started experimenting with collaborative decision-making and has since become a major convenor of policy dialogues in that country. A few years later, the Council brought a British delegation to Sacramento for a weeklong seminar on California waste management policy, organized by CIPA.

The Forum and related activities were funded by grants from the ARCO and Haynes foundations, as well as contributions from other foundations, business corporations, and state government.