The Massachusetts Office of Public Collaboration (MOPC) at UMass Boston’s John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies has released an interim report from a conflict resolution needs assessment study for the Massachusetts Legislature that finds destructive public conflict is causing dysfunction and harm in local governments and communities.
Based on the data collected locally and on a review of local government experiences across the country and the benchmarking of successful external models, this study recommends a “state-wide call to action” for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to establish comprehensive policy and programming to support municipalities and local communities by building on existing Massachusetts resources.
All across Massachusetts, municipal officials are at the frontline of solving today’s complex problems in such areas as budgets, education, land use, environment, economic development, public works, public safety and public health. These issues often involve multiple jurisdictions and multiple parties and require a level of expertise and resources beyond the capacity of any single entity, whether governmental or non-governmental.
The UMass Boston report shows examples of Massachusetts municipal officials managing public conflicts using approaches that range from traditional means to novel methods and the impact of those approaches. The study presents preliminary findings about the impact of public conflict that is not managed well, and is “destructive,” causing significant harm to government institutions and the social fabric of communities.
According to Susan Jeghelian, executive director of MOPC, “The evidence in this study demonstrates that destructive public conflict can reduce trust in government, erode civility and civic discourse, undermine community unity and togetherness, harm community well-being and prosperity, and reduce government efficiency, among other impacts.”
To address these harms, the study documents specific needs that municipal officials identified as important for dealing with public conflict and for obtaining the societal results they desire which include trust and participation in government, civility and good governance. These needs range from resource and process-oriented needs to structural or systemic changes.
A set of preliminary recommendations is presented in MOPC’s interim report for the purpose of generating further discussion and engagement of government officials and citizens across the state. The report also includes an asset map, developed alongside the needs assessment that provides an inventory of existing Massachusetts resources identified through this study that can be deployed to support solutions, including resources within the University of Massachusetts system.
Jeghelian notes, “The intent of this report is to engage Massachusetts municipal officials, policymakers and other stakeholders in further exploration of strategies to address local government needs and implement practical solutions.”
Dean Ira Jackson states, "At a time of declining trust in government and of increasingly dysfunctional and adversarial relations between many in the public sector, the Massachusetts Office of Public Collaboration seeks to engage citizens directly and positively in problem solving and consensus-building. They play a vital role not only in resolving disputes but offering a new and better way to approach problem solving and to reinvigorate democratic participation."
A final report on the study will be filed later this year.