Torbjörn Lahti, master färdledare of the Sustainable Sweden Tour and co-author of The Natural Step for Communities, has served as a project leader in several communities seeking to incorporate sustainability principles into their community development efforts.
During the introductory session of the Sustainable Sweden Tour last August, he shared a perspective for framing different roles municipalities play. (A reminder: a municipality in Sweden covers a geographic area comparable to a county in Wisconsin.)
The first, perhaps most basic role for a municipality, is that of the AUTHORITY. It’s a top-down approach, “what the state tells us to do.” Municipalities serve as regulators and enforcers to ensure that certain minimum standards are met for the safety and welfare of the residents. Often this is to keep residents out of each others’ hair. ‘Thou shalt not steal your neighbor’s goods or the authorities will prosecute.’
Relationship between government and resident is enforcer to potential violator; relationship between residents is potential perpetrator to potential victim. The leader’s role is to keep people in line.
A second role Torbjörn described was that of SERVICE AGENCY. The municipality provides a smorgasbord of services demanded by the market, like street maintenance, water delivery or emergency services.
Relationship between government and resident is vendor to purchaser; relationship between residents is hardly required, as co-consumers. The leader’s role is to keep a finger on the pulse of people’s needs, and provide these services at reasonable cost.
The third role is that which Torbjörn termed DYNAMO. In the long history of civil society, this one is relatively new in which municipalities play a role in developing territorial vision. This requires a different level of engagement between community members. The government plays a role of catalyst in participatory democracy.
Relationship between government and resident is more like listener to participant; relationship between residents is partner to partner. The leader’s role is to find a way to facilitate a conversation involving the entire community system, so they can build this vision together.
This might be my very long answer to Andy’s question in response to my last blog entry. I think a healthy community has all these leaders, but we tend to have too few of the DYNAMO leaders. It takes a very different skill than we learn throughout most of our schooling: dialogue.
Sometimes I fear that we, in our society shaped by consumer-dominated language, are stuck in the model of my municipality = my vendor. It is far too easy to speak of government as merely a menu, and one that is never enough and always too expensive. Well, we can’t import water from China.
I wonder, what kind of relationship do we want with our fellow community residents? I hope it goes beyond bulk purchasing.
What kind of relationship do you think people want between their leaders and themselves? between the residents? What is a desirable relationship, in your opinion? How does that happen?