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DEFINING REGIONAL GOVERNANCE AND LEADERSHIP

Regional governance is the process by which people in a region determine and pursue their collective ends, means, and values. Governance is a broader concept than government, including the processes by which people govern themselves as well as the official public organizational structures they might use to do so. Governance also involves engaging non-governmental actors – business, nonprofit, philanthropic, academic, media, civic – in defining and pursuing public purposes. Regional governance includes several important elements, including the region itself, institutional structures existing within the region, the processes through which those institutional structures interact, as well as other elements of regional capacity.Hampton Roads Regional Flag

In human geography, a region is an area of land encompassing human settlements with particular physical, social, cultural, economic, political, and functional characteristics. The U.S. federal government defines a metropolitan area (MA) conceptually as a region that has “a large population nucleus, together with adjacent communities that have a high degree of economic and social integration with that nucleus.” Generically, a region is a coherent part of a larger whole, and is itself likely to be comprised of parts (i.e. sub-regions) which themselves constitute coherent – albeit interdependent -- wholes in their own right. Thus, the people and organizations in different parts of a region exhibit elements of both independence and interdependence among themselves.

Regional Governance Structures

While regional governance is essentially a process, it nonetheless works through various kinds of institutional structures. Government is the institutional structure most often chosen for public governance, but it is not the only option. Most large metropolitan areas have long since expanded far beyond the boundaries of the government serving their central cities. Some expanding urban regions have tried to maintain the conventional structure of a single coterminous government through various devices, such as annexing the expanding regional periphery to the central city government, or consolidating local governments within the metropolitan area. But few have been completely successful in maintaining a single government encompassing the entire urban region, that is, using a single government as their principal instrument of regional governance. Regions have also experimented with more formal agreements that bind area governments together in more permanent and legally binding ways, such as through regional charters and compacts, in order to pursue common purposes that require a more certain and enduring organizational structure.Hampton Roads Beltway

Regional Governance Processes

In the absence of a single contiguous regional government, the residents of urban regions have relied on other instruments of regional governance, such as formal and informal ways of working together across the boundaries that divide the legally defined political jurisdictions and the government, business, nonprofit, and civic sectors. In doing so, they choose a more conscious and deliberate form of regional governance that depends heavily on various processes of regional cooperation, which simply means people and organizations in a region working together to solve common problems and pursue common ends.

As in most human endeavors, cooperation usually requires collaboration. Regional collaboration refers to a set of processes by which regional governance, and particularly regional cooperation, can be pursued. Such collaborative processes involve bringing people together and enabling them to address common challenges, such as delivering common services. It includes developing an understanding of cross-cutting challenges, strengthening the citizenship (decision-making) skills of participants, designing strategies for addressing the challenges through dialogue, negotiations, and consensus, harnessing the resources to implement priority initiatives, sharing risks, responsibilities and rewards, and reporting to fellow regional citizens on successes and setbacks. It is primarily a bottom-up process, involving regional citizens and their organizations, but might also involve some top down financial and political blessing.

Regional Governance Capacities

Regional capacity broadly refers to the wherewithal of a region to be able to think and act as a region. This includes the stocks of public authority and revenues on which it might draw from existing governments associated with the region; governance structures and processes it might choose to employ; specific tools of regional governance which might be used, drawing on its own experience or borrowed from other regions; and especially the region’s own stocks of human talent, natural endowments, technology, institutional and physical infrastructure, economic and financial resources, culture, and social capital, all of which together constitute the region’s primary resource base. Most importantly, regional capacity is shaped by the skill, support and initiative the region’s residents are willing to put forth to play the critical roles of regional citizenship, stewardship, leadership.

Regional Citizenship, Stewardship, and Leadership

Regional citizenship means residents of a region thinking and behaving regionally. Regional citizens may or may not have consciously or publicly declared their regional citizenship. But in their actual thinking and actions they advance regional initiatives, they “regionalize” their organizations, and they work with others to design and implement strategies for achieving regional excellence. Regional citizens do not give up their national, local, or even neighborhood citizenship, but add a new regional citizenship.

Regional stewardship is a special kind of regional citizenship that protects, nurtures, and thoughtfully develops the region’s resources.

And regional leadership is a special kind of regional citizenship that entails getting people and organizations to do things on behalf of the region that they would not be likely to do on their own. That might mean undertaking a specific project that is important to the region, such as the design, construction, and operation of the (Washington) Metro subway system, or it might mean fashioning a regional institution needed to undertake such an important regional project, such as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

In sum, regional governance is a neutral term, neither good nor bad in and of itself. Every region has some form of regional governance, but it might not be well-designed or well-executed, it might be done quite poorly, or it might hardly be done at all. The residents of a region might simply choose as their de facto form of regional governance to let the various governments in their region get along as best they can (or can’t) in their efforts to address common problems independently of one another, and simply let general social and economic forces take their course with little effort on the part of citizens to think and act as a region. Or, as citizens of the region, they might decide that they deserve first-rate governance at the regional level as much as they do at any other level, and act accordingly to achieve it.


Bill Dodge - Regional Excellence

William R. Dodge, Regional Excellence Consulting and the University of Maryland's Center for Public Policy and Private Enterprise, from research sponsored by a grant from the 2030 Group Project on Regional Leadership and Governance for the Greater Washington Region.

A noted author and regional expert, Dodge was the Executive Director of the National Association of Regional Councils, bringing regional leaders and their organizations together, in annual Regional Summits, to help advance a National Regional Agenda. He guided the preparation of the first National State of the Regions report and  represented the interests of regional councils before the U. S. Congress and federal agencies.