The “Common Interest” Approach: Useful for Federal Lands Issues?

Jim Fenwood and I ran into Keith Allred when he taught us at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. During his lectures, Allred described “the Common Interest”, an organization he founded described here. Yes, he also ran for Governor of Idaho recently. What intrigued me the most about the project was not so much the advocacy, as the process for development of useful information to help citizens decide on a policy.

Fair and Accurate Issues Briefings and Representative Positions

When we brief an issue, we aim to provide the best factual evidence and fairest representation of the competing perspectives as we reasonably can. To help ensure the fairness and accuracy of our briefs, we interview those with expertise and important perspectives on the issue. We then provide draft briefs to those we interviewed to give them an opportunity to tell us if we’ve fairly captured their perspective. We keep improving the draft until there is a broad consensus among those involved with the issue that we have fairly and accurately represented the issue.

I invite you to take a look at the Common Interest website here.

George Washington warned in his Farewell Address that for the system the Founders deeded to us to realize its full promise, we would need to recognize and resist the typical ploys of faction.

One of the expedients of Party to acquire influence…is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other [parties]. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heart burnings which spring from these misrepresentations. They tend to render Alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.

More by Allred on the Founding Fathers here.

The recent comment by David Beebe on this blog here reminded me that this might be a productive approach on “our” issues to ensure that citizens get to hear quality information from both sides on complex topics. I wonder if we should start a 501c3 that uses a similar approach to Forest Service or public lands issues? This might be a helpful resource to both citizens and to journalists. What do you think?

9 thoughts on “The “Common Interest” Approach: Useful for Federal Lands Issues?”

  1. So I’ve been casually looking around at funding sources, and it seems like there are many that have a goal of “promoting informed citizenry”. If anyone finds one that looks like a good candidate, let me know- terraveritas@gmail.com.

    A proposal might include a partnership with universities to get students or entire classes involved in developing the briefing papers. We could even assign different schools the same topic and compete the results.. with awards like “most comprehensive” “best treatment of science” , most creative but practical idea for the resolution of the issue. The class who wins would get a free trip to DC and be presented an award by the Chief or the Secretary or both, and get to visit with interested agency and Congressional staff.

    But I have gotten off on a wonk-in-training track and not so much informing citizenry, although perhaps a certain kind of product (or two or three versions) could satisfy both kinds of needs. For example, thorough discussion (10 pages), executive summary (3 pages), explanation for the public and journalists (? pages). Here’s a link to the Common Interest’s piece on transportation, as an example.

    Here’s the Common Interest approach to funding.

    Contributing Financially

    We are the unusual organization that is more interested in your good judgment than your money. That’s why we have no required membership fee. Nevertheless, as a non-profit organization, your voluntary donations are vital in our work to put practical solutions ahead of special interest and partisan politics.

    In our first three years of existence, we have raised just under $18,000 in member donations. The vast majority of that has gone to developing and maintaining the website. Except for limited administrative assistance, all the work that is done for The Common Interest, including the work of Keith Allred and the board members, is done without pay. With a recently completed upgrade for the website, most donation dollars going forward will be spent on spreading the word to build membership.

    We believe few organizations have a track record for accomplishing so much with financial resources that are so meager. When we go up against far better funded special interests, we usually prevail. Your donations go along way with us.

    Contributions that you make go to The Common Interest, Inc., the non-profit legal entity responsible for developing our issues briefs. We’re are currently seeking IRS 501(c)(3) status for this organization. While we’re already a non-profit and do not have to pay taxes, donations are not tax deductible until and unless we are designated as a 501(c)(3). (The Common Interest of Idaho, Inc. is the legal entity responsible for advocating positions in the Legislature. It is a 501(c)(4) non-profit. It’s work is done exclusively by unpaid volunteers.)

    Since one of our major goals is to reduce the influence of special interests, we want to be particularly careful that we are not influenced by them ourselves. Accordingly, we are voluntarily limiting contributions to a maximum of $250 per year. Contributions are accepted by individuals only.

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  2. “Common Interest for the Common Ground,” a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, non-partisan organization, working to find solutions for public lands issue. Hmm? Count me in as a board member!

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  3. Jim- I see your point. We can look around in our daily business, alert to possibilities and who knows what serendipity might provide?

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  4. Jim, none of the foundations I know would fund it, at least not initially. Most foundations are followers, not leaders. But this would appeal to a whole set of funders I normally have nothing to do with, so I am not the best person to figure this out.

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  5. Ray- your comment reminded me of a quote from another Alabama resident, here..

    The church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.

    Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 1963
    US black civil rights leader & clergyman (1929 – 1968)

    While foundations may be thermometers, it is within our capabilities, despite not being “church,” to transform society- at least our own humble corner of society.

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  6. The Common Interest approach as a “process for development of useful information to help citizens decide on a policy” as Sharon has capsulized, invokes good intent and honorable goals. George Washington’s Farewell Address was an especially nice touch, invoking Washington’s warning to resist the “ploys of faction”.

    What more could one ask for besides sources of funding to get a 501 c3 going of their very own to thwart the ploys of faction by affording citizens “to hear quality information from both sides on complex topics”?

    I was under the impression though that the Forest Service already had “a key nonprofit partner” with a 501c3 status called the National Forest Foundation with essentially the same goals. However, with their annual taxpayer entitlements that might’ve otherwise been used to adequately fund the Forest Service, surely they could afford to launch another 501c3 and double down their share in the common interest to thwart the ploys of faction?

    Other ecologically-inclined naturals providing quality information to the public such as The Nature Conservancy with assets in excess of Six Billion dollars, might also resonate with this common cause.

    Ploys of faction were no doubt in mind decades ago, when Grover Norquist spoke for a lot of powerful people in the US Chamber of Commerce stating they wanted to shrink government, “down to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub”.

    Now that the Treasury has been looted, the shrink job on agency budgets accomplished, the bathtub full and waiting, and Grover Norquist’s latest proclamation stating the “GOP Must Be Willing To Force a Government Shutdown In a Battle Against Federal Spending” — makes one wonder —

    What Would George Do?

    What policy discussions deserve the greatest priority and what factions would our first president determine to be the greatest threat to our union? The ploys of citizen factions taking their government to court demanding they follow their own laws protecting the commons in the interests of sustainability?

    Or the factions of multinational corporations having long since achieved Agency and Regulatory Capture and who now find Government itself, so utterly pointless as to threaten scuttling the ship of state if they are not allowed to own the commons outright?

    These are not small problems but seem to have been overlooked, both here, and by Dr Allred.

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  7. Ray, “Common Interest,Common Ground” is perfect, IMHO. Thank you.
    Everyone- note new logo contest at the top of the sidebar.

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