Wins for Collaborative Governance in Washington State: Piloting Community Assemblies

You are currently viewing Wins for Collaborative Governance in Washington State: Piloting Community Assemblies

A lot has happened since we first shared the Cornerstones of Collaborative Governance for a Just and Equitable Future in August 2022, co-hosted the Aligning Toward Justice, Co-governance, and Well-being convening in May 2023, and rolled out the latest report on Collaborative Governance: Empowering Communities in Washington Through Community Assemblies. We’ve been hard at work advocating for Climate Commitment Act pilot funding for community assemblies as a tool for collaborative governance in Washington. 

What is a community assembly?

As defined by the Just Futures Community Leadership Committee, a community assembly is “a participatory democratic process that brings people together to articulate community needs, assess solutions, and mobilize for action, with a focus on those furthest from economic well-being.”

Imagine a gathering of diverse community members, including people who have been exploited or left behind in our dominant extractive economy. Imagine parents, workers, students, artists, people experiencing food and housing insecurity, all in one room discussing and creating solutions together. This gathering space is hosted by an assembly anchor–a local community-led organization already deeply trusted by community members. All of the participants spend time sharing and discussing their community’s biggest issues, strengths, and needs. Together, they brainstorm and develop possible solutions to shared problems. They negotiate trade offs, agree on, and finalize policy recommendations to share with government leaders–policy recommendations designed by the people who will be most impacted by them. The goal of these assembly spaces is to influence and shape public policies in a way that addresses the needs and improves the conditions in communities and neighborhoods.

This is the kind of deep, deliberative democracy we need to create a Washington that fosters well-being for everyone in every community.

Piloting Community Assemblies in Seattle

This year, the City of Seattle is updating the One Seattle Comprehensive Plan, described as “a roadmap for where and how our city will grow and invest in our communities over the next twenty years and beyond.” This includes a process of collecting and integrating community input into policy strategy setting.

In 2019, the City of Seattle passed the Green New Deal Resolution, which directed all City departments to collaborate with the Green New Deal Oversight Board, the Environmental Justice Committee, and other key stakeholders to reach the goal of eliminating all city climate pollution by 2030. This is the first time this group of stakeholders will give specific climate justice input on Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan.

Given this opportunity, the Green New Deal Oversight Board and the Environmental Justice Committee decided to engage the community in an authentic way. They decided to pilot two community assemblies to solicit recommendations directly from community members.

The two assemblies will be anchored by MLK Labor, an organization that advocates for and promotes policies and practices that benefit the labor community, and the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, which empowers communities through advocacy and civic engagement, education, housing, public health, entrepreneurship support, and workforce development. They will strive to answer the following questions:

  • How do we best support community-level initiatives and provide the necessary resources for adapting to and coping with climate-related weather events? Assembly participants will deliberate on strategies that can support community-scale interventions that help neighborhoods adapt to and cope with climate-related weather events. This involves discussing and identifying actions that can strengthen the community’s resilience against environmental challenges.
  • How do we build an equitable clean energy sector that includes creating generational wealth for people who currently lack significant access to it? Assembly participants will discuss the conditions that will enable us to create an equitable clean energy economy, while creating opportunities for training, employment opportunities, and policies that support sustainable economic growth within the community.

People’s Economy Lab is excited to collaborate as a strategic Movement Partner in this work by providing training and capacity-building guidance and technical support to the assembly anchors, GND board members, and Office of Sustainability and Environment staff. 

Community Assemblies in the Washington State Budget 

Thanks to the advocacy of the Just Futures partners–People’s Economy Lab, Front and Centered, and Statewide Poverty Action Network–the Washington State Legislature included $2 million to pilot a statewide network of community assemblies in the 2024 Supplemental Budget. The Legislature made this investment to “elevate community expertise and solutions to budget and policy makers on sustainable investments to create a more climate-resilient Washington.”

Assemblies have seen success throughout the country. Examples include the Jackson People’s Assembly, the Bronxwide Plan, and ʻĀina Aloha Economic Futures. However, this is the first example of a state investing in assemblies.

We’re so excited to experience community assemblies in action in Washington!

In the meantime, the Just Futures partners are co-creating a data framework and logic model to track assembly efforts and the resulting policy outcomes.

Stay tuned and subscribe to our newsletter for future updates.