Today, I led an all-day seminar for senior leaders at the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We talked about the growing complexity in their eco-system; a complexity that makes it difficult to sustain multi-sector relationships to protect the nation’s environment. NRCS, as it states on the agency’s website, “provides America’s farmers and ranchers with financial and technical assistance to voluntarily put conservation on the ground, not only helping the environment but agricultural operations, too.”

When you take a closer look at the agency’s mission, it’s a great example of collective action, only led by government. Collective action involves the voluntary participation of individuals, moving in a unified direction to pursue a shared goal or objective.

The history of NRCS is an example of collective action led by government. Consider the following statement from the NRCS website: “NRCS helps America’s farmers, ranchers and forest land owners conserve the nation’s soil, water, air and other natural resources. All programs are voluntary and offer science-based solutions that benefit both the landowner and the environment.”

So, if you are looking for an example where government can effectively use the principles of collective action to inspire people to become better stewards of our environment, look at the history of NRCS.

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