Washington, D.C.-based Justice & Sustainability Associates (JSA) is expanding its commitment to community engagement by partnering with Madison Gas and Electric (MGE), a regulated natural gas and electric utility headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin. JSA is designing and facilitating, as an independent third-party, MGE’s upcoming Community Energy Conversations.

“I was first contacted by MGE in November 2014 after serving as a keynote speaker at the Madison’s Mayor’s Neighborhood Conference. MGE was a conference sponsor,” Edwards said. “That initial interaction with MGE representatives at the conference has resulted in this unique effort we’re about to undertake.”

While the technique of combining alternative dispute resolution and engagement is not unique to JSA, as the company has used the model in many of its land use and transportation projects, what is unique is applying this approach to a public utility. Edwards said “This kind of in-depth engagement has proven to be successful. It will focus on better understanding the concerns of the community, using alternative dispute resolution techniques to work through those concerns and provide MGE with information needed to move toward the future in a way that best serves the customers.”

The preliminary design of the Community Energy Conversations includes four phases. Phase one has sought to gather information both internally and externally of MGE and to introduce JSA to MGE’s customers, community and stakeholders. Phase two, anticipated to begin in mid-June, will create an educational, information-rich atmosphere as JSA facilitates small group sessions. Phase three will expand the opportunity for engagement to more people in an effort to help MGE to define direction and priorities for the future.

“As a public utility – homegrown and based in the territory we serve — responsible engagement is one of our pillars,” MGE Chairman, President and CEO Gary Wolter said. “JSA understands and appreciates that it is a critical part of fulfilling our obligation to our customers to provide safe and reliable energy today and into tomorrow. Don and his team have the proven experience, independence and logistical know-how to ensure we hear from a broad base of our customers as we determine how to become their utility of the future.”

“JSA has built a sterling track record of successfully designing and implementing policy setting, constituency development, and capacity building processes,” Edwards said. “After speaking with Gary Wolter and understanding how MGE had used the Community Energy Conversations in the past, we both agreed that this would be the perfect vehicle to engage while shaping MGE into the utility of the future.”

As JSA works with MGE to manage the Community Energy Conversations process, the team is committed to continuing to promote transparency, openness and participation by all public audiences regardless of race, class, ethnicity, age or literacy level.

The company is an African American-owned firm, established in 1999 and has built and maintained its reputation throughout Washington, D.C. and the Northeast region of the United States.

Edwards said, “The partnership with MGE allows JSA to expand its reach while demonstrating how the use of alternative dispute resolution combined with civic engagement can be used to reach agreement and common direction.”