Using tact, passionate impartiality, active listening, whole-system thinking, and mediation when necessary — Michael Kinsley convenes respectful and productive conversations where diverse people work creatively, despite their differences, toward mutually acceptable solutions to their problems.


• Collaborative problem solving and strategic planning
• Design and facilitation of complicated results-oriented workshops
• Whole-system thinking
• Event moderation
• Coaching local leaders
• Mediation
(Additionally, he’s a lecturer, teacher, author, and painter)


Michael could not have better prepared himself for Community Diplomacy than the way he spent the last forty years. At one time or another, he’s been on every side of the table around which community issues are discussed. So that now, when he works with people involved in community issues, he knows what they’re feeling because he’s been there.

In the early 70s, he served as the single employee of a citizen’s group in Aspen where he ardently argued for many community and environmental issues, often attempting to get local government to listen. Then, in 1975 he was elected Pitkin County Commissioner to be part of the three-commissioner team that transformed the nature of local government from a traditional ol’ boy system to one driving environmental policies, growth management, and affordable housing. The ten years that followed were rife with deeply divisive, often noisy controversy. With little understanding of the idea of civic collaboration, Michael ran many scores of rancorous public meetings, most dealing with intellectually and emotionally challenging problems. Some meetings were so contentious that their lives were threatened.

About the time he left government to work with Rocky Mountain Institute, 1985, he cofounded a free local mediation service and learned to mediate. Having just spent ten years in which he had no choice but to find answers, often where solutions were illusive, he found himself instead, shelving his ideas for solutions and impartially eliciting solutions from disputants — primarily through active listing — a literal transformation for someone habituated to driving solutions.

In three decades at Rocky Mountain Institute, he designed and conducted scores of workshops for communities and corporations on a wide range of topics, many technical and complex. He specialized in sustainable communities and college campuses. He presented frequently on collaborative problem solving, local sustainability, economic development, whole-system thinking, and community growth problems and solutions. His work took him to nearly all US states and several foreign countries. He worked with scores of small communities nationwide, usually with local leaders whose political ideas were quite different from his. He learned to respect, admire, and work closely with people who might otherwise be seen as his adversaries.

At RMI, he developed, tested, refined, taught, and wrote a book on a methodology for organizing a community and conducting a serious of strategic-planning meetings culminating in an action plan (Economic Renewal Guide, A Collaborative Process for Sustainable Development, RMI, 1997). In 2008 and ‘09, he interviewed leaders at twelve college campuses and worked with an RMI team to develop a book on the barriers and solutions to college-campus efforts to reduce carbon emissions (Accelerating Campus Climate Initiatives, RMI 2009).

One particular professional experience, independent of RMI, stood out: In the 90s, he facilitated a retreat for a small, local, high-tech start-up company. Because of intense antipathy that had developed among staff and management, the volatile session required an unusual combination of facilitation and mediation, the latter required when sharp conflict broke out. In the end, the firm’s president said his intervention saved the company.

In January 2013, Michael was inducted into the Aspen Hall of Fame.

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Representative mediations

  • Government of Grenada and its electric utility regarding future
    ownership and operation of the utility
  • Twelve members of an extended family regarding dispostion of a major
    family asset
  • Land developer and neighboring landowners regarding a proposed
  • Two partners in a corporation
  • Members of a city council
  • Various business and family disputes

Representative facilitation

Designed and conducted strategic planning retreats of:

  • Regional electric co-operative utility, board of directors
  • Nonprofit organizations related to energy, arts, water
  • School district board of directors
  • A charter school
  • High-tech start-up company


  • A “clean tax cuts” workshop in New York City to identify conservative
    solutions to climate crisis
  • Local community meetings regarding energy, water, education, wild
    lands, public art, and large chain stores
  • Designed a series of community meetings to promote civil discourse
    between Trump opponents and Trump supporters (this did not take

Representative RMI work

Designed and conducted:

  • Workshops in Omaha NB, Savannah GA, and Charleston SC to start
    them on the path to developing green plans
  • Collaborative-decision-making training seminars in dozens of small
    communities and for economic-development professionals in the U.S.,
    Australia, Canada, and Sweden
  • A two-day workshop with key leaders of the University of Vermont to
    find ways that their school could help drive the green economy in their
  • A two-day seminar for 70 people to reduce the emissions and energy
    usage of the ports of Seattle and Tacoma
  • Workshops to preliminarily design two new settlements near Las
    Vegas NV
  • A strategic-planning workshop for a sustainability plan for the Town of
    Snowmass Village
  • Seminars on whole-system thinking for local leaders
  • A two-day meeting of 32 city sustainability directors from throughout
    North America
  • A workshop for business leaders in Sarasota, Florida to help them
    explore ways to develop green business
  • Workshops to develop guidelines and best practices for green
    development of the river valley through Cleveland OH
  • Two technical solutions labs for industrial facilities of a major
    multinational oil company in Australia and Scotland
  • A workshop to design a downtown for LaPine OR
    Consultancy for the New Economics Foundation (a British NGO that
    frequently works with the British government) designing a community-
    based economic-development program


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Economic Renewal Guide, a Collaborative Process for Sustainable Community Development, 1997

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Accelerating Campus Climate Initiatives: Breaking Through Barriers, 2009 (www.rmi.org/rmi/Campuses)

Selected Papers (available on request)
  • Whole System Thinking for Communities, 2006-2012
  • Collaborative Community Problem Solving, 1996-2012
  • The Art of Facilitation, 1996-2012
  • Critical Thinking Matrix, a Community Leadership Tool, 1996-2010
  • Framework for Community Sustainability, 2001
  • Economic Renewal, 1992
Selected Reports
  • Fresh Opportunities in the New Economy, Sustainability Initiatives in the Salinas Valley, 2009
  • Positioning the University of Vermont in the Green Economy, 2007
  • Accelerating Progress Toward a Sustainable Hawai`i Island, 2007
  • Accelerating Natural Capitalism in Sarasota County, 2007
  • Advancing the Regeneration of the Cuyahoga Valley [Cleveland], 2005
  • Cuyahoga Valley Initiative: A Model of Regeneration, 2003
  • Natural Capitalism and the U.S. –Mexican Border, (with Hunter Lovins) 2000
  • Paying for Growth, Prospering from Development, (with Hunter Lovins) 1995.
  • Oil Shale, A Citizens’ Perspective, 1980
  • Independent Community Diplomat, 2010-present
  • Rocky Mountain Institute, Senior Consultant, 1983-present
  • Pitkin County County Commissioner (Colorado) 1975-85 — Full-time, elected. Implemented programs for affordable housing, growth management, environmental protection, and mass transit
  • Environmental Task Force, Pitkin County, Colorado, 1971-75 — Director of local advocacy group. Developed research and position papers, lobbied, and conducted public meetings
  • Aspen Today Newspaper, 1974-5 — Reporter, feature writer
  • City of Aspen, Colorado, 1973-74 — Coordinated development of new pedestrian mall
  • Environmental Research Group, Aspen, Colorado, 1971-73 — Ecological Field Research Assistant.
  • Houston Sports Association, Houston, Texas, 1967-70—Public relations and stadium announcer
Volunteer activities
  • Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board of Trustees, 2018-present
  • Clean Energy Economy for the Region (Roaring Fork Valley). Board of Directors, 2009-present
  • Windstar Land Conservancy, Board of Directors, 2007-2013
  • Snowmass/Capitol Creek Caucus (neighborhood association), 1994-2009, chair 2004-8
  • American Leadership Forum, Rocky Mountain Chapter, Board of Directors 2002-5
  • Aspen Economic Sustainability Committee, 2002
  • Aspen Community Forum Board of Directors, 1996-2002
  • Pitkin County Home Rule Charter Revision Committee, Chair, 1997-2001
  • Center for Conflict Resolution in the Roaring Fork Valley, Co-founder and Board Member, 1987-91
  • Western Colorado Congress, Co-founder, Board of Directors, 1983-86
  • Northwest Colorado Economic Development Task Force, 1982-83
  • Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, Board of Directors, 1976-7 & 1981-2
  • Statewide Health Coordinating Council, Board of Directors, 1978-81, Chair 1979-80
  • Western Colorado Health Systems Agency, Board of Directors, 1977-80
  • Windstar Foundation, Board of Advisors, 1980-1984
  • Rocky Mountain Healing Arts Institute (Boulder), Board of Directors, 1979
  • Environmental Research Group (Aspen), Board of Directors, 1979-1985
  • CDR, Boulder, training on community-scale facilitation and mediation, 1986 & 2013
  • University of Colorado/Harvard, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain Program for Senior Executives, 1982
  • University of Southern California. Los Angeles, Environmental Management, 1972
  • University of Houston, Houston TX, Bachelor of Science, Political Science, 1969