Apr 13 2016 National politics aside, governing still takes collaboration across boundaries
By Kirk Emerson (University of Arizona) and Tina Nabatchi (Syracuse University), co-authors of Collaborative Governance Regimes, Georgetown University Press, 2015
You wouldn’t think it from the tenor of our current presidential electioneering, but not everyone in this country is at each other’s throats, failing to listen to each other, or disrespecting differing views. News coverage and social media posts may be disheartening, suggesting polarized politics, incivility, and failure to address problems; however, evidence of our ability to collaborate – to work together across boundaries to solve problems and strive for the common good – is bountiful.
Despite this partisan polarization, thousands of people inside and outside of government continue to come together, transcending their differences and collaborating to solve public problems. For example, towns and cities are exploring local solutions to mental health care, turning food deserts into oases, creating enterprise zones to encourage small businesses, and addressing infrastructure challenges. States are bringing together actors from the public, private, and non-profit sectors to address a multitude of issues, such as higher education, watershed management, conservation and biodiversity, climate change, and more. Even federal agencies have been hard at work, learning by necessity how to partner with other levels of government, external stakeholders, and private contractors.
Cross-boundary collaboration and collaborative governance are becoming the tools of choice for public problem-solvers in the 21st century. Of course, collaboration and collaborative governance are not easy, and they are not now (nor will they ever be) panaceas. Nevertheless, in many cases, collaborative approaches are changing the way public work gets done. Simply put: The business of governing has become everyone’s business.
Despite this partisan polarization, thousands of people inside and outside of government continue to come together, transcending their differences and collaborating to solve public problems.
This reality means that collaboration and collaborative governance have become quite the buzzwords. Almost everyone in the fields of public administration, public policy, political science, conflict resolution, and public participation has at least a passing acquaintance with the term “collaborative governance,” but few would claim close familiarity. Practitioners are still experimenting with different ways of working across institutional and sectoral divides, and researchers are still exploring how best to conceptualize and study collaborative governance.
As “pracademics,” we wanted to better understand the complex world of collaborative governance. We began our research on collaborative governance in 2009 and published our book, Collaborative Governance Regimes, in the fall of 2015, with various articles in between. Our goals for the book were many: to make sense of the numerous terms and concepts associated with collaborative governance; to encourage more systematic study of collaborative governance; to explore the variations across collaborative arrangements; and to contribute to the empirical study of collaborative performance.
To those ends, we use the book to further develop our integrative framework for collaborative governance and our concept of a collaborative governance regime (CGR). Specifically, we unpack and explore the different pieces of the framework in greater depth, including the many conditions in the system context that give rise to CGRs; the essential drivers that propel their formation; the behavioral, relational, and functional aspects of collaboration dynamics; the development of a shared theory of change; and the production chain of collaborative actions, outcomes, and adaptation. Each of these aspects of collaborative governance, as well as the framework as a whole, are illustrated with a series of case profiles and case studies. With the overarching framework in mind, we then introduce and develop a typology of CGRs based on how they are formed. Specifically, CGRs may be self-initiated, independently convened, or externally directed. We also suggest numerous design and management considerations that need to be addressed to help maximize the potential of these collaborative endeavors. Finally, we address how to evaluate both the process and productivity performance of collaboration, including sample indicators and data sources. We show how periodically conducting performance assessments can improve both the collaborative process and its outcomes.
Practitioners are still experimenting with different ways of working across institutional and sectoral divides, and researchers are still exploring how best to conceptualize and study collaborative governance.
We hope and expect that this book will be useful to a wide variety of readers: scholars and researchers who want a framework for their theory building and empirical studies; graduate students from multiple disciplines who are trying to make sense of collaborative governance and its diverse literatures; and perhaps most importantly public managers, leaders, and practitioners who are working together to solve public problems and advocate for governance reforms and innovations.
Our current contentious campaign season will no doubt continue through November, and our dysfunctional national politics is likely to stick around for some time. This is all the more reason to examine and highlight the work of those who choose to cross ideological, institutional, and jurisdictional divides to build enduring collaborative systems of governance.
Kirk Emerson is Professor of Practice in Collaborative Governance in the School of Government and Public Policy at the University of Arizona. Emerson was the founding director of the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution of the Udall Foundation, is an elected fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration, and serves on the board of the National Institute for Civil Discourse. She is the co-author with Tina Nabatchi of Collaborative Governance Regimes (Georgetown University Press, 2015) and her research focuses on collaborative governance and conflict management, particularly related to public lands management, climate change, and border security.
Tina Nabatchi is an Associate Professor of Public Administration and International Affairs at the Syracuse University Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. She is also the Co-Director of the Collaborative Governance Initiative at the Maxwell School’s Program for the Advancement of Research on Conflict and Collaboration (PARCC). Dr. Nabatchi’s research focuses on issue of democratic governance in public administration, including public participation, collaboration, and conflict resolution.