Tag Archives: governance

Is there “one best way” to govern public services?

Catherine Durose
Catherine Durose

Catherine Durose discusses her latest article with co-authors Jonathan Justice and Chris Skelcher. Catherine is on the Editorial Board of Policy & Politics and is based at the University of Birmingham, UK.

What is the best way to organize the design and implementation of public policies and services? We do not pretend to know. Further, we would argue that a meaningful answer can be provided only contingently. It might therefore be more productive to ask a slightly different question: How can we go about figuring out – in a given situation at a specific time with respect to a specific complex of decisions and services – what the best way might be?

A century ago, industrial engineer Frederick Taylor famously argued that managers ought to determine the one best way to do any given task, and then train their subordinates to do things in precisely that best way. Contemporary scholars of organization, however, tend to agree that activities for which a single best way can be prescribed and implemented are very rare. In the 1950s, scholars in the rapidly suburbanizing U.S. debated whether local -government policies and services were better organized through a multiplicity of jurisdictions or through unitary consolidated metropolitan governments. Versions of that debate continue to this day, not only in the U.S. and Continue reading Is there “one best way” to govern public services?

Targets Can Enhance the Impact of Partnership-Working on Social Outcomes

Rhys Andrews
Rhys Andrews

by Rhys Andrews, James Downe, and Valeria Guarneros-Meza, Cardiff University, UK

Targets for public service improvement are frequently derided as heavy-handed, top-down mechanisms that have dysfunctional and potentially disastrous effects on organizational behaviour. Yet, there is growing statistical evidence to suggest that targets can actually prompt public organizations to deliver improved service quality and responsiveness. While much of this research on targets has focused on relatively narrow public service outcomes, such as hospital waiting times or examination results, Continue reading Targets Can Enhance the Impact of Partnership-Working on Social Outcomes

Collaboration as the new normal?

Tessa Coombes
Tessa Coombes

by Tessa Coombes, guest blogger for P&P conference

Our first session this morning on the second day of the Policy & Politics conference was a fast and furious presentation from Prof Helen Sullivan, University of Melbourne, covering a wide range of issues relating to collaboration. The presentation sought to cover why collaboration can be seen as the new normal, a better framework for understanding collaboration, and the challenges this presents for policy makers and practitioners.

For many collaboration is inevitable to meet policy challenges, whilst others are waiting for the trend to disappear. Whatever the case, collaboration is more accepted as the ‘new normal’. In her presentation, Helen defined collaboration as “a more or less stable configuration of rules, resources and relationships; generated, negotiated, restricted, and reproduced by diverse interdependent actors”. A deliberately vague or open definition, that goes beyond our understanding of partnerships and cooperative relations, that brings with it a set of emotions.

The normalisation of collaboration has developed as a response to the Global Financial Crisis, which led to the view of austerity as a collaborative affair involving non state actors and citizens. Helen then identified a number of  trends in collaboration which have seen the primacy of the collective replaced by the primacy of the individual:

  • New Public Management has evolved beyond marketisation
  • Globalisation and governance rescaling, creating elasticity of public policy across boundaries
  • Co-governance, reconnecting citizens to governing institutions
  • Innovation and the increasing importance of digital and social media

These trends together make collaboration more difficult, with human agency at the centre of collaboration emphasising the need to understand what motivates individuals to act. Helen proposed her own framework for how we might seek to better understand this concept, with the aim of directing attention to the more neglected aspects of collaboration. This framework has three dimensions: political, material and cultural, where the role of ideas, rules and emotions are particularly important.

The challenge for policy makers in all this is to understand collaboration, in terms of mood, practice and instrument where the role of power, interests, structure and agency are central to making sense of policy processes. With collaboration as the new normal, it can also be seen as a disruptive force for intervention, leading to improvements and new ways of doing things. The point was also made that public policy analysis needs to see the whole as well as the parts in order to develop a full understanding.

For me, and others in the audience, this feels like a huge agenda requiring interdisciplinary activity and understanding, but as a framework it enables you to think about those different aspects in an interconnected way.

Tessa Coombes has just completed the MSc in Public Policy at Bristol University, is an ex-City Councillor and regularly blogs about politics, policy and place.

Collaborative Governance: why, when and how?

Tessa Coombes
Tessa Coombes

by Tessa Coombes, guest blogger for P&P conference

Collaborative governance: why, when and how? That was the question posed by Prof Chris Ansell, University of California, in the opening presentation to the Policy & Politics Conference 2014. Chris described himself as a ‘nervous fan’ of collaborative governance when used as an alternative to a more adversarial system. He discussed the need to be careful that we don’t over sell the concept and don’t use it as a generic strategy to do everything – wise words indeed.

So, what do we mean by collaborative governance? The definition offered by Prof Ansell was as follows:

‘Collaborative governance is a governing arrangement where public or private stakeholders engage in a multi-lateral decision making process, that is formal, consensus-oriented and deliberative, that aims to directly make or implement policy or manage programmes or assets.’

We were then taken through a discussion about why, when and how we should use collaborative governance:

The ‘why’ question was about managing conflict more fruitfully, creating collaboration amongst stakeholders and looking at real issues or problems. A process of taking us away from adversarial politics and into a more engaged and cooperative approach to governance.

The ‘when’ question focused on three fairly obvious conditions, including when resources are available, when discretion exists to enable participation and when joint processes of negotiation are necessary. A further three conditions were identified as potentially more restrictive and included, where the trade off between risk and gains is worth it, where there is positive mutual interdependence amongst stakeholders and where the process for collaboration is fair, inclusive and unique.

The ‘how’ question was about a facilitated social learning process. This process is about leadership and stakeholders learning from each other through an iterative process. It involves five stages from face-to-face discussions and trust building, to gaining commitment and joint ownership of the process and finally to intermediate outcomes. One of the key points here is why stakeholders come to the table, often for very different reasons and potentially even when they are not committed to collaboration, but at least they do participate.

One of the interesting issues to come out of the examples used by Chris, was why do people engage and what motivates stakeholders to take part in collaboration? Which is where issues about trust building and face-to-face engagement help to break down traditional barriers and potentially reduce tensions between stakeholders. But it’s also where it becomes clear that different stakeholders enter the discussion with different levels of advantage or disadvantage. Some groups are very organised, others less so, some have resources to draw on, whilst others don’t. It’s also the case that some may engage for negative reasons and may not be fully committed to the idea of a collaborative process, coming to the table with more of a watching brief.

One of the questions from the audience focused on why stakeholders engage and how their involvement is perceived by others. This was a particular issue for environmental groups where they are often accused of ‘selling out’ by involvement and collaboration rather than the more usual route of adversarial politics. For environmental stakeholders and lobbyists this often requires a delicate balance of assessing risks against the potential benefits of participation.

Another important question was about the key role of the facilitator – should this be someone with local knowledge, but who may also have a particular position to defend, or should it be an independent professional mediator brought in as a neutral facilitator, or can you use both? A critical point as facilitation is clearly crucial to the success of collaborative processes.

A further question was raised about how you measure and define success if the goals are not agreed at the beginning. Success has to be seen as more than merely yielding a group of happy stakeholders at the end of the process.

For me the key lesson was about how we use collaborative governance, mostly as a productive approach to sorting out political conflict, rather than as an answer to everything. A measured approach that which starts with thinking about what collaboration can achieve and when best to use it.

Tessa Coombes has just completed the MSc in Public Policy at Bristol University, is a former Bristol City Councillor and regularly blogs about policy, politics, and place. 

Poverty and social policy in Europe 2020

Paul Copeland and Mary Daly
Paul Copeland and Mary Daly

Paul Copeland, Queen Mary University of London, and Mary Daly, University of Oxford offer a critical analysis of EU social policy in their article available in the latest issue of Policy & Politics.

Having written about EU social policy for over a decade, our view is that the EU currently is going nowhere in its social policies to combat poverty and social exclusion. Such policies are in themselves ambitious and also novel in an EU context – centring on the 2010 target within the EU’s Europe 2020 reform programme, the EU aims to reduce the numbers living in poverty and social exclusion by 20 million by 2020. While this broke new ground when it was agreed we remain skeptical in terms of the ability of the EU to make progress and achieve substantive positive outcomes on poverty. In our paper we construct a framework to analyse the significance of a policy area within a governance architecture, such as Europe 2020. Continue reading Poverty and social policy in Europe 2020

Rethinking Depoliticisation

Matt Wood
Matt Wood

Matt Wood, University of Sheffield, discusses the article that he has written with Matt Flinders, also from the University of Sheffield, called ‘Depoliticisation, governance and the state’. This article is part of the April issue of Policy & Politics, a special issue on depoliticisation, available free until 31 May.

In our main contribution to this special issue of Policy & Politics we aim to set out an agenda for expanding and diversifying the study of depoliticisation in governance and public policy by engaging a broad range of conceptual approaches and definitions. Depoliticisation in general means a narrowing of the boundaries of democratic politics, such that choice and agency over issues of public concern come to be constrained. There are many different ways in which this can occur, and there is a sprawling cross-disciplinary literature that uses the concept of depoliticisation to refer to a range of practices that might contribute to an understanding of the phenomenon. Our aim in this article is to map this literature and identify links between different forms of depoliticisation, such that we can offer a rounded and systematic account.

Our central argument is that the study of depoliticisation needs to be broadened. The most significant studies to date (Burnham (2001) and, subsequently, Flinders and Buller (2006) have emphasised the importance of ‘governmental’, or state-based actors (mainly ministers) as agents of depoliticisation. They arguably ignore, however, the importance of non-state actors (such as the media, interest groups, or even ordinary people in ‘everyday’ situations) in determining whether depoliticisation occurs, or whether it is resisted. We contend that by identifying and mapping a broader range of cross-disciplinary literature that uses this concept to refer to strategies employed by this wider range of actors, we can develop a more sophisticated analysis of the interrelated processes that accumulate into a general shift towards depoliticisation.

Taking Colin Hay’s conceptual work (2006) as a starting point, we map three forms of depoliticisation. These we term, as follows:

  1. Governmental depoliticisation
  2. Societal depoliticisation
  3. Discursive depoliticisation

Firstly, ‘governmental depoliticisation’ (a shift from the ‘governmental’ to ‘societal’ sphere) refers to the delegation of political decisions away from the central state by ministers, such that they are controlled by ‘technocrats’ or instituted in ‘quangos’. Here, depoliticisation is enacted by ministers placing the ‘political character of decision making’ at one remove away from the central state. This is the ‘form’ that gets most attention in the public policy literature and we summarise it relatively briefly through an overview of the literature on delegated governance and patronage.

Secondly, ‘societal depoliticisation’ (movement from the ‘public’ to ‘private’ sphere) refers to the ‘privatisation’ of issues, not formally, but in terms of their salience as topics in public debate. Here, depoliticisation is enacted by a range of actors in the public sphere, from the media and interest groups to politicians, celebrities and other prominent actors in society. By simply not discussing political issues to the extent that they were discussed previously, these actors effectively depoliticise those issues by preventing their full and open public deliberation.

Lastly, ‘discursive depoliticisation’ (shift from the ‘private’ sphere to ‘realm of necessity’) refers to the ‘normalisation’ of political issues, in the sense that they are presented in political discourse or rhetoric as being matters of ‘fate’ over which humans can have no control. This last perspective can be found in moral panics, for example. Immigration might be a highly salient topic of debate, but if only a single policy option is discussed, namely limiting immigration as far as possible, then it is depoliticised in this sense. There might also be a lot of public discussion over, say, climate change, but if that discussion does not suggest that humans can do anything about climate change, then it is effectively depoliticised. Discursive depoliticisation can also happen at any ‘level’ and need not be ‘public’ but can happen in ‘everyday’ situations when political discussions are presented as being (for example in discussions of austerity as a ‘natural’ or ‘inevitable’ course of government policy).

Distinguishing between these three general forms of depoliticisation within the literature enables us to advocate a future empirical agenda that examines the interrelationships between them. Such interrelationships can be quite paradoxical. For instance, a policy issue could be dealt with in a very hand’s off or arm’s length way – depoliticised – but also be a highly salient public issue and one where there is a lot discussion over what society should do – politicised. Policies with a strong ethical or moral dimension are often of this ilk, for example IVF treatment or prostitution. We argue in the article that more empirical research may tease apart some of the intricacies and capture some of the complexities in processes of depoliticisation and politicisation, and even investigate whether, again paradoxically, they can be mutually reinforcing or self-sustaining.

Matt Wood is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield. He is also Deputy Director of the Sir Bernard Crick Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics. His current research looks at ‘everyday politics’ and the challenges for overcoming political disaffection and disengagement.