Tag Archives: Policy & Politics conference 2014

How to lead and manage collaborative innovation

Tessa Coombes
Tessa Coombes

by Tessa Coombes, guest blogger for P&P conference

The final plenary session of the conference was delivered in energetic fashion by Prof Jacob Torfing, Roskilde University, who took us through a whistle-stop tour of what we can achieve through collaboration and how it enhances innovation. He explained that the last 30 years or so has seen a growing focus on public sector innovation, where previously this had been seen as something of a contradiction in terms, it is now seen as a means to boosting  the private sector. Innovation is now pretty high on the public sector agenda.

Using an analogy of the ‘good’, the ‘bad’ and the ‘ugly’ he took us through three key areas of innovation narratives. The ‘good’ was used to describe the existence of high political ambitions, which is a good thing, but where there is the need to invent new practices in order to achieve those ambitions. The ‘bad’ referred to the ‘wicked problems’ that exist and can’t be solved through standard solutions or by just throwing money at the problem. In this case, creative problem solving is needed. The ‘ugly’ related to the disconnect between expectations and ability to deliver, where there are increasing expectations from citizens at a time when public resources are limited. This disconnect is driving the need to pursue innovation in order to deliver more for less.

Jacob then raised the key question, that is, can the public sector innovate? To which the answer is obviously yes, but where there are various caveats. The public sector is far more innovative and dynamic than its reputation would suggest but it is often episodic and accidental, so as a result enhanced organisational capacity doesn’t always follow. He then added a word of caution, reminding us that innovation is not an end in itself, it is about providing solutions to problems and improving performance and it doesn’t always work!

According to Jacob, one of the biggest problem with public sector innovation is the search for innovation heroes, an approach that is well known in and translated from the private sector. In the public sector it works less well, who are the innovation heroes, are they the elected politicians, the public managers, private contractors, public employees or service users? There are just too many options in the public sector and it is important to remember that innovation is rarely triggered by single individuals, but is more of a team sport. There is greater potential for innovation where multi actors are involved, providing different perspectives and generating joint ownership of bold solutions.

The question then arises of how we lead and manage collaborative innovation and the need to explore the link between theories of collaborative governance and theories of innovation. There’s a massive literature out there on leadership that can be drawn into the debate on innovation, from pragmatic and adaptive leadership to distributive and collaborative leadership, there’s plenty to offer the discussion.

Perhaps one of the key points of this discussion is what this means for public managers and how it changes their role? Jacob describe three new roles for public managers – the convenor, facilitator and catalyst – with all three needed to generate collaborative innovation. A big challenge for the future for all those in the public sector.

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.

Public leadership between ‘front’ and ‘back’ stage

Tessa Coombes
Tessa Coombes

by Tessa Coombes, guest blogger for P&P conference

In the afternoon plenary session on the first day of the Policy & Politics conference, Prof. Dr. Erik-Hans Klijn, Erasmus University Rotterdam, explored the tension between front stage (world of media and politics) and back stage (world of complex networks) using his own work to take us through the tensions that exist and how public managers can cope with those tensions. He reminded us that – modern governance is more about managing processes than anything else and there are no easy answers to complex governance problems.

Governance networks (back stage) were described as being characterised by complexity; complexity of decision-making and of resource dependency, with many different actors involved in activity where it takes time and dedication to achieve good performance. In this sense, it is managerial effort that makes the difference with modern governance more about management than politics and where hard work is needed because there are no easy solutions. Whilst this may well be true, I think there are many politicians out there who may just disagree with the comment about management!

In the world of politics and media (front stage), complexity comes from interaction and activity, with politicians reacting daily to events and constant media attention which is both short term and immediate. It’s a different world dominated by media logic, where branding and image are increasingly ‘centre-stage’ and used more frequently because people can relate to them.

These different worlds, operating together, generate a number of tensions:

  • complex multi-faced problems and solutions versus simple communications
  • connective leadership versus personalised strong profile
  • long-term oriented dedication versus short-term visibility
  • trust building versus conflict framing

Public managers therefore face huge challenges to combine ‘front’ and ‘back’ stage, where there is more focus on emotions, more use of branding and more network management. Erik-Hans concluded by emphasising that these tensions will remain and potentially increase, because the tendencies that fuel them will remain in place.

One of the interesting points I’ll take away from the discussion is definitely the one about branding, and how important this become in our society, but with a reminder that perhaps this should relate not just to ‘selling’ but also to identity, value processes and commitment.

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

Policy & Politics conference 2014

Bristol Marriot Royal Hotel
Bristol Marriot Royal Hotel

The Policy & Politics conference 2014 will take place at the Marriot Hotel in Bristol, on 16th and 17th September this year. For those interested in social and public policy, the event is fast becoming one of the main events in the UK conference calendar.

This year the conference theme is the challenges of leadership and collaboration in the 21st Century, and the occasion will be truly international in scope. All our plenary speakers – Chris Ansell, Erik-Hans Klijn, Helen Sullivan, and Jacob Torfing – come from beyond the UK. In previous years we have attracted close to 200 papers from around 20 countries. There is a good mix of established academics and younger researchers presenting in a mutually supportive and academically rigorous environment. As always there are opportunities for publication. The 2012 conference generated a Special Issue for the Policy & Politics journal, and our publisher, Policy Press, will be there to showcase the latest titles in the field and to discuss potential publishing proposals. Continue reading Policy & Politics conference 2014

Policy & Politics Conference 2014

Policy & Politics coverThe challenges of leadership and collaboration in the 21st Century

16th and 17th September 2014, Marriott Hotel, Bristol

The recent global financial crisis and associated austerity measures have led to a reconfiguration of the role of the state and a fundamental reshaping in the design and delivery of public services. State and non-state actors are struggling to cope with the scale of change, the speed with which adjustments are being made and managing a range of ‘wicked issues’ in the absence of necessary resources. In this uncertain environment, policy issues and objectives are often ill-defined, constantly shifting and lack clear direction. There is also huge variability in the coping strategies and creative responses being enacted by public leaders in different contexts. Partnerships, co-production and networks have been viewed as an antidote to the ‘ungovernability’ of complex issues in public and social policy. However, collaborative governance is also fraught with difficulties and pitfalls and raise questions about legitimacy, accountability and social justice. Within this context, the 2014 conference seeks to address questions around the themes of leadership and collaboration. We ask participants to interpret this call broadly but some key questions might include:

  • What scope is there for creative leadership in contemporary policy and politics?
  • How can leadership and/or collaboration drive innovation in the design and delivery of public services?
  • What capacity do non-state actors have to influence policy and politics?
  • What impact can leadership and collaboration have on legitimacy, accountability and social justice in public policy?
  • What are the challenges for public leadership and collaboration in a global context?

Papers are invited in any areas of public or social policy. In writing their papers authors are requested to reflect on the conference theme.

Plenary Speakers

Professor Chris Ansell, University of California, Berkeley, US – ‘Collaborative governance of transboundary problems’

Professor Erik-Hans Klijn, Erasmus University, Netherlands – ‘Public leadership between ‘front’ and ‘back’ stage’

Professor Helen Sullivan, University of Melbourne, Australia – ‘Collaboration as the new normal? Global trends, public policy and everyday practices’

Professor Jacob Torfing, Roskilde University, Denmark, – ‘How to lead and manage collaborative innovation’

Academic organisers

Professor Matthew Flinders, University of Sheffield; Sarah Ayres and Noemi Lendvai, University of Bristol.
For academic enquiries please email pp-conference@bristol.ac.uk

Administrative organiser
For conference enquiries relating to bookings, venue, travel details and timetable please email pp-conference@bristol.ac.uk