Study Digs into the Challenges of Collaborative Governance.

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Collaboration is one of the ways governments attempt to resolve complex social problems. But it is always difficult to reconcile different perspectives and interests and to build trust. In addition, accountability is especially challenging.

The authors of an article published in the Public Management Review studied a series of difficult but important issues --eight multi-agency crime-fighting collaborations in the Netherlands. They discovered a wealth of information about how collaborators manage governance challenges and other issues.

Problem-oriented efforts like those addressed by the study begin by identifying a specific problem and then attempting to define the problem and its root causes. "This, however, is notoriously difficult," the paper notes. Once the problem is defined, collaborators must develop a theory of change. This is also difficult. "Even if it were possible to clearly define the problem, there are not likely to be any standardized approaches to solving it, particularly given the cross-boundary nature of the problem," according to the paper. "This often makes it hard to determine an 'access point' for tackling the problem, resulting in inaction." This is one of the paradoxes collaborators face.

Collaborative challenges are particularly complex because they make contradictory demands on the people charged with finding solutions. This is especially true for public servants who are used to a bureaucratic way of doing things but are being asked to participate in an unusual exercise. "A level of trust is required, but only by engaging in collaboration and, indeed, sharing information can they establish such trust," the study explains.

Individual collaborators also need to gain basic trust in each other. "Apprehension about other collaborators' good intentions or capacity can imperil the effort's success," the paper says, suggesting that "a pre-condition for collaboration may be...

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