Moving toward collaborative governance

The growing importance of inter-jurisdictional collaboration in service delivery framed a recent national meeting of federal, provincial and territorial deputy ministers responsible for service delivery. As part of this November 2007 gathering in Halifax, deputies not only grappled in the immediacy of identity management challenges but also longer term trends pertaining to the future of integrated service delivery and more seamless governance for the public sector as a whole.

The context for more collaborative and integrative service delivery (ISD) stems from two inter-related streams of thought and reform that have now converged: first, a philosophy of citizen-centric governance and service that emphasizes performance over process; and secondly, the emergence of the Internet and new digital technologies that underpin electronic government (e-government) and widen opportunities for electronic service delivery.

Networked Federalism

As a result, governments are rethinking how best to organize and align service offerings and delivery mechanisms from a government-wide perspective. Internal pressures for more efficiency are one set of drivers, but equally important is the opportunity to improve service responsiveness and outcomes for the public. The centrality of collaboration stems from the tremendous opportunities for sharing information and aligning (and at times integrating) service offerings across different public sector providers.

Yet, to what extent this seamless approach should be nurtured through collaborative opportunities between units (i.e. departments and agencies) or more aggressively pursued through a single service provider is a core challenge for e-government’s enterprise architecture. Along with the need for an enterprise-wide perspective on information and infrastructure, public sector leaders also understand that in order to achieve better outcomes (i.e. citizen-centric outcomes), frontline flexibility and specialization are paramount.

With much effort remaining within each jurisdiction, why then, is there a need to address cross-jurisdictional issues – most commonly for a country as a whole? The answer lies in the aforementioned evolution from a pre-Internet world of competitive segmentation to an online world emphasizing seamless processes and integrative outcomes. There is no obvious reason why this latter push for more seamless governance would stop at any jurisdictional boundary defined politically by geographic territory.

Yet an irony of the digital age is that countries that are not federations politically may have an easier time embracing the logic of more seamless, multi-layered service models across multiple government levels. The key design question in going forward thus becomes – how to retain the benefits of political federalism while creating additional value for the citizen through more collaborative and integrative service delivery mechanisms across jurisdictions.

Lessons from abroad

In countries with more unitary public sector structures (i.e. a less formal division of powers and authority across government levels), much depends on the attitude and actions of the central government. Singapore’s rise to the top of Accenture’s global rankings study, for example, reflects an aggressive set of measures undertaken by the national government.

E-government in Denmark began with a formal inter-governmental body to create policy and strategy in an inclusive manner across all government levels. This collaborative dialogue was an important variable in forging agreement in 2006 on a set of major structural changes to the Danish public sector as a whole. Both financing and policy and service responsibilities for each level of government were negotiated in a bottom-up manner, with an eye to strengthening the municipal role in frontline service delivery.

In many respects, then, Denmark is creating a federated service model enjoining all government levels. The model features a multi-channel framework that emphasizes a leading-edge digital infrastructure nationally coupled with a frontline service presence via integrative centres managed by government authorities municipally.

In Belgium, by contrast, an aptly named ‘Kafka Plan’ was created by the Belgian Government in 2003 ( to solicit both problems and ideas from inside and outside of the state. Building on such efforts, in 2003 Belgium became the first country to launch a national electronic ID card, an exercise that began with a federally-sponsored pilot in several municipalities before proceeding to national rollout.

Situated somewhat between these two examples is the case of the United Kingdom, having recently evolved into a quasi-federation through devolutionary agreements empowering both the Scottish and Wales Parliaments with many new policy and service responsibilities for what effectively amounts to a new order of government.

In 2006, the Scottish government undertook a major service transformation exercise predicated on consultation and dialogue with key stakeholders involved in service delivery both inside and outside of the public service including the citizenry. With regards to consulting the public, the purpose has been less about gauging satisfaction levels with existing service processes and more about engaging citizens in a conversation.

Identity management is also proving to be a central aspect of federal-provincial collaboration in the realm of service delivery in this country. Indeed, at the Halifax meeting in November, deputies examined the groundbreaking efforts of the Identity Management and Authentication Task Force (IATF) and the recommendations put forth in support of a pan-Canadian framework for identity management and authentication.

As the thoughtful report (available online at the Institute for Citizen-Centric Governance) makes clear, the main challenges are less about technology than collective action and collaborative governance.

Toward collaborative governance

Beyond the present cooperative focus on interoperable architectures for information sharing, a more ambitious exploration of collaborative and participative governance is also imperative. This latter realm, the basis of ISD across jurisdictions, requires the formation of new citizen-centric business models based upon three key principles:

Participative Service Design
– Embracing customer satisfaction and citizen engagement
Adaptive Partnerships
– Holistically aligning service and policy capacities at the community level
Networked and Knowledge Management
– Devising new planning and accountability mechanisms for shared actions and outcomes

The first principle (participative service design) stems from a growing emphasis on collective learning, public dialogue, and stakeholder engagement as enablers of service innovation and public satisfaction.

Dialogue and learning are particularly essential for navigating the difficult trade-offs between efficiency-minded and effectiveness-driven performance objectives. Customer relationship management in a public sector context must be as much about citizen engagement as customer satisfaction.

Inter-jurisdictionally, pursuing service transformation in such a participative manner is arguably more important if the conditions for collaborative and adaptive partnerships (the second principle above) are to emerge.

The main reason is that such partnering requires, at minimum, new planning, performance and risk management frameworks within each jurisdiction, and shared organizational and governance models across such boundaries.

The inter-related challenge across government levels in devising collaborative and integrative approaches is doing so in ways that ensure an optimal alignment of public sector presence and resources within any given community. A specific Canadian challenge is aligning federal and provincial resources and delivery mechanisms with municipal authorities in ways that synergistically strengthen rather than fragment governance capacities at the local level.

The third principle (network and knowledge management) underlines the need for designing and deploying new organizational mechanisms conducive for partnering and achieving shared and citizen-centric outcomes. Collaboration requires significant and shared investments in new skill sets and organizational competencies. A particularly central challenge here is linking accountability to performance through hybrid mechanisms capable of transcending jurisdictional boundaries.

The implications here are operational and political. Developing new models of shared accountability at both levels is necessary in order to change behavioural incentives and organizational culture.

In sum, what permeates all three principles is the central importance of a new collaborative ethos for pursuing ISD across jurisdictions.

Jeffrey Roy is associate professor at Dalhousie University’s School of Public Administration. John Langford is senior professor and graduate advisor at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Administration.Related content:

Shared services raise governance challenges

New certification seeks governance excellence

Shifting toward Federalism 2.0

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