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The ability to work together: municipal cooperation for effective social sector policy implementation

Postma, J. (2013) The ability to work together: municipal cooperation for effective social sector policy implementation.

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Abstract:The Dutch governmental structure is currently subject to many changes. The central government decided to start decentralizing tasks to the local (municipal) level to realize budget cuts and to improve service provision. Among these decentralizations, the Participatiewet is one that draws a lot of attention.1 Starting from 2015, Dutch municipalities will gain many additional tasks while being confronted with budget cuts at the same time. Many municipalities use cooperation as a means to bear the burden together. This research assesses cooperation for implementing the Wet Werk en Bijstand (2004) to make predictions for future cooperation initiatives in the social domain. This study aims to provide small municipalities with insights in how to increase effectiveness when cooperating in the public social domain. Theory points out that there are three main forms of network governance that can be opted for: participant governed networks, lead organization governed networks and network administrative organization governed networks. Combinations of scores on four criteria (‘contingencies’) are related to the effectiveness of these forms. These contingencies are trust, number of participants, goal consensus and need for network-level competencies. Theoretically, when a form is chosen that corresponds to a certain combination of scores, network-level effectiveness will be higher than when a mismatching form is chosen. Findings Analysis of the current data has shown that the assumed relationships between contingency scores, their corresponding governance forms and total network-level effectiveness are not statistically significant. The tested theory is thus falsified on the basis of these data: network-level effectiveness is not significantly higher when network forms are chosen that correspond to the surrounding conditions. On the other hand, data do show that total network effectiveness tends to be higher when the conditions are relatively easy then when these are difficult, as was expected. Further assessment of the data with a simplified version of the theory indicated that centralized governance forms are chosen more often than shared network forms, even when contingency scores indicate easy conditions. This contradicts the theory, which predicted that shared network forms are more likely to be chosen under easy conditions, whilst centralized networks are more likely to be chosen under difficult conditions. A possible explanation –extracted from the qualitative data- might be that actor size inequality increases the choice for centralized forms, for larger actors tend to have more power than their smaller counterparts and become lead organizations. Though, this fifth contingency is not included in the tested model and should be subjected to future research. Recommendations This study has shown no significant differences between effectiveness of shared and more centralized governed networks. Thus, small municipalities are advised to pick the form that best suits their needs. For settings with high autonomy requirements this could be a participant-governed network, while for settings with high dependency on other actors, lead organization-governed networks of network administrative organization-governed networks are advised. To counter imbalance in centralized networks, the network administrative organization-model might provide a solution to enhance balance within the network and protect the needs of the smaller participants. An ex-ante determination of the contingency scores can help with determining the cooperation strategy. Results have shown that effectiveness for small municipalities under easy conditions is higher than under difficult conditions. Hence, when contingency scores indicate a ‘difficult’ environment, it might be useful to try to alter these surrounding factors before starting the cooperation. This can, for instance, be done by increasing goal consensus by preliminary determining strategies, decreasing the number of actors involved or increasing inter-actor trust. Theoretical recommendations stress the inclusion of a fifth critical contingency, actor size equality, in the model.
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:88 social and public administration
Programme:Public Administration MSc (60020)
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