Collaborative Governance in Cities under Austerity: An Eight-case Comparative Study

Lead Research Organisation: De Montfort University
Department Name: Politics and Public Policy

Abstract

Context

Austerity governance, defined as a sustained agenda for reducing public spending, poses new challenges for the organisation of relationships between government, business and citizens in many parts of the world. This project compares how these challenges are addressed in eight countries: Australia, Canada, France, Greece, Ireland, Spain, the UK and the USA. Governments have long sought effective ways of engaging citizen activists and business leaders in decision making, through many formal and informal mechanisms - what we term collaborative governance. The focus of our research is how collaboration contributes to the governance of austerity. Governments and public service leaders argue that collaboration with businesses, voluntary organisations and active citizens is essential for addressing the many challenges posed by austerity. The challenges include transforming public services to cope with cuts, changing citizen expectations and managing demand for services and enhancing the legitimacy of difficult policy decisions by involving people outside government in making them. But at the same time, collaboration can be exclusionary. For example, if there are high levels of protest, governmental and business elites may collaborate in ways that marginalise ordinary citizens to push through unpopular policies. Our challenge is to explore different ways in which collaboration works or fails in governing austerity and whether it is becoming more or less important in doing so.

Aims and objectives

We propose to compare the role of collaboration in governing austerity in eight cities of the aforementioned countries: Athens, Baltimore, Barcelona, Dublin, Leicester, Melbourne, Montreal and Nantes. It is in towns and cities that government has the most immediate and closest day-to-day engagement with citizens and it is for this reason that we chose to locate our research at the urban scale. Our primary objective is to understand whether, and if so how, collaboration among public officials, citizens, business leaders and other actors contributes to austerity governance. For example is there more collaboration, less or are we seeing different kinds of collaboration emerging? Who, if anyone, refuses to collaborate and with what implications for governing austerity? Might collaboration be a way to subvert or resist aspects of austerity? The research is comparative, meaning that it is looking for patterns and to see what lessons and insights countries in different parts of the world might draw from one another.

Applications and benefits

Finding ways to collaborate with citizens has always been important for central and local governments, although collaboration has been a higher political priority in the past 20 years than before. Our study will tell politicians and public officials much about how collaboration works as a way of governing austerity. However we are not trying to 'sell' collaboration, or suggest that those suffering from cuts and wanting to resist them should collaborate if they do not wish to. For citizen activists our research will highlight different strategies and options for speaking truth to power - by engaging with city government and local business elites, or refusing to do so and perhaps focusing on protest instead. We will discover when collaboration serves the ends of community groups and when it does not. Participants in our study, and others, will have the opportunity to discuss these issues at a series of local events, at which we will discuss our findings. The research will also engage with important academic debates about the changing nature of governance. In gathering and comparing a large body of data we will learn about the changing role of government under austerity and whether governing is becoming more elite-focused, remote and hierarchical, or perhaps even more inclusive despite the challenging times in which we live.

Planned Impact

The principal non-academic beneficiaries will be participants in the research, students, policy makers at different levels of government, community activists, business activists and other civil society groups and educated publics interested in public governance issues. The primary categories of beneficiary are public sector and political leaders and third-sector organisations and campaign groups. We will deliver three main kinds of impact: Improving Social Welfare and Public Services, Influencing Public Policy and Legislation and Operational and Organisational Change.

Because public officials are preoccupied with austerity governance and collaboration in all the case study countries and cities, policy makers will find our research especially useful. Paul O'Brien, Chief Executive of the Association for Public Service Excellence will be our expert adviser and APSE will provide a vehicle for disseminating the research to UK stakeholders, locally and nationally. To enhance international impact and knowledge exchange we will produce a project stakeholder report, which will form the basis for dissemination events in each case study city. Key policy makers will be invited to attend along with local respondents and other stakeholders. Assisted by APSE, we will also target the public service press with articles in each country. APSE will also use the stakeholder/impact report as the basis for discussion among member authorities in the UK, and will further promote our work throughout the public sector. This strand of our impact strategy focuses on improving both social welfare and public services and operational and organisational change.

Community activists and third sector groups, particularly those directly involved in the research, will be invited to participate in local dissemination events, and webinars, to deliberate and validate findings. They face dilemmas about whether and how to collaborate in the governance of austerity. Our research will generate insights into how these dilemmas are handled in different places, what kinds of strategy are effective (collaborative or otherwise) and how changes in third-sector funding and organisation affect collaborative capacity. The investigators have excellent links with community and voluntary sector organisations operating at local and national levels and the stakeholder reports will inform deliberations about strategy and practice. This strand of our impact strategy focuses on influencing public policy and legislation as well as social welfare and organisational change.

We propose to contribute to public discourse by targeting media: e.g. an article for Public Magazine, a podcast on Youtube and the researchers' websites. We recognise that effective dissemination requires more than merely publishing outputs. Each of the researchers has strong networks through which the project and its outputs will be promoted. This strand of impact is about influencing the public sphere.

Students - especially those on graduate programmes - will learn from and apply the research. Many of the investigators are involved in teaching public service leaders and middle managers at masters level. The findings will be a particular source of learning and action for students concerned with assessing the utility of collaboration for austerity governance, such as through culture change and 'managing down demand'.

Academic colleagues beyond immediate professional circles will also benefit from the large body of data we propose to collect. They will also benefit from engaging with our academic outputs and theoretical conclusions about changing modes of governance. Most of the research team is well-known, or becoming well-known, in international scholarly circles and we will therefore achieve high levels of academic impact through publishing in highly regarded journals (such as Urban Studies or Public Administration), citations therein and seminar/conference dialogues with interlocutors.

Publications


10 25 50
 
Description Blog post - project overview 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We have established a Centre, website, blog and twitter account as vehicles for publicity, dissemination and impact of project research. The link below provides the basic description of the project and its goals.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.dmu.ac.uk/research/research-faculties-and-institutes/business-and-law/centre-for-urban-re...
 
Description Blog post on disability and the bedroom tax 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Blog post by the PI, Jonathan Davies, on Disability and the Bedroom Tax, drawing on exploratory research undertaken in Leicester.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://cura.our.dmu.ac.uk/2016/01/27/disability-and-the-bedroom-tax-discretionary-payments-violate-s...
 
Description Inaugural Conference - Centre for Urban Research on Austerity 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The inaugural conference of the Centre for Urban Research on Austerity involved a mix of academics, post-graduates and professional practitioners, including an interviewee in the exploratory phase of the current research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.dmu.ac.uk/CURA2015
 
Description National media interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Interview with the Times Higher on the goals of this ESRC study of austerity governance, and the Centre for Urban Research on Austerity.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/impact-of-austerity-politics-charted-by-de-montfort-centre