Under the influence of New Public Management (NPM), numerous reforms were implemented in the 1980s to bring about further strengthening, clarification and definition of managers’ and units’ accountability and performance. Without questioning the need for change, it may be stated that the NPM reforms often entailed an increase in fragmentation. Demands soon arose to implement ‘joined-up government’ (JUG) in order to reduce the disintegration and strengthen horizontal functional coordination.
JUG may be seen as a counter-reaction to and criticism of NPM. It is therefore a contradiction that the range of methods available for coordination in JUG is severely limited. Rather than proposing how it should work, the literature on JUG is largely aimed at confirming the image of coordination as a perpetual and ever topical problem. In the same way as in NPM, the principal is expected to provide the overview. Subordinate units, or agents, are intended as tools that compliantly perform whatever the principal requests. Simultaneously, there is harsh criticism of this not being done. The projects are struggling against the flow; it is the subordinates who have the initiative, while politicians and senior officials mainly cause problems. A substantial part of the literature describes collaboration from the limited perspective of the project.
In this article, we regard the system from the comprehensive viewpoint of the principal. How can we understand the limited compliance of the system and how can the principal, based on this understanding, pave the way for collaborative innovation?
Our aim is to show how the Swedish Government Offices, through their organisation and work procedures, constitute a direct impediment to the increased coordination that the Government itself is calling for.
Our case is built on a two-year follow-up study of a government assignment for four agencies and nine municipalities. Our task has been, on behalf of the Government, to follow up the intended collaboration to derive lessons. Data were collected in the course of two years’ personal participation and documentary studies. In addition, there were more than 130 semi-structured interviews with officials at the Government Offices, with key people in the four agencies and in the municipalities concerned.
Our findings clearly state that the system we have studied is not designed for collaborative innovation. The actual motive for collaboration is just this: that the agencies are excessively specialised in meeting their respective silos’ performance criteria in the particular areas of responsibility concerned. The case shows how the Government Offices, which are based on the idea of negotiation, lack the capacity to deal effectively with issues that span ministry boundaries. The prospects for cooperation further down in the system are being impeded. All this is occurring although the Government calls for more value-creating systems, new services and new channels across organisational boundaries. The lessons learnt, could be summarised into three points.
Firstly, JUG is about finding forms of encounter to surmount the communicative barriers that exist in every functionally divided organisation. The Swedish case shows how innovation can arise merely by the right people being coerced into working on a task together. Barriers to spontaneous encounters for the exchange of ideas exist on the horizontal plane, between agencies as well as between ministries, but also vertically between agencies on the one hand and ministries on the other.
Second, JUG is about introducing into the group that is to work on the issue an appropriate mix of frames of reference. The agency representatives’ responsibility to represent their respective agencies’ interests and restrictions must be counterbalanced with people capable of representing citizens’ needs with an all-round perspective.
Third, it seems that the limited innovative capacity in the public system studied can be explained largely by unclear forms of innovation across organisational boundaries. The inadequate capacity for coordination and joined-up innovation may simply be due to something as basic as a lack of forms and concrete approaches. The Swedish Government Offices clearly need to develop the ability to support joined-up innovation. However, there are few concrete approaches in the academic literature. Here, there is clear scope to support public managers with new research.
XVI Annual Conference of the International Research Society for Public Management (IRSPM)Rome, Italy 11-13 April 2012