You are looking at 1 - 10 of 24 items for
- Author or Editor: Paul Williams x
Collaborative working is an established feature of the public, business and third sector environments, but its effectiveness can be hampered by complex structural and personal variants.
This original book explores the influence of agency through the role of individual actors in collaborative working processes, known as boundary spanners. It examines the different aspects of the boundary spanner’s role and discusses the skills, abilities, and experience that are necessary.
It will be of interest to academics, researchers and students interested in this field of study, and provides learning for policy makers and practitioners active in the fields of collaboration.
This important book examines the role, behaviours and management practices of middle managers operating within the context of collaboration – complex inter-organizational and multi-sector settings that demand cross-boundary governance, policy and practice to tackle challenging contemporary societal problems and issues. Presenting new evidence and offering perspectives from both the public and private sectors, the author critically explores the main themes that are integral to the management challenges facing this cadre of managers. The book sets out the implications of this research for policy and practice and offers practical recommendations to policy makers and managers working in this area.
This book concerns a particular set of individual actors who work within theatres of collaboration – settings that involve agencies uniting to design and deliver public services both within and between sectors. These individual actors are referred to as ‘boundary spanners’ because they engage in ‘boundary spanning’ activities that cross, weave and permeate many traditional boundary types, including organisational, sectoral, professional and policy.
Collaboration in the UK has proliferated across all areas of public policy, particularly in response to the interconnected and complex nature of policy issues. As Luke (1998, p 5) observes: ‘in the last twenty years, a quiet crystallization of interdependencies has set in that has changed the way we engage in public action. We are now tied into multiple webs of interconnections never before witnessed in human history’. As a consequence, the breadth and depth of collaboration has expanded over the last decade, and has emerged as an integral component of the design and delivery of public services. New forms of governance and management arrangements have developed which challenge existing practices and demand different skills and capacities. The success of this model of public policy is critical to the quality of life for many service users and citizens who are often disadvantaged by a lack of coordination and duplication between service providers in dealing with their complex and interrelated needs. Forms of collaboration are central to the efficiency and effectiveness of scarce public resources, particularly during periods of unprecedented financial restraint. This book, therefore, has been written at an opportune time where the imperatives of collaboration are being experienced across the range of public policy and practice, and insights and lessons contained within the book will hopefully inform the practical design of collaborative solutions.
Intra- and intersectoral collaboration is now an established feature of the UK public policy landscape evidenced in a mosaic of different permutations between the public, private and third sectors. This form of working can be traced back over 50 years and during that time it has altered in its shape, breadth and depth. As illustrated in Table 2.1, the early focus was primarily directed towards the alleviation of poverty, social malaise and the inner cities, through a combination of area-based and community development approaches.
This was succeeded in the Thatcher years by partnerships concerning economic regeneration and urban development, coupled with some joint working around the health and social care interface. The involvement of business in economic regeneration initiatives was the forerunner of a much greater role for the private sector in the design and delivery of public services in subsequent years. The election of a New Labour administration in 1997 heralded a proliferation of collaborative initiatives across a wide policy front amounting to a distinctive public policy paradigm. This approach, typically referred to as ‘joined-up government’ (Pollitt, 2003), has been rolled out and practised in most areas of social, economic and environmental policy – crime and community safety, health, housing, education, transport and urban regeneration (Sullivan and Skelcher, 2002) – and has continued unabated albeit with frequent changes in emphasis and approach. Since devolution in Wales and Scotland, a similar range of partnerships have been developed across most policy areas. The goals of joined-up government are essentially to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of policies, to create synergy and foster innovation through joint production of effort and expertise and to secure seamless and integrated services at the point of delivery.
A defining characteristic of the literature on collaboration is that it favours an organisational and institutional focus at the expense of micro-level examination. Although some of the models and theories make some reference to individual actors in the process, there is a need to search for a better balance between macro and micro-level explanations and perspectives. This line of argument is endorsed by practitioner perspectives that assert that the role of individual actors is often understated in the course of collaborative working. Poxton (1999, p 3), for instance, commenting on the reorganisation of health services, argues that: ‘a new policy environment and new organizational arrangements should make co-operation and collaboration easier than it has been in the past. But real success will depend as much on the determination and creativity of practitioners and managers as it will on Government edict and structural change’, and a Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR, 2002, p 125) report on area-based activities in local government concludes that: ‘the evidence is that joined up delivery has occurred extensively but in an ad hoc, almost accidental manner dependent on the energy and imagination of individuals’.
In the course of a range of research that the author has been involved with in Wales, particularly in health and social care and community strategies, feedback from diverse individuals engaged in collaborative working consistently championed the pivotal role of key individuals in shaping outcomes. A typical response was: ‘the thing that makes it work in any type of structure is the commitment of the person – structures can be enabling or difficult’ (NLIAH, 2009, p 10).
Chapter Two describes the steady proliferation of collaborative working in both UK public policy and further afield. Multiagency models now characterise approaches to the design and delivery of public services in most policy areas, with national government playing a key role in its promotion and development. Boundary spanning activities and processes have paralleled this trend, with boundary spanners now occupying important roles. This chapter explores the nature of the boundary spanners referred to in the previous chapter as ‘dedicated’ – their role being exclusively grounded within the management, coordination and governance of multiagency and cross-sector arenas. It conducts an in depth examination into the roles boundary spanners play in collaboration, and the competencies they use to discharge these roles effectively.
The boundary spanning role in public sector, multiorganisational environments consists of a number of discrete but interrelated elements (Williams, 2002, 2005). The main ones are reticulist, interpreter/communicator, coordinator and entrepreneur (see Figure 4.1), each having a number of key competencies associated with them. The notion of competency is contested and will be discussed in Chapter 8, but for the present purposes it is understood in the following manner. In order to undertake job roles, individual actors need to possess competencies to equip them to discharge their roles to best effect. The competencies are what the person brings to the job. They may be skills (technical and human), knowledge of particular areas of expertise or accumulated experience of having undertaken this role. Actors also bring personal attributes to bear on their job role. Although these are not considered to be competencies, it is likely that they will influence the manner in which the competencies are discharged. These are considered in the next chapter. Critically, a high degree of connectivity and interplay exists between the various elements and competencies indicating that, in practice, they are used selectively depending on the circumstances presented in terms of context, policy area, form of collaboration, stage in the policy process, issue or problem. Each of these individual roles is now the subject of detailed exploration and analysis. The discussion is a mixture of material extracted from a review of the literature, interspersed by examples drawn substantially from the author’s own research which sought to highlight boundary spanning practice in action. In general, the literature on boundary spanners is limited, diverse and unconsolidated. The approach taken here is interdisciplinary, with material from sociology, organisational studies and psychology assuming particular prominence.
The last chapter explored the boundary spanning role in some depth together with the main competencies required to undertake it effectively. This chapter develops and extends this discussion by focusing on a couple of important questions that are prompted by this analysis, and by investigating the problematic nature inherent in the boundary spanning role. The questions relate to, first, the issue of substance and what, if any, specialised areas of knowledge, expertise and experience are required by boundary spanners to complement or underpin the skills and abilities previously discussed; and second, the extent to which personality influences the manner in which boundary spanners discharge their role. In other words, is there a certain type of person who may be particularly suitable for this type of post? Following this discussion, the chapter proceeds to examine the many challenges that accompany this role which are manifested in the form of tensions, paradoxes and ambiguities.
Professionals normally acquire their legitimacy through the possession of a discrete repository of knowledge and expertise that in turn is codified and protected by professional bodies. Can boundary spanners make a claim to a special area of knowledge, and if so, what is it? One view is that a key area of expertise and knowledge lies in an understanding of the context in which boundary spanners operate – the configuration and distribution of roles, responsibilities, cultures, operating systems and accountabilities of individuals and agencies working in a particular collaborative domain. An appreciation of the multiple motivations underpinning the drive to collaborate is critical as is their interplay and dynamics.
The previous two chapters have explored the nature and role of boundary spanners in a public sector context. In contrast, this chapter shifts the focus to the private sector to examine whether there are any practical or theoretical lessons and learning from the activities of boundary spanners in this sphere of management and governance which may be of interest to the public sector. Moreover, it looks at public–private partnerships (PPPs) for additional insights and perspectives into the work of boundary spanners.
The early literature from organisational theory on boundary spanning was set primarily within a private sector context. Here, the boundary spanning function is considered to be one of managing the interface between organisations and their environments. Katz and Kahn (1966) suggest that this involves a process of exporting goods, services and ideas from an organization, and of importing staff and raw materials into it; Adams (1976) and Aldrich and Herker (1977) identify two main roles in this function, an information-processing or transmitter role involving filtering and facilitation, and an external representation or gatekeeping function which includes resource acquisition and political/social legitimacy; Aldrich (1979, p 249) views it as a process of ‘buffering, moderating and influencing external events’; and finally, Thompson (1967) suggests that it involves controlling threats from the environment. Tushman and Scanlan (1981b, p 290) focus on issues of communication across boundaries caused by differences in ‘idiosyncratic languages and coding systems’ and ‘local conceptual frameworks’ resulting in bias and distortion of information. Aldrich and Herker (1977) argue that the nature of the environment has a direct influence on the need for boundary spanning roles in organisations.
The interrelated, multilevel and interdependent nature of the policy environment, the characteristics of many societal problems and the spread of new types of governance have stimulated new forms of public management. In particular, the discernible shift towards network governance has embraced managerialism but in a way that has superseded the efficiency and customer orientation principles implicit in new public management: ‘to take on the challenge of working across boundaries and to take up the goal of holistic working’ (Stoker, 2004, p 14). Network governance is multilayered, characterised by a diverse range of horizontal relations, and consists of a complex architecture of institutions drawn from across all areas of civil society – public, private and third sectors. The consequence of this trend for public management is that many public managers have now begun to develop dual, but highly connected, roles. The first relates to their traditional role of intraorganisational management, and the second concerns their involvement in forms of collaborative management with a variety of other actors from different sectors, professions and organisations. This is driven, not just by external forces that seek to deliver greater efficiency, effectiveness and synergy across public services, but also by an acceptance that single organisational objectives cannot be achieved without the cooperation of other agents. For example, the manager of a mental health rehabilitation service appreciates that meeting the multiple and complex needs of many clients is dependent on coordinated interventions from a number of professionals and carers – occupational therapists, nursing staff, psychiatrists, support staff and voluntary sector groups.
A host of reasons have been advanced in this book to explain the steady and continuing growth of collaborative working across the UK public policy landscape, including the interdependence and complexity of problems; the fragmentation of organisational and institutional arrangements; and the blurring of the boundaries between different levels and sectors of governance. Cross-boundary working has emerged as a central plank in local and national government policy approaches, and there is every likelihood that this will continue in the future, albeit in different forms. A considerable amount of managerial and organisational resources are devoted to collaborative activity in an effort to reap the benefits of this form of working and to secure real improvements in the quality of lives of citizens and service users. However, as has already been intimated, the rewards of collaborative working are not always readily apparent – they are difficult to measure, they often take time, and the problematic nature of this form of working solely tests the resilience of even the most hardened advocates of collaboration. In relation to health and social care, Powell et al (2004, p 314) conclude that: ‘research that brings together rigorous and systematic evidence of the outcomes, causality and costs of partnerships has yet to be conducted’.
Clearly, in these circumstances, it is critically important to understand ‘what works’ and what needs to be done to design and deliver the most effective and sustainable forms of collaboration. Although policy makers and practitioners can learn through experience and practice, there is a role for robust and high quality theory and research to inform the policy community.