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  • Author or Editor: William L Swann x
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Fragmentation of authority creates dilemmas in governance in which an individual authority’s incentives are misaligned with collective interests. Such dilemmas hinder progress towards solving complex societal problems and improving service delivery, but policy research has failed to lead to a development of actionable prescriptions for dealing with them from an institutional perspective. This article draws practical lessons and theoretical propositions from the Institutional Collection Action (ICA) literature to help policymakers and scholars better understand how semiautonomous authorities overcome barriers to collective action and reduce the risk and uncertainty of collaborative arrangements across different scales of governance and institutional contexts.

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Collective action dilemmas, or the misalignment of individual incentives and desired collective outcomes, are prevalent across every scale of social interaction. These dilemmas are exacerbated in systems of fragmented authority or overlapping jurisdictions. The intractable, ‘wicked problems’ – climate change, global terrorism, health crises, crime, or poverty – facing governments are seldom contained within a jurisdiction and require interorganisational efforts to address them (Head and Alford, 2015; Martin and Guarneros-Meza, 2013), although even many common governing tasks are not suited to hierarchies. Whether contracting out social services, restoring an ecosystem in a shared watershed, lowering barriers to international trade, or coordinating sustainability activities across a municipality, policymakers confront obstacles to collaboration that hinder more efficient and effective governance.

As centralised versus decentralised approaches to deal with fragmentation have long been debated (Lyons and Lowery, 1989; Ostrom et al, 1961), collective action theories have explained how semi-autonomous governments can work together and overcome problematic externalities or ‘spillovers’ (that is, positive or negative consequences of an activity that affect third parties) that arise from fragmentation, while preserving local autonomy that can spur innovation and limit the expansion of bureaucracy.

The Institutional Collective Action (ICA) framework (Feiock, 2007; 2013) has emerged as an analytical lens for understanding collaboration in fragmented governance. ‘ICA dilemmas’, or situations in which an authority’s incentives do not align with collectively desired outcomes, arise from spillovers of policy choice and design that transcend jurisdictions. ICA dilemmas stemming from fragmentation can lead to inefficient behaviour, such as free riding and service duplication, as well as normatively undesirable outcomes such as urban sprawl (Jimenez, 2016).

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