International Encyclopedia of Public Policy and Administration - Vol. 2

By Jay M. Shafritz | Go to book overview

Social problem-solving frequently requires metastrategy in that addressing such broad, entangled issues requires multi-organizational approaches. Social problems are inherently difficult to solve due to their unbounded nature and resistance to quick fixes ( McCann 1983). Agenda-setting is a purposive planned-change strategy in which collaborative attempts to provoke some external agency or government with its own power resources to act on their issues or set of issues. Enabling, like agenda-setting, seeks assistance from outside the collaborative, but imparts power, authority, and/or resources to those outside agents. Service-providing or functional collaboratives come together to integrate resources and expertise in order to improve a system of service delivery. Advocative or normative collaboratives are formed to promote norms and values through a joint lobbying or education effort.

Collaborative empowerment and collaborative betterment are intriguing methods of community change described by Himmelman ( 1992). Unlike some efforts, which are shaped after the collaborative is convened, these forms describe purposive approaches to power and ownership in the collaborative process. Betterment begins outside the community within various institutions and is brought into the community. Community involvement is invited into a process designed and controlled by larger institutions. This strategy can produce policy changes and improvements in program delivery and services but tends not to produce long-term ownership in communities or to increase significantly communities' control over their own destinies ( Himmelman 1992). This approach, while a necessity in highly unorganized settings, might be termed doing collaboration to the target population.

Conversely, collaborative empowerment begins within the community and is brought to public, private, and nonprofit institutions. Community stakeholders are empowered because they have the capacity to set priorities and control resources that are essential for increasing community self-determination. The empowerment approach can produce policy changes and improvements in program delivery and services. It is also more likely to produce longterm ownership of the collaborative's purpose, processes, and products in communities and to enhance communities' capacity for self-determination (Himmelman 1992). Empowerment might be termed doing collaboration with the target community.


Obstacles to Successful Collaboration

Despite a growing advocacy of collaboration and a realization on the part of many organizations that such extraorganizational arrangements are the only means of dealing with metaproblems, obstacles remain. Nine are articulated here under three categories: cultural norms and values, institutional rigidities, and power issues.


Cultural Obstacles

The persistent normative inclination, found most notably in the United States, of individualism discourages community approaches to problem-solving. Second, the traditional or dominant paradigm that governs the behaviors of many organizations is founded on social Darwinism and stresses more of a competitive environment. Third, a resistance to change, based on uncertainty, insecurity, and love of the status quo, prevents breaking the traditional mold.


Institutional Rigidities

Certain intraorganizational characteristics mitigate against collaboration. Organizational purpose, derived from internal negotiation and planning, may prevent an organization from collaborating, even if it is a legitimate stakeholder. There can exist a great discrepancy between organizational representatives who work well and agree with the work of a collaborative and their institutional leaders who do not perceive collaborative participation in the best interests of the organization. Second, many organizations are structured so as to discourage risk taking. This appears to be particularly true among public, bureaucratic organizations. Third, limited resources ironically discourage reaching out for help. Whatever benefits may accrue for collaborative formation are outweighed by a perceived loss of autonomy.


Power Issues

Potential collaborative partners may have a long history of adversarial relations that are too great to overcome. Second, some stakeholders are concerned about retaining an institutional power base, especially when competitive entities are at the table. Finally, extreme power differentials between otherwise copacetic stakeholders may discourage participation by either party.

As has been argued by most students of interorganizational collaboration, facilitating this inventive and dynamic form of partnership requires persistence and perserverence. Process and substance skills are necessary. Overcoming the natural tendency to rely on traditional methods of operation, which favor single-organization action, is problematic but critical to a realistic tackling of the problems facing society.

DAVID W. SINK


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brown, L. David, 1980. "Planned Change in Underorganized Systems". In T. G. Cummings, ed., Systems Theory for Organizational Development. New York: Wiley.

Cummings, T. G., 1984. "Transorganizational Development". In B. Staw and L. Cummings, eds., Research in Organizational Behavior, vol. 6. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.

Eden, Colin, and Jim Radford., eds., 1990. Tackling Strategic Problems: The Role of Group Decision Support. London: Sage.

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