Academic journal article Journal of Health and Human Services Administration

Future Directions in Intergovernmental Relations

Academic journal article Journal of Health and Human Services Administration

Future Directions in Intergovernmental Relations

Article excerpt


The concept of federalism continues to elicit considerable reflection in the literature, particularly in terms of studies that examine the complexities of the public policy process. The division of power and existence of networks of overlapping jurisdictional authority in federal systems presents both opportunities and challenges for intergovernmental relations (IGR). In terms of opportunities, the prospects for forging collaborative arrangements between various sectors of society have been a particular development in recent times given pervasive budgetary and resource constraints. As "laboratories of democracy," (1) federal structures afford opportunities to test new proposals and ideas at lower levels in the system while limiting risk and uncertainty. Complex policy arenas, which necessitate considerable coordination between actors, benefit from having multi-point access and cross-communication. Yet, federalism also inherently presents a variety of challenges to nations, particularly in terms of the resulting fiscal and resource disparities between regions, fragmentation in policy implementation and structure, and legal, institutional, and functional inconsistencies from discretionary authority. This article will draw together four primary themes of the symposium as related to trends in intergovernmental relations (IGR), and explore potential future directions that this line of research may take.


The body of research presented in this symposium reaffirms that the public policy process is complex, multifaceted, and constantly changing. From the initial stages when policy alternatives are identified from inputs provided by a multitude of actors, to the selection and implementation stages, to its subsequent evaluation and revision, the policy cycle involves considerable reflection and integration of competing ideas. It is not enough to merely observe that there are numerous environmental factors (i.e. economic, political, and societal) at play. Rather, given that uncertainty, risk, and limited information are endemic to decision making, public administrators must be willing to embrace a course of action that may be relatively untested. Crisis and emergency management situations, as are often inherent in public health and environmental policy, are particularly complex domains which necessitate flexibility and quick responses among actors. Let us explore segments of these themes from the symposium further.

IGR is a Collaborative Process

First, the modern era of governance is one that, by necessity, has become more adaptive, collaborative, and responsive to changes in the environment. Lester Salamon offered the term "new governance" to denote a complex system where public, private, and nonprofit organizations work together in an array of combinations to develop and implement policies (Salamon, 1981). This concept continues to resonate in the twenty-first century as federal systems have embraced intergovernmental and intersectoral relationships in response to complex policy environments where budgetary and resource constraints have become orthodoxy. The traditional structures based upon executive-centered models have been replaced with arrangements that foster decentralization and the devolution of powers. These structural responses, which have stemmed from changes in the political system, have in effect caused federations to shape and reshape their identities as federations, and have been evidenced in both democratic and authoritarian systems of government. The migration toward embracing collaborative approaches also reflects the growing influence of what Salamon refers to as third-party government, which is "not simply the delegation of clearly defined ministerial duties to closely regulated agents of the state ... What is distinctive about many of the newer tools of public action is that they involve the sharing with third-party actors of a far more basic governmental function: the exercise of discretion over the use of public authority and the spending of public funds" (Salamon, 2002: 2). …

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