Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Professional Capital: Standards of Performance That Underlie Interlocal Cooperation

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Professional Capital: Standards of Performance That Underlie Interlocal Cooperation

Article excerpt


Interlocal cooperation is vital for the provision of emergency services. In the absence of a command-and-control hierarchy, the skills and assets demonstrated by personnel within organizations represent forms of professional capital used to signal competence to others and engender future cooperation. This article examines these skills and assets and how they serve as standards of performance to promote trust and facilitate multiparty service delivery. Evidence is drawn from field interviews that document a system of governance focused on the provision of emergency services. Ten standards are examined, including response times, staffing levels, the performance of tasks relevant to the police, fire, and emergency medical services (EMS) disciplines, the use of proper terminology, training levels, the working order of equipment, leadership, effort, the appearance of personnel, and customer service. Network analysis, facilitated by an extensive set of 911 call data, illustrates baseline patterns of interaction that help to frame this case study.

Keywords: interlocal cooperation, competencies, trust, public safety, emergency management


A previous version of this paper was presented at the 2013 Annual ASPA Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Data collection and analysis for this paper was supported by the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Disaster Management ( and Professor Louise K. Comfort. I express my sincere gratitude to her.


Within an organization, a person often must interact with other personnel to get something done. Interlocal cooperation is no different; however, personnel must cross jurisdictional boundaries to do so. The problem is that personnel may not have the familiarity, incentives, or accountability regimes in place to justify the assumption of risk and the commitment of their time and resources. This article proposes that the evaluation of competence is one method by which organizations choose to accept or reject those transaction costs. In practice, personnel measure competence by evaluating specific skills and organizational capacities. Some of those standards of performance become recognized within professional communities and are cultivated by organizations that wish to create and maintain interlocal relationships. This article labels those standards as professional capital.

Professional capital represents the standards of performance that demonstrate an organization's competence to others via key skills and other capacities. The recognition of those skills and capacities by personnel from other organizations justifies their decision on whether to enter into cooperative activities. This paper essentially examines how personnel perceive the competence of other organizations and how that perception either alleviates or fails to alleviate the problems associated with interlocal cooperation.

Scholars, especially those who have studied interlocal cooperation (Andrew 2009; Feiock 2007), have done very little research on how personnel judge competence and how those judgments influence cooperation. However, several scholars who study epistemic communities reported on how shared norms and values flow through those social networks to influence that type of behavior (Carr, LeRoux, & Shrestha, 2009; Frederickson, 1999; Karuppusamy, 2012; LeRoux, Brandenberger, & Pandey, 2010). Two shared norms that are recognized as positively influencing whether cooperation occurs are trust and reciprocity (Thurmaier & Wood, 2002). Trust can be established over time or through reputation (Feiock, Tao, & Johnson, 2004). However, researchers studying interlocal cooperation do not specifically address how and why trust is developed or how specific standards of performance might engender trust and collective action. The research of Romzek, LeRoux, Johnston, Kempf, and Piatak (2013) on accountability regimes within multiagency networks indicates that these types of informal mechanisms (e. …

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