Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Letting Go of Managing? Struggles over Managerial Roles in Collaborative Governance

Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Letting Go of Managing? Struggles over Managerial Roles in Collaborative Governance

Article excerpt

Introduction

Currently, collaborative governance practices are emerging in the public sector to involve stakeholders in dealing with complex issues such as welfare policy and service innovation (Ansell & Gash, 2008; Bryson, Crosby & Stone, 2015). Scholars thus stress collaboration across public, private, and nonprofit organizations as a new critical tendency (Christensen & Lægreid, 2011; Osborne, 2009). This is diagnosed as part of the new public governance (NPG) and contrasted to, but working alongside other discourses such as new public management (NPM). It is a 'post-NPM 'governance' paradigm which places far more emphasis on partnership, networking and lateral modes of organizing than the vertical 'command and control' forms typical of the NPM paradigm' (Ferlie, Hartley & Martin, 2003: 10). But stakes are high when collaboration becomes a means of governance. The prospects of co-creating solutions are appealing to democratic ideals; however, the risk of failure-due to, for example, conflict of interests or ineffectiveness-is a considerable challenge (Vangen & Winchester, 2013). As such, NPG discourses and collaborative governance initiatives demand changes in the working lives of public management actors, who are to deal with collaboration and its outcome (Hartley, 2005).

In this regard, the manager is given a lot of attention. Despite differences, many studies stress the complexity of collaborative governance, which they argue demand a new role of managers (O'Leary & Vij, 2012). Some theorize the task of managing collaborative governance in concepts of diversity inclusion, capacity-building, and facilitation (Ansell & Torfing, 2014; Johnston, Hicks, Nan & Auer, 2010; Silvia, 2011). Other studies address the managerial role in relation to built-in paradoxes of multi-actor processes in collaborative governance (Purdy, 2012; Vangen & Winchester, 2013; Vangen & Huxham, 2011). The latter argue that the potential and challenges of managing collaboration are better understood in terms of management tensions and power relations. As such, it is not surprising that managing collaborative governance is not just applying a new concept to practice alongside other tasks. Since 'managing the tensions and paradoxes of these governance regimes has become the order of the day for public managers' (Pedersen & Hartley, 2008: 328), the complications of practicing new roles alongside others are surprisingly under-explored.

This article studies the changing roles of public managers involved in developing collaborative governance in practice. Rather than identifying a new management concept, it is especially puzzled by the new role expected of managers; it questions the seemingly unproblematic role change implied in many studies to become facilitators of diverse stakeholders in collaboration. In addition to the aforementioned studies emphasizing tensions and power, I will draw on organizational discourse studies concerned with managerial identity in relation to discourse (Thomas & Davies, 2005). This adds concepts to study role changes and conflicts as identity constructions constituted by positioning. This leads to the question: how are public managers positioned to manage collaborative governance and with which challenges? The study is based on ethnographic data from collaborative governance practices in the Danish daycare sector, in which stakeholder involvement of public managers, politicians, daycare managers, daycare teachers, and citizens (children and parents) is used to develop quality management.

The findings show that when managers construct new managerial roles to facilitate collaborative governance, they struggle to change accordingly. But through their efforts they create agency to steer collaborative outcomes. However, as they are not just changing from one role to the other, they also struggle with the contradictions of multiple roles associated with various public management discourses. …

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