Academic journal article The Innovation Journal

How to Metagovern Collaborative Networks for the Promotion of Policy Innovations in a Dualistic Federal System?

Academic journal article The Innovation Journal

How to Metagovern Collaborative Networks for the Promotion of Policy Innovations in a Dualistic Federal System?

Article excerpt


In our contemporary society, policymakers are challenged by increasingly complex policy problems. Issues like global warming, ageing society, and immigration can no longer solely be solved by traditional policy responses, as these daunting problems typically transcend conventional organizational and governmental boundaries in the public sector (Head, 2008). Therefore, many governments have set up collaborative networks to tame these 'cross-cutting' problems (OECD, 2014).

Collaborative networks are, multi-organizational arrangements in which actors work together to solve problems that cannot be solved, or solved easily, by single actors (Agranoff and McGuire, 2003: 4). Hence, the expectation of policymakers is that more concerted and innovative policy solutions will emerge, as more stakeholders and thus more knowledge, resources, and experiences are included in the policy making process (Nambisan, 2008: 11). Innovative policy solutions, or what the literature also calls policy innovations, should be interpreted as policy solutions that are radically different from their predecessors (in terms of policy understanding, policy vision, objectives, strategies and policy instruments). Therefore, conceivably they should be better able to deal with the intertwined policy context of these cross-cutting problems (Sorensen and Waldorff, 2014).

Despite these highflying expectations of policymakers in the innovative capacities of collaborative networks, some scholars argue that the extent to which collaborative networks can actually contribute to the development of policy innovations depends on how they are metagoverned (Montin et al., 2014). Metagovernance is a term used by scholars to denote, the endeavours of a central actor (i.e. the metagovernor) to facilitate collaborative networks, by shaping the conditions under which these networks operate and the involved actors interact with each other (Voets et al., 2015: 983).

According to these scholars, the metagovernance of collaborative networks is necessary as involved organizations may hold different problem perceptions, may be reluctant to collaborate, or may paralyze the innovation process for strategic reasons. Therefore, they have claimed that in order to get a real sense of the value of collaborative networks as vehicles for generating policy innovations, we also need to understand the barriers metagovernors encounter in policy innovation processes that take place in collaborative networks, and how metagovernors can possibly overcome these barriers (Termeer and Nooteboom, 2014).

Empirical research on the metagovernance of policy innovation processes in collaborative networks has, however, remained scarce (Ansell and Torfing, 2014: 126; Sorensen, 2014: 10). This lack of research is striking because it means that we (i.e. the scientific community) do not fully understand how metagovernors can live up to their potential in processes of policy innovation that take place in collaborative networks. As such, in this article we review a unique case as a means to add new insights to the causal link between metagovernance, policy innovation, and collaborative networks. More specifically, we examine the efforts of a metagovernor, who only had limited authority to facilitate the policy innovation process, in a collaborative network that operated in a dualistic federal system.

We advance as follows. The next section briefly summarizes the current state of the art of the literature. Section three elaborates on the aim and approach of this study. Section four discusses the normative framework that we use to examine the practices of the metagovernor. Section five reports the chosen methodology. Section six addresses the policy innovation process and collaborative network the metagovernor had to facilitate. Section seven discusses the results of the case analysis. The final section reflects on the main lessons that can be drawn from this study.

Current State of the Art of the Literature

Although some refined theories and research exist on collaborative networks (Koppenjan and Klijn, 2004; Agranoff, 2006), policy innovation (Green and Orton, 2011; Mahroum, 2014; Marsh and Edwards, 2009; Morgan, 2010) and metagovernance (Meuleman, 2008; Sorensen and Torfing, 2009), there are limited studies on the metagovernance of policy innovation processes in collaborative networks (Ansell and Torfing, 2014: 126; Sorensen, 2014: 10). …

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