Introduction and context
The evolution in democratic regimes from government to governance has been extensively documented. The view expressed is that society has become so complex that the formal, structured processes of government are no longer adequate to tackle major public policy issues in isolation. There are an increasing number of “wicked problems” to address, in which a multiplicity of factors, interests, and players are interwoven.1 These issues are beyond the capacity of any one government to resolve on its own. What is needed, according to this view, is the active involvement of civil society, including the voluntary and non-governmental sector, universities, journalists, professional associations and the private sector, as well as governments. Students of the policy process have developed the concept of “collaborative governance” to describe this phenomenon in which groupings are formed of many players to address a common public policy issue. Collaborative governance has been defined in several ways. According to Chris Ansell and Alison Gash, collaborative governance is: “A governing arrangement where one or more public agencies directly engage non-state stakeholders in a collective decision-making process that is formal, consensus-oriented, and deliberative and that aims to make or implement public policy or manage public programs or assets.”2 A somewhat broader definition is offered by Mark T. Imperial who suggests that “Governance refers to the means of achieving direction, control, and coordination of individuals and organizations with varying degrees of autonomy to advance joint objectives.”3 In general, what characterizes this phenomenon is a coordinated yet non-hierarchical, non-authoritarian form of decision making, involving governmental and non-governmentl articipants working toward a common objective.
Collaborative governance, therefore, seems to mirror the 21st century realities and likely will continue to do so. It is, therefore, important to attempt to understand the workings of these “new” governance models, and there is a substantial amount of literature which attempts to do so. Looking at this literature, one cannot fail to be impressed by the high level of diversity and complexity of these processes. What also emerges is a perspective on how challenging it is to implement collaborative governance and the many factors that need to be in place for these arrangements to succeed. This no doubt accounts for the fact that collaborative governance arrangements, in many instances, have not achieved the results that were intended.4
Moreover, the level of complexity – and therefore the risk of failure – is greatly increased when multi-level collaborative governance initiatives are attempted. In the case of Canada, a national collaborative governance that is meant to have an impact “on the ground” often needs to involve the federal and provincial/territorial governments, and local governments, as well as non-governmental structures – voluntary sector organizations, professional associations and the like – that are themselves sub-divided in national, provincial and local chapters. In other words, the multiple levels of government are paralleled by multiple levels in the non-governmental sector.
1 O’Toole, Lawrence J.D. Jr. 1997. “Treating Networks Seriously: Practical and Research-Based Agendas in Public Administration.” Public Administration Review 57 (1), p. 46.
2 Ansell, Chris and Alison Gash, 2007. “Collaborative Governance in Theory and Practice.” Journal of Public Administration Research 18, p. 544.
3 Imperial, Mark T. 2005. “Using Collaboration as a Governance Strategy:Lessons from Six Watershed Management Programs.” Administration and Society 37 (3), p. 282.
4 Roussos, Stergios Tsai and Stephen B. Fawcett. 2000. “A Review of Collaborative Partnerships as a Strategy for Improving Community Health.” American Review of Public Health 21, p. 376.