"adhocery . . . is a practice that need not be urged because it is the only one available to us"
Stanley Fish (1999:72)
In the paper published above, Gérard Bélanger (2002) uses the occasion of the current debates on the dilemmas posed by various proposed reforms for the governance of health care. Many of these suggest some form of demonopolization, deconcentration and decentralization, but Bélanger argues that it is futile to try to decentralize a centralized system - it is like trying to get a cat to bark.
Bélanger adopts Jane Jacobs's point of view (Jacobs 1992) that there is no meaningful middle ground between centralization and decentralization. They represent two different and self-contained syndromes of moral principles; they embody dominant logics that are impermeable. In Jacobs' words, any attempt at commingling can only lead to "monstrous hybrids".
Bélanger's position - if accepted holus bolus - entails that any reasonable person or group is always forced in all circumstances to make a Manichean choice and to bet either on a decentralized or on a centralized system.
Bélanger is aware of the starkness of the choice he proposes, and he suggests that some may well try to find ways to correct some of the most unfortunate consequences of such choices by adjustments in the management and governance structures of the system. But such flats and sharps, he contends, cannot modify the dominant logic: It would simply attenuate ever so slightly some of the malefits .
This approach, based on pure dominant logics, is both overstated and counterproductive because it fails to explain real-life situations and to provide for real-time choices that we know exist. Bélanger dramatically underestimates the possibility that systems truly embodying multiple logics could emerge or be designed. He also fails to fully appreciate the possibility of taking advantage of the benefits of both centralization and decentralization.
In the next section, we provide a general critique of Bélanger's argument based on our daily observation of effective mixed organizational forms both in nature and in society. In the following section, we show that "ecologies of governance" combine top-down and bottom-up logics very effectively. We use the example of VISA in the private sector and of regime-based federalism in the public sector as illustrations of effective ecologies of governance. Finally, we identify some principles of design that might help interested parties engineer an effective third option, avoiding the malefits of both hyper-centralization and hyper-decentralization.
The dominant logic syndrome as ideology
At the centre of Bélanger's argument is the idea that one cannot tinker with an institutional order that is fundamentally centralized with any hope of success because the "dominant logic" that inhabits any socio-technical system is overpowering. Any attempt to change the style of the socio-technical system is futile: the dominant logic will ensure that these add-ons are absorbed, integrated and transmogrified in the dominant direction.