NIU is taking over the ASPA Chicago chapter meeting next week. I'll be discussing mixed-methods research on entrepreneurial local government managers at the ASPA Chicago Chapter's Brown Bag research panel on Feb. 16 at DePaul University. This is some work I have done with William Swann at University of Colorado, Denver using SEM and qualitative interview data to examine the environmental conditions, internal organizational characteristics, and strategies which foster improved sustainability performance.
Urban sustainability is a burgeoning focus for urban scholarship but rarely examined within the larger context of local government economic activities. But why should cities focusing on cutback management and competition for tax revenues be expected to devote all but the fleetest of attention to carbon footprints or metropolitan-wide environmental or social problems? In an Urban Affairs Review article, my colleague Eric Stokan and I use a resource dependence (RD) theoretical framework to conceptualize sustainable development as a pattern of contractual arrangements between governments and firms shaped by resource constraints. Utilizing survey data of U.S. cities and a Bayesian methodological approach, we present evidence that municipal job-recruitment efforts reduce the probability of observing an overall sustainability policy commitment. Cities which placed greater emphasis on retaining and developing existing businesses are also more committed to sustainability.
Urban sustainability has become a booming subject of local government and business interest, particularly with the United States moving away from playing a leadership role in major issues like climate change.
Cities have been quick to pounce on the decision by President Trump's administration to withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Dozens of cities and states have announced their intent to sign onto the Paris accord in order to help the U.S. meet its pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 26% below 2005 levels by 2025.
So, can cities pick up the slack? One problem with this post-Paris notion is that cities are just as able and willing (if not more so) to make symbolic policy commitments as a state or national government. In a new study I published with William Swann, we examined managerial activities in the ‘nexus’ of policy and management to help explain the tactics local governments use to pursue policy commitments to sustainability.
Sustainable development is an ideal context to study the linkages between policy and management. With the accelerating expansion of urban boundaries in recent decades, the societal response to urban sprawl, deforestation, natural resource depletion, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is a pressing concern for public administration and local governance.
Cities are detailing ‘smart growth’ and ‘new urbanism’ comprehensive planning goals to combat urban sprawl. But beyond the buzz, how do these land use policy actions set by elected officials influence managerial strategies?
Drawing data from a 2015 survey of Florida local governments’ sustainable land use and smart growth experiences, we employ a novel Bayesian item response theory (IRT) approach to test how internal and external organizational capacities, municipal leadership turnover, and regulatory and environmental complexity affect cities’ strategic activities for pursuing smart growth.
We find evidence that political capacity and the organizational task environment influence strategies, but not in the monolithic fashion often depicted in the literature; land use policy comprehensiveness influences some smart growth strategies; and leadership turnover presents both challenges and opportunities for the strategic management of smart growth.
Metropolitan fragmentation and inequality are two intertwined, complex urban conditions. While segregation and the Industrial Revolution began the process of population sorting in cities, a range of transportation, housing and 'urban renewal' policies from the 1930s and 1940s have also played a part in fueling the phenomenon.
This sets up an interesting dilemma for urban scholars. Has fragmentation -- the proliferation of special-districts and general-purpose governments -- exacerbated population sorting? Or has population sorting along race/ethnicity, income and ideological lines created more fragmentation?
This question holds normative importance because policymakers often view some fragmentation as a necessary condition to spur more efficient provision of public services. When cities have to compete for mobile citizens, they theoretically have incentives to keep taxes low and provide service-levels preferred by citizens. But this is probably more a utopian vision of polycentric governance. Fragmentation also creates environmental and fiscal "spill-overs" for urban governance, and has led to a landscape of gated-off enclaves of wealth, alongside overbuilt box-store dystopias and suburban slums.
Local fragmentation and inequality can seem hopelessly endogenous when institutional rules permit the easy creation of new towns or community development districts, such as in Florida. But in places like Illinois, fragmentation was driven by distrust of the machine politics of Chicago and Springfield long before post-World War II federal policies fueled white flight to the suburbs.
Understanding the causal mechanisms behind many urban policy innovations -- sustainable development or social inclusionary policies -- requires stronger theory on fragmentation, inequality, and how they condition or influence policy diffusion.
In a recent article with co-authors Rick Feiock and Kate Wassel published in Review of Policy Research, we explore how these often conflated regional factors influence the commitment of local governments to sustainability.
Sustainable service delivery is a burgeoning area of local government practice and research activity, yet the barriers posed by these capacity and complexity conditions remain poorly understood. Investigating how environmental conditions both within and across cities might inhibit adoption of sustainable development innovations brings new evidence to bear on this important question and presents practical implications for local sustainability efforts.
Using a Bayesian item response theory (IRT) approach, we explore how the organizational task environment—both within municipal borders and beyond them—influences the willingness of local governments to innovate through sustainable development policies. We find evidence that complex service-delivery needs, income inequality, and governmental fragmentation distinctively influence commitment to green building and social inclusion policies.
Do local policymakers strategically use delay in permitting development to forestall the growth machine?
Land use and development approval processes vary tremendously among local governments in the United States and globally. State-imposed growth-management rules, economic conditions and the scale of environmental problems can explain some of this variation. But there is little empirical evidence as to whether politicians and public administrators also utilize land use and development approval time frames as a method of strategic choice, expediting the development application and approval process or subjecting development requests to lengthy scrutiny.
In a paper António Tavares, Richard Feiock and I published in Policy Studies Journal, we employ a political market framework to explain differences in local government land use decisions. Project approval delay imposes costs on development, and onerous or ineffective regulatory frameworks for urban planning are often faulted for a host of undesirable urban outcomes. Using Bayesian multilevel modelling of Florida surveys of land-use planners, we find evidence city managers, mayors and city councils strategically use delay in development approval processes to affect land-use patterns.
Three Sides of the Same Coin? A Bayesian Analysis of Strategic Management, Comprehensive Planning, and Inclusionary Values in Land Use
Public administration, policy, and planning research has long suggested land use planning entails intractable value conflicts.
Strategic adjustments to changing external conditions are prevalent, and comprehensive approaches are frequently touted as a way to seek stability, commitment to long-term sustainable development objectives, and the inclusive and equitable distribution of development benefits for both present and future inhabitants. Despite these objectives, the reality of sprawl and infrastructure decline in the modern metropolis appears far bleaker.
Research has been mixed on how specific institutional configurations shape urban political markets for development under changing exogenous circumstances. In an article my colleagues and I just published in the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, we examine whether city managers are more strategic, comprehensive and inclusive in the use of land-use policy tools at three distinct time periods pre- and post-housing bubble. We employ a Bayesian inferential method underutilized in public administration research to test whether city managers are more strategic, comprehensive, and inclusive than mayors in land use decision-making.
Our analysis finds evidence that, relative to mayor-council and commission forms of government, council-manager governments are (a) more strategic in land use decisions following an economic boom and bust by routinizing sustainable development practices such mixed use and impact fees; (b) more comprehensive in land use tool utilization after an economic shock; and (c) more inclusive of social equity concerns in land use choices such as greater use of incentive zoning that promotes community-wide benefits.
Longevity in the position also appears to mitigate how effective managers are at advancing goals of comprehensiveness.
However, managerial influence is not evident at the housing bubble’s peak, which is an important caveat to the empirical evidence on form of government. These results suggest managerial influence on the comprehensiveness of land use policy may be only detectable in periods when public focus—and the political benefits of appearing responsive—are relatively low.
Metropolitan sprawl is a well-studied, multidimensional phenomenon. Sprawling development patterns play a substantial role in taxing the resources and infrastructure of local governments, as well as contributing to global environmental externalities like climate change. Counties have become increasingly tasked with municipal-style public service delivery, including land-use planning. But how are they likely to perform this task, particularly in areas where populations are more fragmented between cities, unincorporated counties and special districts? My recent study in Urban Affairs Review looks at how counties adhere to their own long-range growth management plans and finds that “modernized” counties are more likely to approve incremental development increases when such fragmentation is greater. How does this occur, and what does it mean?
Counties present relatively abundant and cheap locational alternatives for development, which may exacerbate sprawl. Governmental fragmentation may fuel more leapfrog development patterns on the urban fringe as cities within counties channel development into the county arena. Increased horizontal fragmentation – which is the proliferation of general-purpose governments like cities or towns – encourages counties to compete for development with other localities within their borders but also increases the incentives for developers to locate county sites with relatively cheaper land prices. Vertical fragmentation, meanwhile, is the proliferation of special districts serving single purposes such as fire, water, economic development, environmental protection and education.
Florida is the organizational context of this study, and just over half of all 1,667 active special-districts play an economic development role. Vertical fragmentation facilitates development through provision of services, reducing private development costs, and reducing the pressure for public officeholders to raise taxes. In more vertically fragmented systems, public services can be offered from a tiered system of governments in a complimentary fashion rather than having individual departments within a single government competing for resources. While empirical evidence is mixed as to whether vertical fragmentation leads to higher or lower overall tax expenditures, it also presents a distinct driver for sprawling, leapfrog development patterns outside municipal boundaries.
But fragmentation is only part of the story. Internal capacities developed to comply with state regulations and respond to exploding growth also play a role in shaping these decisions. This analysis finds evidence that counties pursue incremental course corrections to their growth plans as a function of whether they had modernized mechanisms for responding to constituents’ land-use preferences.
While local governments may generally implement environmental protections specified in their plans, this result presents a normative planning paradox for urban areas confronting growth pressures.
Counties which have modernized their service-delivery processes should generally have more sophisticated, data-driven planning support systems and more capability for responding nimbly to development demanders. Thus, development patterns emblematic of sprawl – low-density, discontinuous, decentralized construction – may be a function of planning rather than a byproduct of its absence. From an urban sustainability perspective, if greater planning capacities amplify piecemeal development patterns, the flexibility of land-use plans may need to be reconsidered.
However, this increased responsiveness of modernized counties is moderated by executive and legislative institutional structure. County modernization via charter adoption is associated with increases in piecemeal development patterns, while form of government accounts for a moderating institutional effect. Professional managers appear to facilitate increases in incremental development, but are more insulated from development interests.
There are several practical points to take away from this study. Cities and counties may be offering similar services, but their experiences on the ground are quite different. Fragmentation may generate more competition for economic development between localities and development spillover into unincorporated areas. Professionalization or the adoption of more managerial-like government administrations has been frequently hailed as a superior model for efficient and effective service delivery. But under fragmented conditions, modernized governmental structures in growing counties may simply serve to positively moderate the push for more sprawling development patterns. For policy design, a normative case could be made for limitations or consolidation of special- districts within high-growth regions. Counties may also require the development of unique growth-management policies which recognize their distinctive, “spillover” role within metropolitan governance.
The farming out of government service delivery and oversight to private contractors has led to a broadened understanding of what improves fairness, transparency and stakeholder engagement in public administration (Daniels, et al. 2000). But it also engenders a vexing host of problems for practitioners. Because the rules and procedures are different for private vendors, across government boundaries, and among different stakeholders, public-private networks present a new host of management challenges and accountability concerns between administrators, the elected public officers and the citizenry.
Problems of accountability in the new network-based public administration arise from a lack of communication and information-sharing that can leave policymakers, public administrators and the public equally flummoxed. The wealth of network literature that has emerged in recent decades identifies a broad array of similar breakdowns associated with the phenomenon.
Network Structures and Cohesion
Public administration has come a long way since Wilson’s classic politics-administration dichotomy. Just as management scholars no longer assume political influences can be decapitated from the proper exercise of government functions, the new public management has come to accept that managers themselves are required to be adept at skills of persuasion and manipulation in order to successfully complete their duties. Stakeholders must be cajoled, incentivized or appeased, and the multitude of actors within public-private networks must be managed with tactics much different from the ordinary vertically integrated government agency. How else can managers tasked with overseeing public policy and programs be successful in an environment in which the hierarchical, top-down institutional machinery they were trained to operate has been replaced by new networked circuitry were they may no longer be the most important component?
The public management research on networks has proliferated over the last twenty years largely focused on network formation, managers within networks, and network outputs and impact on democratic processes (Berry, Choi Sang, Goa, Jang, Kwon, & Ward, 2004) As public managers and researchers alike have come to recognize that traditional top-down bureaucracies are largely no longer the dominant singular structure for implementing policies, both the research agendas and management tactics have adapted. It would be overstating this transformation to say that hierarchical, top-down public agencies are fading into history. But at the least, public institutions are no longer going it alone (Agranoff & McGuire, 2001; Bardach, 2001; Provan & Milward, 1995).
With command and control principles rendered largely ineffective within a network relationship, scholars have identified a plethera of other influences that bind networks together, including trust and mutual obligation (Nohria, 1992); a collective sense of benefiting the public good that creates network cohesion (Alter & Hage, 1993; Mandell, 1999); and the classic organizational perspective that interdependnency based on the availability of resources and their uneven allocation contributes to network formation and maintenance (Pennings, 1981).
More recently, researchers have examined key distrinctions between managing information and knowledge between organizations and networks. Knowledge management (KM) becomes a common currency between individual organizations with unique intellectual capital, experiences, and expertise (Davenport & Prusak, 1998).
Information breakdowns are largely the scapegoat for public organizations’ inability to adapt contractual structures to changing problems, and networks are not immune. As the DCA case illustrates, public organizations all charged with administering federal, state, regional and local development rules are often fallible, and a breakdown in information-sharing and knowledge management often times plays a central role. Information breakdowns are not solely internal problems. In the DCA example, multiple state and local agencies tasked with administered the same growth rules were not sharing information effectively, but external stakeholders were also kept in the dark as key decision-points passed. The rise of networks has created a confusing web of implementation stations with limited responsibility for external communications and media relations, complying with public-records laws, or fielding stakeholder inquiries (DeGrove, 2005).
On a national scale, Desouza (2009) examines information and knowledge management breakdowns within the United States Intelligence Community during the 1990s that preceded terrorist attacks on U.S. assets throughout that decade, as well the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and the Pentagon, and the failure to accurately assess the threat of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Desouza employs a qualitative knowledge management model to assess competency in four components identified as “sources management, analytics management, interpretation management and action management” (2009, p. 1228). Through interviews with current and former intelligence community employees, Desouza offers a rich description of how the 22 various intelligence agencies utilize their networked capabilities – effectively and not so much – to develop sources, cull information from them, forecast based on what they’ve gathered, and take action based on their analytics. The results identify three core problems in information and knowledge management that Desouza describes as transcendental to public-sector networks overall: a lack of trust between agencies; a history of past non-collaboration; and the lack of uniform management standards between agencies (p. 1257-1258). Clearly, the rise of networks has created a more complex environment for public managers in which they no longer drive the decision-making.
Accountability in a Networked World
A definition of accountability throughout the literature is essentially the implementation, measurement and refinement of policy objectives and management of public agencies within the specifications of elected policymakers, who in turn are accountable to the public. In practice, accountability for public managers has evolved into engaging private stakeholders into all phases of the development, implementation and maintenance of government programs. But even this assumed accountability fails to deliver when broad swaths of the public not usually engaged on a particular issue become polarized, either by some exogenous shock or political manipulation.
Concerns over keeping government accountable to elected “sovereigns” (and theoretically, the public) are virtually as old as the field of public management. In the post-New Deal era of management, the effects of administrative discretion on the ideals and practices of democratic governance have been a key curiosity of policy and management theory (Mazmanian & Sabatier, 1983). Since economists in 1960s like William Niskanen, Jr., and Anthony Downs first developed formal theories of bureau supply that suggested bureaucracies grow too large, too quickly and should be imbued with market competition for government services, public management scholars have questioned how to practice accountable public management in a democratic context (Niskanen, 1971; Frederickson, 1997).
Networks – if one is to believe they are a relatively new formation in the genealogy on government – have emerged as a response to the failures of managerial accountability, the inefficiencies of interest-group pluralism, and the problems of centralized bureaucracies with implementation. At the same time, knowledge and expertise have become diversified and diffuse, adding to the need for public organizations to collaborate with outside sources of technical expertise (Gray, 1989). This need to network complicates the mission of remaining accountable, because the partners themselves may not be imbued with the same public purpose and mission. For every new branch of the network extending outward from the central government bureau, the chain of accountability becomes one more link further removed.
In their extensive meta-analysis of 137 network studies of collaborative governance, Ansell and Gash sum up the practitioner perspective that has also driven the research when they note that the policy stream “seems to promise that if we govern collaboratively, we may avoid the high costs of adversarial policy making, expand democratic participation, and even restore rationality to public management” (Ansell & Gash, 2007). This may be wishful thinking. But the expansion of democratic participation seems to be an implied assumption that flows forth from better relationships between public managers and stakeholders, and advanced knowledge development and problem solving. The studies encapsulated in their meta-analysis show wide variation between successful collaboration where adversarial relationships have been overcome, and less successful ones where key stakeholders manipulated networks and distrust grew. But the element of accountability itself never emerges as an explanatory variable. While Ansell and Gash are able to develop “contingent conditions” under which collaboration is likely to flourish or flounder, the aim of their work was never specifically to offer suggestions for improving network accountability. Therefore, we turn to one area of policy where accountability has developed into a contractual relationship, one I believe could be utilized as a generalize-able management best-practice beyond any specific policy domain.
Accountability agreements have emerged within the health-care community where public health-care providers such as hospitals have been contractually bound to use public funding and distribute it in accordance with a pre-arranged schedule. They have been utilized extensively in health care reforms in Canada where Local Health Integration Networks have been created to contract with local hospitals and the state, and research is beginning to emerge studying their effectiveness and impact on priory setting for government-run health care (Reeleder, et al. 2008). Accountability agreements have been widely used in the private-sector, but have recently emerged in varied types of government activities, from economic development to transportation projects.
While there is scant research of the pervasiveness of accountability agreements in the public sector, there is evidence they have been effective is some environments in re-establishing some degree of control over interdependent actors in networks environments. Veillard et al. conducted a three-year study of the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care’s efforts to utilize accountability agreements to improve stewardship of public resources and enhance performance management functions of government. The authors concluded that connecting key agreed-upon local and regional health-care goals into accountability agreements “helped to strengthen substantially the ministry's performance management function” (Veillard, et al., 2010).
The common thread between public-private accountability agreements is the expenditure of public resources by private enterprise, but the practice holds promise in other areas of government activity such as service delivery.
Accountability agreements in the private sector are conceptualized differently than public-sector alternatives. They convey “a promise and an obligation, both to yourself and to the people around you, to deliver specific, defined results,” and represents “a personal commitment to the organization and to those the organization serves” rather than “departments, work groups, or entire organizations” (Klatt, Murphy, & Irvine, 1999). Public-sector accountability agreements tend to spell out legal parameters of contracts, technical specifications, and performance standards.
In public policy subsystems, accountability agreements could be used to ensure each participant recognizes their role in the center of a networked community. Network stakeholders would have clearly articulated expectations for participation, and a covenant with each other to accomplish goals.
It should be obvious to public administrators, researchers and anyone who has interacted with government lately, that the privatization and “hollowing out” of government service delivery requires more collaborative strategies for achieving common goals and maintaining democratic oversight. But it is also clear that ensuring accountability between the larger community of policy actors, public managers, policymakers, and the citizenry has often failed to adapt new procedures and tactics to achieve equilibrium with this new environment. Accountability agreements could be more widely utilized between public and private stakeholders within government-led networks to ensure multi-directional communication channels and knowledge-sharing, public access, and alignment and goals.
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I work as an Assistant Professor at Northern Illinois University. I received my PhD in Public Administration from Florida State University.