The fuzzy concept of collaborative governance: A systematic review of the state of the art

Paper by Agnes Batory and Sara Svensson: “Collaborative approaches to policy-making are high on the agenda for most European governments and are key to European Commission activities with respect to the transformation of public administration in the European Union (EU) (Hammerschmid et al., 2016European Commission, 2016). A long line of politicians has stated the need for government units to overcome organizational cleavages and reach out to citizens and stakeholders in order to address difficult policy problems and deliver public services more efficiently. Collaborative approaches to policy-making have also been advocated as a way to close the seemingly growing gap between government and citizens and thus to alleviate normative problems commonly besetting Western democracies in the last decades. Collaborative governance has received considerable attention from public administration scholars and is the subject of a burgeoning body of academic literature in policy studies, public management and democratic theory. However, the rapid uptake of collaborative governance and related concepts, such as coordination, cooperation, joined-up governance, network governance (e.g., Robinson 2006) and interactive governance (Michels, 2011), led to a rather amorphous, diffused discussion, rather than a coherent narrative. Attempts to structure the debate have so far exclusively focused on the academic literature in English. This article aims to facilitate the synthesis and consolidation of work undertaken so far in a way that is more culturally sensitive and more open to developments taking place in the world of practice.

More specifically, this article first seeks to map the current state of the art. It pinpoints key dimensions of variation in how collaborative governance is defined in the academic literature through a qualitative analysis of influential scholarly work and provides a systematic literature review of a corpus of over 700 article abstracts. The analysis shows that scholarly articles differ in their conceptualisation of collaborative governance along at least five dimensions, which concern the public-private (governmental-non-governmental) divide; agency; organisational aspects; scope and locus within the policy process; and normative assumptions. Second, the paper extends this analysis to incorporate some preliminary findings on relevant ‘grey’ literature on collaborative governance in Europe – which seems to be in closer touch with developments of high relevance for practice – in order to indicate whether and to what extent the scholarly and the practitioner-oriented literature overlap or differ in orientation and subjects covered. Finally, the paper takes stock of the national connotations of the term in different European languages, which aims to mitigate the Anglo-Saxon bias in the literature. For the second and third objectives, the paper relies on responses from teams of academic public administration experts in ten EU and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries. The methodological approach for each of these steps is described in the respective sections of the paper. The penultimate section provides a synthesis of the results, including recommendations for reconceptualization and future research….(More)”.