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Institutional Mechanisms for Local Sustainability Collaboration: Assessing the Duality of Formal and Informal Mechanisms in Promoting Collaborative Processes

Park, Angela Y.S. / Krause, Rachel M / Hawkins, Christopher V

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Abstract

To address complex and cross-cutting policy problems, multiple independent administrative units within an organization often work together to accomplish a larger objective. Within local governments, doing this requires administrative mechanisms able to facilitate interdepartmental collaboration, through which the efforts of individual units contribute to city-wide policy goals. Research increasingly finds that informal elements of collaboration, such as casual communications, ad hoc meetings, and voluntary working groups, are important for building strong and trusting collaborative ties. Conversely, a nontrivial number of studies also suggest that formal mechanisms, such as mandates, rules, and authority, are necessary for ensuring and sustaining credible commitment over time. This research empirically examines the types of coordination mechanisms employed by US local governments to promote intragovernmental efforts to collaborate around the issue of sustainability—a complex and broad objective that transcends city departments’ traditional boundaries. It particularly focuses on assessing the relative contributions of formal and informal mechanisms toward achieving that end. Results from structural equation modeling analyses of 506 city governments indicate that informal mechanisms are positively and significantly associated with promoting cross-departmental collaboration. Interestingly, the results further show that formal mechanisms, while lacking a direct association with collaboration, have important implications for facilitating collaborative processes indirectly through their influence on informal mechanisms. Overall, our findings suggest a critical need for balancing the two approaches when forging interdepartmental collaboration. Implications for policy and future research are also discussed.

Issue Date
2021-04
Publisher
Oxford University Press
DOI
10.1093/jopart/muaa036
Journal Title
Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory
Start Page
434
End Page
450
ISSN
1053-1858
Language
English
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