Unravelling the Dynamics between Metagovernance and Local Mandated Collaboration. The Case of the Primary Health Care Networks in Flanders
During the last decades, new governance arrangements like networks and partnerships became increasingly popular in various policy domains (Klijn and Koppenjan, 2016). Main driver to create and engage in such arrangements in the public sector is to maintain and produce government capacity “by bringing together coalition partners with appropriate resources, non-governmental as well as governmental” (Stone 1993:1, cited in Agranoff and McGuire 2003:25). One such type of governance arrangement is a mandated network on the local level, “where policy makers decide on the need and purpose for the network, the timing of the network’s creation, the required composition and structure of the network, and the mechanism for the network to access new or reallocated resources” (Popp and Casebeer, 2015: 230).
With the increased use of such arrangements by central governments, the question of their performance(s) also became a very popular topic for research. In network governance literature, the concept of metagovernance is booming to analyze the effectiveness of networks in relation to the steering and coordination activities of governments (Sørensen 2005; Whitehead 2003; Kelly 2006; Bell and Park 2006; Mosely and James 2008; Hovik en Vabo 2005; Haveri et.al. 2009; Doberstein 2013; Thuesen 2013). Torfing and colleagues (2012) define metagovernance as “deliberate attempts to facilitate, manage and direct more or less self-regulating processes of interactive governance without reverting to traditional styles of government in terms of bureaucratic rule making and imperative command” (p. 122). Hence, metagovernance relates to a shift from classical top-down steering towards more self-organizing capacity and autonomy for local actors in policy making and policy implementation, but the degree of self – organizing and of autonomy is determined by the framework of metagovernance rules set by the central government.
Despite such progress, we believe that the concept of metagovernance as we know it does not fit the relationship between central government and local mandated networks in Flanders. Our critique is threefold. First, the question is to what extent the classical interpretation of metagovernance also relates to top-down imposed networks. On the one hand, it is clear that the roles and coordination strategies of central government will have an impact on the dynamics at the local network level. On the other hand, we believe that also mandated networks will have a certain dynamic of their own that cannot be fully explained by or attributed to that strategy and the effects of metagovernance. Secondly, the concept of metagovernance regards ‘the government’ as a single entity. At the utmost, literature makes a distinction between roles of politicians and those of civil servants (see for example Sørensen 2005; Doberstein 2009). However, in the Flemish institutional system, civil society in several policy domains also holds a dominant position in the policy process. In relation to this, we question the implicit view on metagovernance as a rational process, implying that governments simply make a deliberate choice between the instruments and roles available for them in the tool-box of metagovernance (Sørensen and Torfing 2009; Bell and Hindmoor 2009). In practice however, policy and decision making processes – also those concerning the position of local mandated networks - are often dominated by power influences, mechanisms of exclusion, conflicts of interests, etc. (Laffin 2009; Rodriguez et.al. 2007).
Hence, we address the following research questions in this paper: 1) What is the meaning of steering and coordination of central government in relation to local mandated networks? 2) How do those activities fit the metagovernance concept as we know it? 3) What are the effects of actions of central government on the local network dynamics and what are the combined effects hereof on the performance of local mandated networks?
The questions will be answered analyzing the case of the local primary health care networks in Flanders (‘Samenwerkingsinitiatieven Eerstelijnsgezondheidszorg’, SEL). Those primary health care networks are an example of a mandated service delivery network, set up by the Flemish Government to improve the quality of local collaboration in the flied of primary health care services. The Primary Health Care Decree (2004) states that a SEL needs to aim for the optimization of primary health care in a specific region through the implementation of 12 tasks. The intensity and work load of the tasks ranges from giving advice and organizing multidisciplinary schooling to give administrative support for home care and closing partnership agreements. The decree also sets out some directives regarding the structure of the partnership. Among other things, the decree states that the SEL need to be organized on a regional scale. Also, the Flemish government determines the mandatory network partners and its financial structure.
Because of its specific focus and sound empirical basis, we believe that this paper will contribute to enrich the value of the concept of metagovernance by providing a deeper understanding of the nature of metagovernance in relation to mandated networks in central – local relations.
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