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Collaborative design of governance instruments in higher education

Governance
Higher Education
Policy Implementation
Policy-Making
Mari Elken
Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education
Mari Elken
Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education

Abstract

Studies of policy processes in higher education show how implementation processes are neither linear nor rational, often instead marked by unintended and ambiguous results (Gornitzka, Kogan, & Amaral, 2005). This is not unique to higher education, classic studies on implementation show how any reform implementation usually involves interpretation and discretion on ‘shop floor’ level. At the same time, governments are in a perpetual search for ‘what works’ in governance arrangements, to contribute to more effective steering that can deliver intended results. One means is to a larger extent involve the stakeholders and sector in reform development and governance processes, expecting that this would strengthen legitimacy and reduce implementation costs, an approach that has been labelled as ‘collaborative governance’. Collaborative governance implies involvement of stakeholders in formal, consensus-oriented decision-making processes concerning policy development or implementation (Ansell & Gash, 2008, p. 544). In this paper, focus is on examining how such collaborative approaches may be employed in the context of higher education, the dilemmas that emerge in design process, and the potential consequences this has for policy outcomes. The empirical setting in this paper is the introduction of multi-annual performance agreements in higher education in Norway. These contracts were introduced through a three-stage pilot from 2016 and onwards. Dialogue and consensus-orientation between stakeholders has been an important characteristic of higher education policymaking in Norway (Bleiklie & Michelsen, 2012), yet the pilot concerning the development of the contracts introduced a number of new ideas, as the representatives from the sector were involved as co-constructors of the performance agreements as new governance instrument. The analysis highlights the consequences of temporal sequencing of the development process into three stages, the varying and rather consequential effects of the very open-ended approach from the ministry, the interaction of the new governance instrument with existing instrument ‘mix’, and the role of various other concurrent developments. As such, the analysis points out a number of dilemmas, both around the introduction of performance agreements, as well as those inherent in using collaborative design and implementation approaches in higher education policymaking.