Evaluating Local Partnership Incentive Policies: A Realist Approach

Evaluating Local Partnership Incentive Policies: A Realist Approach

Maddalena Sorrentino (Università degli Studi di Milano, Italy), Alessandro Spano (Università degli Studi di Cagliari, Italy) and Benedetta Bellò (Università degli Studi di Cagliari, Italy)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2458-0.ch018
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Current research tells little about how to assess the public incentive policies designed to persuade local governments to set up partnerships. This first paper of ongoing research illustrates an evaluation method based on the ‘realist approach’, the tenets of which assign a key role to the context in which the mechanisms of a public programme work (or not). The evaluation framework is intended to be a tool to assist and inform future policymaking and practice. The paper provides a picture of the current scientific debate by exploring the relevant literature; outlines a research path aimed at building an empirically-based model for assessing public policies to promote and support local partnerships in the Italian Region of Sardinia; and indicates a possible context of use for the theory through an illustrative example.
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The emergence (indeed dominance) of joint initiatives to address multifaceted social problems is a widespread phenomenon (Hulst & van Montfort, 2007a, 2007b; Isett et al., 2011; O'Toole, 1993) that has received considerable attention in the debate on Transformational government or T-Government (Irani et al., 2007; King & Cotterill, 2007; Klievink & Janssen, 2009; Brown & Parker, 2011; Weerakkody, Dwivedi, Dhillon, & Williams, 2007). At the local level, collaboration initiatives bring together two or more distinct public authorities to cooperate in achieving a common goal (e.g., to provide services) and as an alternative to traditional hierarchical governance (Kenis & Provan, 2009). When the area of collaboration is not only operational (e.g., limited to the delivery of services) but also encompasses policy formulation and planning, the joint action has more ambitious aims and objectives (i.e., “co-design”, in the words of Ranade & Hudson, 2003).

Most European countries have at some point put considerable political support behind the development of inter-municipal cooperation through the use of statutory obligations and financial incentives (Hulst & van Montfort, 2007b). The key advantages commonly attributed to collaboration initiatives include enhanced efficiency, the fostering of innovation and flexibility, and better service outcomes (Dawes & Préfontaine, 2003; May & Winter, 2007; Provan & Kenis, 2008). Finally, as part of a wider T-Government strategy, collaborative arrangements can more effectively meet the future challenges of reducing waste and inefficiency by reorganising or reusing back-end information systems, processes, facilities, maintenance contracts, and sharing investments (Becker, Niehaves, & Krause, 2009; Cabinet Office, 2009; Janssen, Joha, & Weerakkody, 2007; Kamal, Weerakkody, & Jones, 2009; Luna-Reyes, Gil-Garcia, & Cruz, 2007; Oliver, 1990; Weerakkody, Dhillon, Dwivedi, & Currie, 2008).

The presumed performance benefits of collaborative arrangements have attracted increased attention from policymakers and practitioners alike (Kenis & Provan, 2009). In tandem, the growing demand for public spending accountability raises questions as to whether and under what conditions these arrangements ‘are actually performing at a level that justifies the costs of collaboration’ (Kenis & Provan, 2009). Although many studies have assessed joint working in terms of efficiency and effectiveness, there has been far less interest in how incentive policies actually affect partnership performance, which is fairly surprising, given that the new managerial strategies tout performance evaluation as a guiding principle and that in countries (like the UK) ‘partnership working has a long history in the public sector’ (Lamie & Ball, 2010, p. 109; ODPM, 2006). Moreover, the research has tended ‘to focus primarily on the outcome of an evaluation to the detriment of the mechanism and context aspects’ (Gill & Turbin, 1999, p. 180) and, thus, provides the rationale and motivations for this study.

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