David Swindell, Arizona State University
Collaboration as an approach to the delivery of local services focuses on sharing costs and benefits by two or more organizations working together to address a need in a way that achieves efficiency and effectiveness that would not be realized by one organization operating alone. Most local government jurisdictions do “go it alone” by producing their services in-house.Certain services and certain kinds of communities may be able to develop alternative service delivery arrangements, such as a collaborative arrangement, that improves the quality of service and the satisfaction of citizens.
But the key to a true collaboration, as opposed to other alternative service delivery models such as contracting or privatization, is that all the partners in the collaboration must share in the burden of the costs as well as in reaping the rewards. In other words, all partners must have a stake in the joint endeavor for the arrangement to be considered a collaboration and for the collaboration to have a reasonable likelihood of succeeding.
Collaborative service delivery of local services is not new. What is new is the attention such collaborative approaches are receiving from academics, political officials, practitioners, and consultants.
In recent years, there have been many new experiments with alternative service delivery arrangements, often accompanied claims of vast cost savings through increased efficiencies. The positive image that intergovernmental agreements and public-private partnerships have received has added more impetus for local decision makers to pursue new or expand existing collaborative arrangements based more on faith in the ideal of collaboration rather than evidence of its effectiveness.
However, there is a surprising lack of hard evidence available to support the claims that collaboration is a panacea of solutions to the array of challenges confronting contemporary local governments. There is no collection of data that simply counts the number of such service delivery collaborations, much less data measuring the success of these. Most of the reports and academic journal articles focus only on success stories. A primary reason for this isthat local leaders are not as interested in sharing stories where experiments failed to achieve the expected goals. Furthermore, an ICMA survey of managers found that most collaborations and other alternative arrangements are simply not tracked or measured.
With little data available on which to base decisions about how best to deliver services to citizens, how can managers address this need?
This decision tool, developed by the Enhanced Partnership of the ICMA, Alliance for Innovation, and Arizona State University’s Center for Urban Innovation, is designed to fill this need. We chose to build this tool to assist local leaders and their staff determine whether the conditions for expanding collaborative service delivery efforts may help local governments organization achieve their goals.
The tool is in two parts. The first part helps communities determinewhether or not a collaborative arrangement is a good idea for their serviceregarding delivery of a specific service. The second part helps those that want to pursue a collaborative arrangement (as determined by part one) choose from among five fundamental types of collaborative arrangements by using the same information developed in part one of the tool.
The first part of the tool provides a matrix of characteristics broken down into two groups: service characteristics and community characteristics. Managers work with their staff through a discussion of the characteristics and score each one on a simple three-point scale. The scores for the two groups of characteristics are summed and compared to a chart that illustrates the likelihood of successful service delivery through a collaborative approach. We refer to this as a “soft benefit/cost analysis” as it does not rely on hard cost estimates projected benefits. Such estimates rarely prove accurate, but are resource intensive to calculate as an aid in the decision about whether a proposed collaboration is possible.
Instead, we have developed this simple matrix, which is not data intensive and does not take a long time to execute. We designed it not to provide ayes or no answer to whether an organization should pursue a collaborative arrangement, but rather to encourage participants to work through a process and be very explicit about the opportunities and challenges they will confront when undertaking a collaboration. The outcome is simply an indication of the likelihood of success as evidenced by other collaborations and scholarly literature.
Those communities that choose to pursue a collaborative service delivery arrangement are faced with the decision as to which arrangement will lead to the best outcome for their service, given their community context. This is a more challenging question to answer due to the generally limited nature of data about the success of collaborations across different types of collaborations.
However, the same characteristics from part one of the decision matrix are helpful in leading communities towards the kind of collaborative structure(s) that are most likely to lead to positive outcomes in the delivery of the service. Part two of our tool uses the information from the matrix to help communities that want to pursue a collaborative arrangement choose from among five generalized types of collaborative arrangements: horizontal public-public partnerships (e.g., two nearby municipalities partnering),vertical public-public partnerships (e.g., a municipality partnering with its overlapping county), consolidation/regionalization (e.g., merging jurisdictions into one larger new jurisdiction), public-nonprofit partnerships, and public-private partnerships.
In addition to this document which contains just part one and part two of the tool itself, we also provide additional information. A white paper is also available that elaborates on the concepts used in the matrix decision tool. It also highlights the benefits local officials might expect to see in a successful collaboration,as well as what challenges to be aware of in pursuing such strategies.