Collaborative Governance in Cities under Austerity: An Eight-case Comparative Study

Lead Research Organisation: De Montfort University
Department Name: Politics and Public Policy

Abstract

Context

Austerity governance, defined as a sustained agenda for reducing public spending, poses new challenges for the organisation of relationships between government, business and citizens in many parts of the world. This project compares how these challenges are addressed in eight countries: Australia, Canada, France, Greece, Ireland, Spain, the UK and the USA. Governments have long sought effective ways of engaging citizen activists and business leaders in decision making, through many formal and informal mechanisms - what we term collaborative governance. The focus of our research is how collaboration contributes to the governance of austerity. Governments and public service leaders argue that collaboration with businesses, voluntary organisations and active citizens is essential for addressing the many challenges posed by austerity. The challenges include transforming public services to cope with cuts, changing citizen expectations and managing demand for services and enhancing the legitimacy of difficult policy decisions by involving people outside government in making them. But at the same time, collaboration can be exclusionary. For example, if there are high levels of protest, governmental and business elites may collaborate in ways that marginalise ordinary citizens to push through unpopular policies. Our challenge is to explore different ways in which collaboration works or fails in governing austerity and whether it is becoming more or less important in doing so.

Aims and objectives

We propose to compare the role of collaboration in governing austerity in eight cities of the aforementioned countries: Athens, Baltimore, Barcelona, Dublin, Leicester, Melbourne, Montreal and Nantes. It is in towns and cities that government has the most immediate and closest day-to-day engagement with citizens and it is for this reason that we chose to locate our research at the urban scale. Our primary objective is to understand whether, and if so how, collaboration among public officials, citizens, business leaders and other actors contributes to austerity governance. For example is there more collaboration, less or are we seeing different kinds of collaboration emerging? Who, if anyone, refuses to collaborate and with what implications for governing austerity? Might collaboration be a way to subvert or resist aspects of austerity? The research is comparative, meaning that it is looking for patterns and to see what lessons and insights countries in different parts of the world might draw from one another.

Applications and benefits

Finding ways to collaborate with citizens has always been important for central and local governments, although collaboration has been a higher political priority in the past 20 years than before. Our study will tell politicians and public officials much about how collaboration works as a way of governing austerity. However we are not trying to 'sell' collaboration, or suggest that those suffering from cuts and wanting to resist them should collaborate if they do not wish to. For citizen activists our research will highlight different strategies and options for speaking truth to power - by engaging with city government and local business elites, or refusing to do so and perhaps focusing on protest instead. We will discover when collaboration serves the ends of community groups and when it does not. Participants in our study, and others, will have the opportunity to discuss these issues at a series of local events, at which we will discuss our findings. The research will also engage with important academic debates about the changing nature of governance. In gathering and comparing a large body of data we will learn about the changing role of government under austerity and whether governing is becoming more elite-focused, remote and hierarchical, or perhaps even more inclusive despite the challenging times in which we live.

Planned Impact

The principal non-academic beneficiaries will be participants in the research, students, policy makers at different levels of government, community activists, business activists and other civil society groups and educated publics interested in public governance issues. The primary categories of beneficiary are public sector and political leaders and third-sector organisations and campaign groups. We will deliver three main kinds of impact: Improving Social Welfare and Public Services, Influencing Public Policy and Legislation and Operational and Organisational Change.

Because public officials are preoccupied with austerity governance and collaboration in all the case study countries and cities, policy makers will find our research especially useful. Paul O'Brien, Chief Executive of the Association for Public Service Excellence will be our expert adviser and APSE will provide a vehicle for disseminating the research to UK stakeholders, locally and nationally. To enhance international impact and knowledge exchange we will produce a project stakeholder report, which will form the basis for dissemination events in each case study city. Key policy makers will be invited to attend along with local respondents and other stakeholders. Assisted by APSE, we will also target the public service press with articles in each country. APSE will also use the stakeholder/impact report as the basis for discussion among member authorities in the UK, and will further promote our work throughout the public sector. This strand of our impact strategy focuses on improving both social welfare and public services and operational and organisational change.

Community activists and third sector groups, particularly those directly involved in the research, will be invited to participate in local dissemination events, and webinars, to deliberate and validate findings. They face dilemmas about whether and how to collaborate in the governance of austerity. Our research will generate insights into how these dilemmas are handled in different places, what kinds of strategy are effective (collaborative or otherwise) and how changes in third-sector funding and organisation affect collaborative capacity. The investigators have excellent links with community and voluntary sector organisations operating at local and national levels and the stakeholder reports will inform deliberations about strategy and practice. This strand of our impact strategy focuses on influencing public policy and legislation as well as social welfare and organisational change.

We propose to contribute to public discourse by targeting media: e.g. an article for Public Magazine, a podcast on Youtube and the researchers' websites. We recognise that effective dissemination requires more than merely publishing outputs. Each of the researchers has strong networks through which the project and its outputs will be promoted. This strand of impact is about influencing the public sphere.

Students - especially those on graduate programmes - will learn from and apply the research. Many of the investigators are involved in teaching public service leaders and middle managers at masters level. The findings will be a particular source of learning and action for students concerned with assessing the utility of collaboration for austerity governance, such as through culture change and 'managing down demand'.

Academic colleagues beyond immediate professional circles will also benefit from the large body of data we propose to collect. They will also benefit from engaging with our academic outputs and theoretical conclusions about changing modes of governance. Most of the research team is well-known, or becoming well-known, in international scholarly circles and we will therefore achieve high levels of academic impact through publishing in highly regarded journals (such as Urban Studies or Public Administration), citations therein and seminar/conference dialogues with interlocutors.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Our provisional findings, as discussed in the published project report are as follows:

1. The 2008 crisis hit cities very unevenly, even those at the European epicentre. Not all recognise the language of "austerity" as applicable.

2. As might be expected, austerity cuts, welfare reforms and housing foreclosures hit the worst-off hardest of all. In some cases, austerity hits the middle classes too.

3. What happens in cities matters. Cities affected by crisis and austerity respond in varied ways. Urban histories, economies, traditions, struggles, conflicts and geographies make a big difference to austerity politics.

4. Forms of collaborative governance vary widely on a continuum from those concerned with radicalising participatory democracy to those preoccupied mainly with managing austerity and maintaining state control.

5. For several locally distinctive reasons including political centralisation, social alienation/public disaffection, institutional instability and organised resistance, austerity weakens the prospect for building strong, inclusive and equitable social partnerships between governments and citizens.

6. Austerity cuts are damaging to grant dependent local voluntary and community groups. This finding reveals an austerity paradox. Governments demand greater levels of citizen activism, while making it harder to achieve.

7. At the same time, austerity concentrates government resources in large third sector organisations, with little connection to locality. The capacity of these larger organisations to campaign and influence policy is itself reduced.

8. Austerity governance therefore tends to be either hierarchical and state-centred, or rooted in "elite" partnerships involving governments, business leaders and NGOs.

9. Branding and place marketing is central to urban growth strategies for coping with and moving beyond austerity. Some cities selectively integrate cultural and ethnic diversity into their branding.

10. However, growth alone cannot compensate for austerity. There is an ever-present tension between the realities of urban development and the idea of a socially just, inclusive city.

11. Cities cannot avoid fallout from international crises and national austerity measures, but some do adopt strategies that diverge from those of regional and national governments.

12. Crucially, there can be political alternatives to austerity, even in cities severely affected by spending cuts and fiscal centralisation.

13. Resistance to austerity is very uneven. Given a felicitous alliance between electoral and grass-roots anti-austerity forces, a "new municipalism" is possible. However, the attempt to challenge austerity at the city level encounters hostility from national and regional governments, as well as corporate and media forces.

14. Linking opposition movements and building alliances between cities, social movements, workplace and community organisations capable of challenging higher tiers of government will therefore be crucial, if anti-austerity forces are to succeed.
Exploitation Route 1. As a source of academic papers exploring austerity governance in the eight individual case studies. We are currently working on a case study based issue of Journal of Urban Affairs.

2. As a source of transversal, comparative outputs juxtaposing the findings across the full set of eight case studies, and sub-sets thereof. We are working on a proposal for a collectively authored monograph. The PI is preparing an extended article or short book looking at the way cities govern and contest crises.

3. Through lesson-drawing across cities among activists, policy-makers and concerned citizens, facilitated by the stakeholder report we published last year. Stakeholders in most of the eight cities are very curious about experiences in other cities.

4. We already know that our research is playing an important role in the development of Labour Party policy for cities, councils and communities. As one advisor commented to Jonathan Davies in correspondence: I think the role for Labour now is to try to rebuild the tools of social power and resistance - unions yes, but also co-ops, direct democracy and community organisation. Your research is interesting and powerful because it is trying to build up the discourse in that space".

5. We are developing a Masters programme in Urban Studies at De Montfort University, which will draw directly from research conducted as part of this study.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Government, Democracy and Justice,Other

URL http://cura.our.dmu.ac.uk/category/austerity-governance/
 
Description The Labour Party is using our research and our expertise to develop its policies for local government and communities, through the new Community Wealth Building Unit. The CWBU was established on 8th February 2018. This is likely to be our most significant pathway to non-academic impact.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Appointed as Advisor to new Labour Party Community Wealth Building Unit
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
URL https://labourlist.org/2018/02/bring-public-services-back-in-house-mcdonnell-tells-local-councils/
 
Title Project dataset 
Description We have established a SharePoint database, as a repository for verbatim transcripts of interview and focus group data (including English summaries where they are not in English), and observation field notes (again, summarised in English where appropriate). The data remains confidential at present. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact None so far. The materials will be cleaned and presented for archiving at the end of the study. 
 
Description Blog post - project overview 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We have established a Centre, website, blog and twitter account as vehicles for publicity, dissemination and impact of project research. The link below provides the basic description of the project and its goals.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.dmu.ac.uk/research/research-faculties-and-institutes/business-and-law/centre-for-urban-re...
 
Description Blog post on disability and the bedroom tax 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Blog post by the PI, Jonathan Davies, on Disability and the Bedroom Tax, drawing on exploratory research undertaken in Leicester.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://cura.our.dmu.ac.uk/2016/01/27/disability-and-the-bedroom-tax-discretionary-payments-violate-s...
 
Description Case study blogs - phase 1 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Nine blog-postings on our research findings from phase 1: one overview piece and a piece each on Athens, Baltimore, Barcelona, Dublin, Leicester, Melbourne, Montreal and Nantes. Our blog stats indicate that the blogs were accessed by several hundred people and they received a degree of attention on twitter. We also reposted them all on the Urban Transformations website but have no data about engagement statistics from that.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://cura.our.dmu.ac.uk/category/austerity-governance/
 
Description Daily Politics - Sunday 21st January 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact On Sunday 21st January 2018, BBC1 East Midlands broadcast an episode of Daily Politics featuring a report of our research in the city of Leicester, followed by a studio debate involving the PI, Professor Jonathan Davies, Andrew Bridgen MP and Dame Glenis Willmott, former leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Inaugural Conference - Centre for Urban Research on Austerity 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The inaugural conference of the Centre for Urban Research on Austerity involved a mix of academics, post-graduates and professional practitioners, including an interviewee in the exploratory phase of the current research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.dmu.ac.uk/CURA2015
 
Description Labour Party Community Wealth Building Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact I was invited to speak at this conference on 8.2.18 and to present examples of international lessons on how cities cope with and resist austerity. The conference was held to launch Labour's new Community Wealth Building Unit, on which I have also been engaged as an advisor, as a direct result of research on this project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://events.labour.org.uk/event/105422
 
Description National media interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Interview with the Times Higher on the goals of this ESRC study of austerity governance, and the Centre for Urban Research on Austerity.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/impact-of-austerity-politics-charted-by-de-montfort-centre
 
Description Project Workshop - Athens 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact This workshop, a defined project outcome, took place in December 2017. The objective was to present an overview of key international project findings and discuss details of the Athens case study with Athens stakeholders. These included trade unions, elected local politicians and senior policy-makers, NGOs and philanthrocapitalist organisations, representatives of informal solidarity networks, activists and members of cooperative enterprises.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Project Workshop - Baltimore 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact This workshop, a defined project outcome, took place in July 2017. The objective was to present an overview of key international project findings and discuss details of the Baltimore case study with Baltimore stakeholders.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Project Workshop - Barcelona 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact This workshop, a defined project outcome, took place in June 2017. The objective was to present an overview of key international project findings and discuss details of the Barcelona case study with Barcelona stakeholders.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Project Workshop - Dublin 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact This workshop, a defined project outcome, took place in September 2017. The objective was to present an overview of key international project findings and discuss details of the Dublin case study to local stakeholders.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Project Workshop - Leicester 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact This workshop, held in January 2018 was a defined project outcome targeted mainly at project respondents. The objective was to present an overview of key international project findings and discuss details of the Leicester case study with local stakeholders. In this instance, local stakeholders were most interested to hear about what was happening in international case studies and received presentations on the case studies in Barcelona and Nantes.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Project Workshop - Montreal 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact This workshop, a defined project outcome, took place in October 2017. The objective was to present an overview of key international project findings and discuss details of the Montreal case study to local stakeholders.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://twitter.com/rkeil/status/918575942875996161