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New Principal Modus Operandi of Public Programs: Joint Action

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Mehmet Yesilbas
January 16, 2015

The traditional, hierarchical government paradigm was the archetype throughout the world during most of the last century. However, the ever-increasing complication of today’s life with cutting edge technology, rapidly spreading information and transportation technologies made it clear that government cannot solve modern complex and diversified problems alone. Therefore, as discussed by Salamon in “The New Governance and the Tool of Public Action: An Introduction,there has been a shift from a government paradigm to a governance paradigm in the last few decades. This transformation connoted the changing of the traditional boundaries of governing by including other actors, such as for-profit and nonprofit organizations. As the Copenhagen Center highlights, “no single actor, public or private, including government has the all-encompassing knowledge, overview, information or resources to solve complex and diversified problems.”

As Frahm and Martin emphasized in their 2009 Administration in Social Work article, “From Government to Governance: Implications for Social Work Administration, inefficiencies resulted from the direct delivery of services led to a negative public opinion of government overall and perhaps better outcomes could be achieved using competitive market principles. The technology, social and economic improvements lead us to develop a new formulation of government in today’s rapidly changing world. This requires an innovative paradigm shift that utilizes a “tools approach” or “new governance” principles. The tools perspective uses an assortment of ‘third parties’ to provide publicly financed services for sanctioned purposes. According to Salamon, a tool is an identifiable way through which collective action is taken to address a public issue. Unlike traditional public administration, which emphasizes “command and control” as the principal modus operandi of public programs, tools essentially characterize the elimination of strict bureaucracies and vertical hierarchies through sharing authority with authorized third party government bodies. Hence, public actors should incorporate the resources, knowledge and expertise of third parties such as private and nonprofit actors, into examining problems, developing strategies and producing solutions to public problems.

Within this context, it is safe to say that joint action can be accepted as the new principal modus operandi of the public sector, since joint action allows organizations to save limited resources and increase their ability to solve complex and diverse issues. Joint action also helps organizations to enhance their organizational learning capacity, provide a diffusion of innovation and knowledge, and strengthen connections with stakeholders.

Mehmet janNetworking is one of the important tools for joint action. By using networking, public actors can reduce possible risk and cost by sharing with other stakeholders and combining resources that they themselves do not possess. This allows the organization the ability to access skills, resources, proficiency, know-how and information other entities may possess.

However, it may have some impediments. This column adopts the way of De Bruijn and Ten Heuvelhof in their book Managing Complex Networks: Strategies for the Public Sector. Accrding to De Bruijn and Ten Heuvelhof, networks are characterized by self-referentiality, pluriformity, interdependence and dynamism. In 2004, Salamon summarized these characteristics in the “Training Professional Citizens: Getting Beyond the Right Answer to the Wrong Question in Public Affairs Education.” Self-referentiality is where both government and the private actor may have different interests and approach the relationship with a different perspective. Pluriformity occurs when the actors or organizations have limited experience in cooperation with each other. Asymmetric interdependence exists when different actors approach a problem in a different way due to a difference in urgency shared between each. Dynamism happens when the nuances of a problem change over the time creating other issues not addressed despite the joint action carrying out its mission. Negotiation and orchestrations skills can mitigate such a problem. Scott and Davis proposed that managers of both parties should understand the dynamic nature of the organizational environment to better cope with potential challenges in their 2006 book titled Organizations and Organizing: Rational, Natural and Open Systems Perspectives.

That being said, difficulty in measuring effectiveness and performance would be another issue worthy to discuss. The evaluation issue negatively affects the accountability of both organizations, since it is challenging to resolve which entity makes anticipated contributions to the joint action effort. Trust would be the last impediment to the joint action, since trust has an important function as a cohesion element ensuring maintenance of a fruitful collaboration among dissimilar members as suggested by Aggranof and McGuire in their Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory article titled “Big Questions in Public Network Management Research.” Without trust, the performance and problem-solving capacity would be weak.


Author: Mehmet Yesilbas, Ph.D., MPA, LL.B is a district governor, attorney at law and deputy head of EU Affairs & Foreign Relations Department, Turkish Interior Ministry. Yesilbas is also a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Central Florida. Mr. Yesilbas can be reached at [email protected].

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