Collaborative public leadership: does problem context matter?

Jacklin-Jarvis, Carol and Potter, Karen (2017). Collaborative public leadership: does problem context matter? In: 2nd International Public & Political Leadership (PUPOL) Conference - Leadership for Public and Social Value, 06-07 Apr 2017, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK.


The potential solutions to many of society’s most complex or ‘wicked’ problems lie beyond the boundaries of any single organization, profession or sector, the resultant interorganizational domains posing particular challenges for public leadership. The body of scholarship to explore and address the challenges of working with difference that are at the heart of a collaborative approach evolved earlier and, we argue, remains largely grounded in the social sector. Responding to a call for ‘less silo-bound and more integrated research’ into modern policymaking, our exploratory, comparative study of child protection and flood protection first highlights the strong parallels in the two domains and directs environmental managers and policymakers to the lessons they can gain from the accumulated scholarship on collaborative leadership. Secondly, due to the lack of comparative work to clarify ways in which the challenges might vary or contrast in the context of different inter-organizational domains, the comparative study also teases out differences, demonstrating that problem context does matter for collaborative leadership, that there are distinctive challenges for collaborative leadership in the flood protection domain with implications for both practice recommendations and theory building. For example, the technocratic tendencies of scientists and the dynamics of power and ideology, the historical alignment of the problem domain with neoliberalism, the potential protective international drivers and global imperatives of climate change and a consequent reversal in our direction of potential lessons to be transferred - to sustain policy innovation in the social domain. We uncover indications that collaborative leadership, which challenges organisational and professional cultures and the shift in values required to tackle wicked problems, surfaces most strongly from the voluntary sector – we finally uncover contractual differences and caution environmental voluntary sector leaders not to constrain innovation in the continued exploration of policy alternatives.

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