Windows of Collaborative Opportunity: Consideration of Governance

Cornforth, Chris; Hayes, John Paul and Vangen, Siv (2018). Windows of Collaborative Opportunity: Consideration of Governance. The Nonprofit Quarterly, 2018(Spring)


Given the complexity of many social, environmental, and economic problems facing communities, nonprofit organizations are increasingly collaborating with public authorities—but the power dynamics of such arrangements can be extremely complex and fraught with institutional interests, as representatives of the various collaborating parties shift over time with changing political and other realities. The literature on such collaborations often does not do justice to what this means for the governance and life cycles of these efforts. In this article, we propose a conceptual framework that seeks to explain the formation, governance, and life cycle of public–nonprofit collaborations.

As is noted by Melissa Stone and Jodi Sandfort, “research on nonprofit organizations does not fully consider how the policy environment shapes organizational operation and performance and shapes how actors act strategically to advance their organizational interests.” And, in 2006, David Renz suggested that, in fact, many governance decisions are made at a meta level—above the realm of any single nonprofit board—in the funding and policy environments. Thus, Renz writes, understanding governance as merely board activity is shortsighted and limiting; he advocates a new focus on interorganizational governance processes that occur as organizations work together to address social problems. Such collaborations can be relatively long or short term, and they ordinarily contain power dynamics that must be worked out. But when the collaboration mixes public and private organizations, other issues often emerge having to do with changing institutional interests and tenures. This leads us to consider what the factors are that lead to the formation of public–nonprofit partnerships, how they are governed, and the influences on their life cycle.

We base our observations here, in part, on a longitudinal case study of a public nonprofit collaboration in the United Kingdom. This partnership was aimed at neighborhood regeneration in deprived areas of one United Kingdom city. The head of the regeneration team, an employee of the city council, initiated the collaboration and acted as a key coordinator. The research examined the development of the collaboration from its inception, focusing particularly on an attempt by the team director to redesign its governance structure.

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