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01 Feb 2014
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I
n today's interconnected world, with easy access to social media, the formulation of public policy is not confined to elite policymakers. Various actors provide inputs at different policy stages. The relationship between these actors is a fertile area for scholarly research.

The study of collaboration, co-production and networks has been extensive in recent years. However, they have been studied in relative isolation from one another and there has been little scholarly work that deliberately studies these concepts together. Ora-orn Poocharoen of LKYSPP and Bernard Ting of CSC, in their article Collaboration, Co-Production, Networks(Public Management Review, 2013), aim to create a framework which incorporates all three fields of study in the context of public service delivery networks in Singapore.

how (does) policy context affects collaborations, how network processes and structures impact the network functions, which affect the co-production process, the key values of a network and ways to build it, key management skills and tasks to manage a network

Co-production is an idea that is commonly attributed to Elinor Ostrom's (1973) study of the Chicago Police Force. This focuses on the relationship between individuals in the production, delivery and consumption of public service. Networks are structures involving multiple nodes individuals, agencies, or organisations with multiple linkages. Learning is a critical aspect of a collaborative network. Learning can be simply cognitive or include behavioural change. It can be collective or individual, and can be single or double looped.

Poocharoen and Ting propose the combination of the concepts of networks, collaboration, and co-production in a converged framework. This converged framework provides the basis by which four public service delivery networks in Singapore are analysed and studied. The analysis aims to understand: how policy context affects collaborations, how network processes and structures impact the network functions, which affect the co-production process, the key values of a network and ways to build it, key management skills and tasks to manage a network.

Poocharoen and Ting used four networks with various goals and actors as case studies to understand this evolving form of policymaking in Singapore. The four networks are (1) the national family violence networking system (NFVNS); (2) community action for the rehabilitation of ex-offenders (CARE); (3) the response, early assessment for community mental health (REACH); (4) community in bloom (CIB).

In analysing the four networks, close attention was paid to the actors involved. All four networks included government agencies, civic organisations and voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs). They observed three characteristics that affected collaborations within the networks. The first was the level of resource, primarily funding, dependency. It was observed that all government agencies were well funded. Many of the civic groups and VWOs that were part of the network were dependent on the Government for funding. For example in CARE, the two VWOs were heavily dependent on the National Council of Social Services (NCSS) for funding. This funding dependency would also lead to VWOs being reluctant to expand the network for fear of dilution of limited funds. This dependency allows the Government to ensure goals between partners are always aligned.

The second characteristic observed was the level of goal congruence. The level of goal congruence was observed to be a function of duration of the relationship between the actors. Where goals were not necessarily congruent and gaps were observed, the Government was found to have intervened. In the example of the NFVNS, it was found that many VWOs did not have the necessary capacity to provide counselling to victims of domestic violence. The Government, through MCYS, stepped in to build capacity. This aided in ensuring the alignment of goals with that of the government.

The third observation was the existence of champions within the organisation who are willing to collaborate. The Singapore Government adopts a whole-of-government approach which ensures that inter-agency coordination is emphasised and encouraged. CIB was started by a political leader who called on the National Parks Board (NParks) to rethink how they work and stop doing things top-down. It was also observed that leaders andchampions can also emerge from clients who have successfully coproduced the service.

Singapore's political sphere has been dominated by the People's Action Party (PAP) since independence. The PAP has made it a central objective to create a competent civil service that is staffed by some of the nation's most academically talented individuals. This has historically isolated the policymaking process to only the political and bureaucratic elites.

Policymaking power within a few hands is unpalatable for the electorate. From the four case studies it can be observed that the Government is making an attempt to shift away from a top-down approach. Despite these attempts, the actual independent involvement of NGOs is still not clear. The Government being the main source of funding and capacity building will certainly impact the level of autonomy exercised by the NGOs.

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Vignesh Louis Naidu is a research associate at the LKY School. He is also the project manager for the LKY School's research study on emerging cities in ASEAN. His email is decb64_c3BwdmxuQG51cy5lZHUuc2c=_decb64.
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