Panel Paper: Examining Multi-Sector Networks: Can Informal Accountability Overcome Goal Conflict?

Saturday, November 10, 2012 : 9:10 AM
Adams (Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Barbara Romzek1, Jocelyn Johnston2, Kelly LeRoux3, Jaclyn Schede Piatak2 and Robin Kempf1, (1)University of Kansas, (2)American University, (3)University of Illinois, Chicago

As governments have become increasingly reliant on nonprofit organizations and private providers to supplement and/or replace traditional service delivery (Hodge and Greve 2005; U.S. GAO 2006), scholarship has paid increasing attention to networks, collaborative, and other governance arrangements.  Service provision with these new systems entails multiple and inter-related challenges including goal conflict, disparate organizational cultures, and competition for scarce resources.  Stakeholders with different expectations (Provan and Milward 2001, 416) are common.  In essence, conflict is one of the biggest challenges for multi-organizational systems, and as a result “collaborative managers need to be conflict managers and conflict resolvers” (O’Leary and Bingham 2007, 107).  While formal accountability systems are used in network and collaborative governance (formal agreements, contracts, etc), informal dynamics constitute an important dimension that helps overcome such conflict.  To date, informal strategies for resolving conflicts in these alternative governance systems have not s received wide scholarly attention.  This paper seeks to remedy that gap by building upon earlier research that empirically identified core elements of informal accountability (Authors, forthcoming) in alternative service delivery systems.  Our paper addresses the issue of goal conflict among diverse organizations in social service delivery networks by examining the role of informal accountability in resolving conflict and creating shared goals.  Our research is driven by the following questions:  can informal accountability help mitigate the problems of conflicting goals in social service delivery networks?  If so, how is informal accountability manifested in the network and how can inter-organizational relationships be fostered to create shared goals? 

The questions above will be addressed through a study of child welfare programs that rely on functionally distinct yet highly interdependent organizational systems that share numerous mutual clients and staff and work together on a daily basis in order to effectively serve the child-clients.  Using a multiple case study design and a grounded theory approach, we examine three cases of county-based networks providing social services to children in three states: Kansas, Maryland, and Michigan.  The data used in this analysis were generated through semi-structured interviews with 55 public, private, and nonprofit personnel at 28 different organizations, conducted between the fall of 2010 and the fall of 2011.  Transcribed interviews will be analyzed using ATLAS.ti.

Preliminary findings suggest that organizations within networks pursue multiple goals such as revenue production, increased market share, and accountability to foundations and other funding sources, among others.  , and the common goal of the network – in our cases, services to children – may be subsumed to other organizational goals such as.  While goal conflict can be mitigated through formal agreements, incentive design, and other mechanisms, informal accountability dynamics are also critical to goal management and to re-orienting the systems to working toward the common goal of the network – in our cases, services to children.  These findings have important implications for public and nonprofit managers alike in overcoming goal conflict and fostering relationships to accomplish a shared mission.