From earlier quantitative and qualitative analyses by PRIMO Europe and UDITE in the last decade, this new research in 2021/2022 has been carried out by Civitas Naturalis Foundation*. The drive of this study was to better understand what is going on at the local level related to navigating the communities from a practitioner’s perspective. Civitas stands for a community of citizens. Navigation is about building and guarding related values.
This study can be considered a further step in finding and describing determinants linked to successful public governance. A set that can contribute not only to the success of the organisations but, more than that, the balance and resilience of local communities.
Scientists and consultants have written extensively about public governance and navigation, architecture, frameworks and methodologies. Still, not many surveys are directly retrieved from the practitioner’s view. This is one. The conclusions are confronting us with new insights.
Conclusion: a hexagon of values and risks, low scores in governance and a genuine quest for answers in navigation.
Philosophy and Approach
In the philosophy of the Civitas Naturalis foundation, staying close to the findings and insights of the High-Reliability Organisation (HRO) is necessary, as analysed and elaborated by Weick and Sutcliffe (2007). The authors searched for factors which contribute to the performance of the most successful companies. They concluded, among other factors, that employees working closely with clients should be considered the most relevant in an organisation, which from a strategy and implementation point of view, should be carefully listened to by elected councils, governing councils, the C-Suite and management in general. Practitioners are closest to an organisation’s performance and know what client needs and desires are. Delivery is the starting point of an HRO.
This approach was our incentive for this research. The concept of the HRO is applicable as a starting point for every government, which is there to deliver products and services to its citizens and clients properly and correctly. After all, the needed budget for this is already paid for via tax and other forms of payment.
About public governance, therefore, the concept of HRO should, in our view, be considered not only logical and decent but even acceptable as a constraining concept to start from. Understanding public governance works best from outside or from the primary platforms of an organisation, not so from the top.
We made use of a questionnaire developed by the Association of PRIMO Europe. We analysed a selected set of elements of governance (Kruf et al. 2019), this in the creation and delivery of concrete public values, as defined by Moore (1995), ‘the value that an organisation or activity contributes to society‘, with the related risk as described by Kates et al. (1985) and by Renn et al. (2002) as a possible harm to something of value.
Workers in daily practice at the heart of the city’s public domain, street and village were asked to give their views. This research analysed the practitioners’ knowledge, insights and experiences in delivering their projects, plans, products and services. A quantitative survey has been carried out (n=424) under employees of local governments throughout Europe. They were asked the following:
- Imagine a task you are presently working on.
- Define the value you want or have to establish with this task.
- Describe the hereto-related risk (as the possible deviation of or harm to this value).
- Fill in the questionnaire of hereto related ‘elements of governance’.
- Describe the dilemma(s) that your organisation is presently struggling with and affects your task and the establishment of the value.
We aim to contribute to a set of determinants useful for navigation within public communities and supporting organisations. These determinants can be concretely elaborated on, fitted in, developed, or used within existing corporate or public frameworks, methods, and techniques. We think the wheel has not to be reinvented but can be approved.
The determinants relate to the hardware of the public domain, being the involved organisations and the physical environment, as well as the software of roles, relations, interests and traits of those involved in establishing or maintaining public values and the precision of governance and navigation towards these values.
We knew at the start there is this emerging interface between the concerning issue from past and present and the prospects of new plans and their risks in the future. This interface has been described best by the collection of Global Risk Reports (since 2005) by the World Economic Forum and the Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations.
We think that proper bottom-up diagnosis can give more insight into how to face the challenges of public governance in major dynamics and developments lying before us, for example, building a circular economy, realising the energy transition from fossil to sustainable, establishing cyber security, tackling climate change in all its forms, and the care for health and equality.
Sustainable development goals are our primary drive and inspiration for this research. Our focus on the needs of citizens, society and nature has become a key element. We think that our colleagues working on the cutting edge of government and society know what to do, where to reflect on and where to improve. Let us listen to and hear what they have to say.
Question 1 was asked to let the respondents focus on what they were actively working on. The question was a decor, a background and, for the respondents, a starting point. We were interested in the study of governance elements in general. The respondents were not asked to describe it, to imagine it. It is a black box for this research.
2/3. Value and risk: a hexagon
The responses to questions 2 and 3 give a variety of categories of values and related risks. The answers were retrieved and analysed via the Grounded Theory approach (Glaser et al., 1967) with elements of Thematic Analysis (Braun et al., 2006) and elaborated with MaxQDA. The following groups of values and risks can be retrieved from the survey (n=424):
- It is related to the present issue, which should be solved (n=44). The value was to solve the existing problem, which, given respondents, lingers and results from a lack of organisational power, leadership, financial means, political discussions and stimulating frames for change in the past and present. The risk is that it was expected not to be solved or unsuccessful. Above that, there is the risk of more deterioration and decline of the problem and the related social system.
- Related to the actor, the value is to position the creator of the solution, show firm leadership, being the mediator and developer of the actual policy related to the issue or problem with the focus showing visibility in and by the government (n=55). The risk is that the actor will not be successful, leading to loss of position and role, declining image of politicians, distrust in government and political leadership and even the fall of the responsible governor or manager. The power of representative democracy is at stake.
- Corresponding to the output (n=122), the value is the product, project, or plan to be delivered within time and budget, as promised. The risk is not doing so, or partly too late, with budget overrun and ineffective.
- Related to the outcome (n=109), the value is the created effect for the object, a better system of health, a functioning social network, building safety and security, and support with needs. The risk is in not doing so, even to make things worse.
- Related to the object (n=49), the value is to reach the object or target group of citizens and clients with practical support and access delivery. The target group should feel relieved of safety, security and protection. The risk is in not getting to the object and being ineffective.
- Related to governance (n=45), the value is the process of a well-run and good organised process with dialogue and delivery. The process is the product or service with the high involvement of citizens and social organisations. The risk is that the process becomes a mess, is poorly designed and receives a lot of critics and loss of trust or disbelief from citizens and clients.
Our survey concludes that values and their possible deviations and harms are not just about the products or services to be delivered. It seems to be a hexagon that emerges as the overall image. It is not sure where they exactly meet and, if so, how they are interrelated and how they influence the thinking and acting during decision-making, creation and delivery.
A further study is suggested to elaborate on how a multisided approach of values and risks could work in the context of major projects, policies and programs. In present governance and management techniques, a single method is mainly related to concrete output and delivery.
4. Questionnaire elements of governance
The five elements of governance, as they are described by Kruf et al. (2019), were used for this survey. The elements were derived from factor analysis in previous research. In short:
In 2015-2017, European city managers were asked to describe where things in local government did not develop as planned in daily practice. After an elaborated European-wide survey, a set of hereto-related questions was formulated in 2019. This did lead to 23 discriminating questions ranked in five factors, being described by the researchers in the FORTE Framework for Good Governance® as Financial and Compliant Design (F), Object Orientation and Validation (O), Responsibility and Stewardship (R), Tools and Processes for Creation (T) and Environmental Awareness and Interaction (E).
Respondents (public managers, strategists, controllers and advisors on mainly local and regional authorities throughout Europe) were asked to score their tasks on a scale of 1 (entirely disagree) to 10 (fully agree) on 23 questions. The following text was used in the survey:
“Imagine a ‘value’ you are – as an actor – presently working on or for, related to for a specific theme as safety, health, business continuity, resilience, water or climate and for or focused on a concrete object (target group, part of an area, client, customer). This can, for example, be a plan, project, product, cooperation, service delivery or protection. And imagine you were asked to score on the quality of governance, which is necessary to create and truly deliver this value.
What would you say? How do you score your conviction? In all honesty. The answers will be treated as privacy secure and anonymous. Here you find 23 statements representing the governance elements vital for ‘value’ creation and delivery. Each element idealistically should be in place. We ask you to give your ranking for each statement on this scale: 1 (strongly disagree) to 10 (strongly agree). How far is each element of governance in place for YOU as an actor to create and deliver your ‘value’ to the object?
- Q1. (F) The budget is sufficient for the organisation to deliver the ‘value’.
- Q2. (F) The acting of my organisation is compliant with existing and expected standards, rules and regulations.
- Q3. (F) The organisation has a permanent view of external trends and developments and their impact on possible deviations (read: risks) on the ‘value’ to be delivered.
- Q4. (O) The ‘value’ to be realised and delivered is clear and shared between actor, object, partners and stakeholders.
- Q5. (O) The status quo of the issue / the problem related to the object is clear to everyone.
- Q6. (O) The actor and the object are fully connected, seen from the object’s perspective.
- Q7. (O) There is no light between the system world (i.e., the world of rules, regulations, institutions and governance) and the living world (the world of personal and public values and lifestyles, daily life, work and experience).
- Q8. (O) The actor is familiar with the object.
- Q9. (R) It is clear who is responsible.
- Q10. (R) The axis politics – government – management is working perfectly.
- Q11. (R) The leadership by the actor can be characterised as ‘creating nearness and empathy’.
- Q12. (R) The actor’s organisation has a working culture characterised as open and fair, with direct lines on all levels.
- Q13. (R) ‘Making mistakes’ is allowed in our organisation and is seen as a learning process for improvement and is always followed by adjusted governance.
- Q14. (T) We have all the tools and techniques to deliver the ‘value’ to the object.
- Q15. (T) We have all the knowledge and human resources to realise the ‘value’.
- Q16. (T) We are setting the right priorities towards the ‘value’ creation and delivery in our process.
- Q17. (T) There is room for innovation and new forms of creation.
- Q18. (T) The expressed and decided ambition related to the value and governance and the available capacity to create and deliver this is fully matched.
- Q19. (E) There is a perfect match with all levels of governance (read: multi-level).
- Q20. (E) We know the position of our business in the chain and have secured this with good contracts.
- Q21. (E) We know the dynamics of the context we are working in and follow external developments directly.
- Q22. (E) We know where we are in the bigger picture of our environmental and geographical position and know our hereto-related strengths and weaknesses.
- Q23. (E) The 17 United Nations sustainable development goals are secured.
The overall result was an average of 4.54 (out of 10) with a standard deviation of 2.02 (high variance and spread) and a median of 4.08, meaning that 50% of the respondents scored higher or lower.
The elements’ scores led to the conclusion that governance seems under pressure because the respondents do not perceive averages and medians satisfactorily.
The pressure becomes clear, looking more in-depth. For example, suppose people were asked whether there is enough budget for realising their project. In that case, the average is 4.62, with a standard deviation of 2.95 and a median of 3.00, meaning that 50% of the respondents scored three or lower. Direct causes or backgrounds were not measured. The high standard deviations show considerable differences in experience between respondents.
Studying the results according to the Pearson correlation coefficient (see table), the following picture for strong correlations where r>0.700 emerged.
The elements with the strongest correlations:
- Financial and Compliant Design: the highest correlation (r=0.869) is between Q03. The organisation has a permanent view of external trends and developments and their impact on possible deviations (read: risks) on the ‘value’ to be delivered and the element ‘Environment’ Q20. We know the position of our business in the chain and have secured this with good contracts. Finance/Compliance correlates strongly with other questions within Object orientation and Responsibility.
- Object Orientation and Validation: the highest correlation (r=0.855) is between and Q05. Value is clear and Q6. It is connected with the object. It is evident that knowing what the thing needs and the embedded drive here also brings a clearer picture of the value to be delivered.
- Responsibility and Stewardship: the highest correlation (r=0.886) is between Q6. Connected with the object and Q09. Responsibility. Leadership and object orientation are strongly linked with each other. Is this relevant for making the right decisions for governments and target groups in society?
- Tools and Processes for Creation: the highest correlation (r=0.874) is between Q18. Ambition Capacity match and Q16. The setting of priorities. There is no clear insight into how to influence one another. Still, general awareness and power to set preferences are linked with the match between political ambition and the administration’s ability to discuss and match existing capacities.
- Environment Awareness and Interaction: the highest correlation (r=0.941) is between Q19. Multi-Level Governance and Q18. Ambition Capacity match. Obviously, in many policy areas, the awareness of exchanging with higher government and matching ambition and capacity can be beneficial. How exactly is not clear.
The response to question 5 – “Describe the dilemma(s) which the organisation in your view is presently struggling with and affects your task and to establish value” – was overwhelming.
The respondents were asked to describe the dilemmas as semantic differentials. Four hundred twenty-four respondents came up with 1283 answers. This illustrates how large the quest within organisations for proper navigation seems to be. The variety of answers displays the broad spectrum of dilemmas to develop and deliver for citizens, clients, society and nature.
What stands out is that there are no general frameworks of methodologies in place. Every municipality has its approach and its own set of dilemmas. The wheel has been invented everywhere. Their managers and governors have personal convictions about organising, but there is no consensus in the mainstream. Because of the high circulation at the top, beliefs and organisational efforts change every few years. Discontinuity of management is more role than the exception. The results show us a pattern which underlines the (far too) frequent changes of local governing councils and the coming and going of managers (of all sorts).
All kinds of dilemmas were mentioned about cooperation (private and public), yes or no and if so, on what scale, how to approach problems: bottom up or top down, central guided change or self-steering teams, the use of frameworks related to quality or risk or go with the flow, working from inside out to from outside in. No actual pattern is expected of a quest due to confusion and lack of framing leadership from higher government or umbrella organisations.
There seems to be no long-term view of approaching and managing major transformations and challenges, as in energy, epidemics, circular economy, climate, care or cyber. There is a myriad of short runs. With that, the political promises do not match what is reasonably possible to be managed. Many organisations are under immense pressure due to too high political ambitions and, related to this, to lack of people, tools and financial means. The gap between the political and management universum, in general, is immense. Many plans and ideas do not come to a realisation or are effective.
What emerges is that science does not deliver answers to this discontinuity and diversity of views. The public administration sciences seem not well connected to the practitioners’ insights and the actual working of the public management system. The myriad of reports and publications is truly overwhelming but hardly offers accurate help on answers for the governance of and navigation related to local communities.
One of the respondents compared the academic world as working in devotion to paintings and icons, as medieval monks within the protected boundaries of churches and monasteries (now universities). At the same time, the peasants and workers try to survive outside in the cold, muddy fields. Well. Science seems to work on quite a felt distance from the daily practice and political dynamics. Above that, most scientific publications and the described wisdom hardly reach or do not land within public organisations.
City and society seem unconnected with elected and governing councils and the management that serves them. That means that society and nature, with their problems, are almost on their own. There is no political ownership related to governance for societal issues, except by a group of non-profit organisations, which generally have no power to solve the issues—quite a conclusion. But the quest in local and regional government seems to indicate this.
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Kruf, J., Grima, S., Kizilkaya, M., Spiteri, J., Slob, W. and O’Dea, J. (2019) ‘The PRIMO FORTE Framework for Good Governance in Public, Private and Civic Organisations: An Analysis on Small EU States’, European Research Studies Journal, Volume XXII, Issue 4, 15-34 DOI: 10.35808/ersj/1494 The PRIMO FORTE Framework for Good Governance in Public, Private and Civic Organisations_ An Analysis on Small EU States
Moore, M. (1995) Creating Public Value: Strategic Management in Government, Cambridge US: Harvard University Press
Renn, O. and Klinke, A. (2002) ‘A New Approach to Risk Evaluation and Management: Risk-Based, Precaution-Based and Discourse-Based Management’ Risk Analysis, Vol. 22, No. 6 (December), 1071-1994
Weick, K. and Sutcliffe, K. (2007) Managing the unexpected: Resilient performance in an age of uncertainty, San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass
The leader of the team is Jack Kruf, Wageningen University degree in forest ecology and a degree in social psychology, chairman of the Civitas Naturalis foundation and former president of PRIMO Europe.
We thank PRIMO Europe for making this study’s FORTE Framework for Good Governance® available.