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 come to a better understanding what is going on at local level related to navigating the communities, this from a practitioners perspective. Civitas stands for community of citizens. Navigation is about building and guarding related values.
This study can be considered as a further step in trying to find and describe determinants, which can be linked to the elements of successful public governance. A set that can contribute to not only to the success of the organisations, but more than that, to the balance and resilience of local communities.
A lot has been written by scientists and consultants about public governance and navigation, about the architecture, frameworks and methodologies, but there are not so many surveys 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 true quest for answers in navigation.
Philosophy and approach
In the philosophy of the Civitas Naturalis foundation it is needed to stay close to the findings and insights of the High Reliability Organisation (HRO), 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 others factors, that employees working closely with clients should be considered as the most relevant in an organisation, which from 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 the actually performance of an organisation 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 starting point for every government, which is actually there to deliver products and services to its citizens and clients, this in a proper and correct way. The needed budget for this after all is already paid for via tax and other forms of payment.
With regard to public governance therefore the concept of HRO should in our view be considered as not only logical and decent, but even acceptable as a constraining concept to start from. Understanding public governance works best from outside in, or from the basic 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 defined by Kates et al. (1985) and by Renn et al. (2002) as ‘a possible harm to something of value’.
Workers who are in daily practice at the very heart of the public domain of city, street and village, were asked to give their view. This research analysed the practitioners knowledge, insights and experiences related to the actual delivery of their own 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 deviation of or harm to this value).
- Fill in the questionnaire of hereto related ‘elements of governance’.
- Describe the dilemma(s) which your organisation is presently struggling with and affects your task and the establishment of the value.
Our objective is to contribute to a set of determinants which can be useful for the navigation within public communities and supporting organisations. This are determinants which can be concretely elaborated on, fitted in as well as developed or used within existing corporate or public frameworks, methods and techniques. The wheel has not to be invented again, is our thought, but can be possibly 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 the establisment or maintenance of 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 Ecomonic Forum and the Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations.
We think that proper bottom-up diagnosis can give more insight in how to face the challenges of public governance in major dynamics and developments lying before us, as 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.
We have the sustainable developments goals as our major 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.
The question 1 on the task was asked to let the respondents focus on were they actively working on. The question was in fact a decor, a background and for the respondents a starting point. We were interested for the study in governance elements in general. The respondents were not asked to describe it, just to imagine it. In fact it is a black box for this research.
2/3. Value and risk: a hexagon
The resonses on question 2 and 3 gives a variety in categories of values and related risks. The answers were retrieved and analysed via 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):
- Related to the present issue which should be solved (n=44). The value was to solve the existing problem which in view of respondents linger and are a result of 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 being solved or not successful enough. Above that there is the risk that more deterioration and decline of the problem and the related social system will occur.
- Related to the actor, the value is to position the creator of the solution, show firm leadership, being the mediator, developer of the true policy related to the issue or problem with the focus showing visibility in and by government (n=55). The risk is that the actor will not be successful, leading to loss of position and role, declining imago 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.
- Related to the output (n=122), the value is the product, project or plan to be actually delivered within time and budget, as promised. The risk is in not doing so, or just 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, creating safety and security, 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 effective support and delivery of access. The target group should feel relieved safety, security and protection. The risk is in not getting to the object and being ineffective.
- Related to the governance (n=45), the value is the process of a well run and good organised process with dialogue and delivery. The process is actual the product or service with high involvement of citizens and social organisations. The risk is that the process becomes a mess, is badly designed and receives a lot critics and loss in trust or disbelieve from citizens and clients.
Conclusion from our survey is values and its possible deviations and harms are not just about the products or services to be delivered. In fact it seems to be a hexagon, that emerges as the overall image. It is not sure were they exactly meet, or and, if so, how they are interrelated and how they influence the thinking and acting during the process of decision making, creation and delivery.
A further study is suggested to elaborate how a multisided approach of values and risks actual could work in the context of major projects, policies and programs. In present governance and management techniques a more single approach is used, mostly related to the 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 the period 2015-2017 European city managers were asked to describe were things in local government did not develop as planned in daily practice. A set of hereto related questions were formulated and in 2019 after an European wide survey elaborated. 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 on their own tasks on a scale 1 (fully disagree) to 10 (fully agree) on 23 questions. The following text was used in the survey:
“Imagine a ‘value’ you are – as 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 privacy secured and anonymously. Here you find 23 statements, representing the elements of governance and which are key 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 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 permanent view on 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 for everyone.
- Q6. (O) The actor and the object are fully connected, seen from object 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 (read: 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 characterized as ‘creating nearness and empathy’.
- Q12. (R) Within the organisation of the actor, there is a working culture which can be characterized 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 available for actual delivery of the ‘value’ to the object?
- Q15. (T) We have all the knowledge and human resources available to realise the ‘value’.
- Q16. (T) We are setting the right priorities in our process towards the ‘value’ creation and delivery.
- Q17. (T) There is room for innovation and new forms of creation.
- Q18. (T) The expressed and decided ambition related to the value and its governance and the available capacity to create and deliver this are 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 are aware where we are in the bigger picture of our environmental and geographical position and know what our hereto related strengths and weaknesses are.
- Q23. (E) The 17 United Nations sustainable development goals are secured.
The overal 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 scores higher of lower.
The scores on the elements did lead to the conclusion that governance seems under pressure because average and medians are not perceived at satisfactory level by the respondents.
The pressure becomes clear looking more in depth. For example, if people were asked, whether there is enough budget for realising their project, and 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 3 or lower. Direct causes or backgrounds where not measured. The high standard deviations show the huge differences in experience between respondents.
Studying the results according 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 permanent view on 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. This element Finance/Compliance correlates in general strong with other questions within the elements Object orientation and Responsibility.
- Object Orientation and Validation: the highest correlation (r=0.855) is between and Q05. Value is clear and Q6. Connected with the object. In fact it is obvious that knowing what the object needs, and the embedded drive here to do so, brings also a more clear 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. For governments and target groups in society is this relevant for taking the right decisions.
- 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 not clear insight how to influence one another, but a general awareness and power to set priorities are linked with the match between political ambition and administration power 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. It is obvious that in many policy areas the awareness how to exchange with higher government and the matching of ambition and capacity can be beneficial. How exactly is not clear.
The response on 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 dilemma’s as semantic differentials. 424 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 wide spectrum of dilemma’s to develop and deliver for citizens, clients, society and nature.
What stands out, that there are no general frameworks of methodologies in place. Every municipality has its own approach, every municipality has its own set of dilemma’s. The wheel is invented everywhere. Their managers and governors have personal convictions how to organise, but mainstream there is no consensus. Because of the high circulation in the top, convictions and organisational efforts change every few years. Discontinuity of management is more role than exception. The results show us a pattern which underline the (far too) frequent changes of local governing councils and the coming and going of managers (in all sorts).
All kinds of dilemma’s were mentioned in relation to cooperation (private and public) yes or no and if so in 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. There is no real pattern, expect that 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 how to approach and manage major transformations and challenges, as in energy, epidemics, circular economy, climate, care or cyber. There is myriad of short runs. With that the political promises do not match at all with 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 realisation or being effective.
What emerges is that science do not deliver answers to this discontinuity and diversity of views. The public administration sciences seems not well connected to the practitioners insights and the actual working of the system of public management as a whole. The myriad of reports and publications is truly overwhelming but hardly offer true help on answers for governance of and navigation related to local communities.
One of the respondents compared the academic world as working in devotion on paintings and icons, as medieval monks within the protected boundaries of churches and monasteries (now universities), while outside in the cold muddy fields, the peasants and workers try to survive. Well. Science seems to work on quite a felt distance from the daily practice and political dynamics. Above that, most of the scientific publications and the described wisdoms do hardly reach or even do not land at all within public organisations.
City and society seem not so well connected with elected and governing councils and the management that serves them. That means that society and nature with its problems is almost on its own. There is no political ownership related to governance for issues in society, except by a group of non-profit organisations, which in general do 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
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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.
Our thanks go to PRIMO Europe to make the FORTE Framework for Good Governance® available for this study.
Picture © Michelle Lene Kruf