As a former “SPEON,” as certain alumni from the Indiana University campuses term ourselves, I admit that I never took a class from Dr. Agranoff. However, with the publication of Crossing Boundaries, I no longer need to knock myself for the missed opportunity. This book is an integration of key ideas generated not only throughout his extensive career but also the careers of his collaborators and colleagues regarding the tensions and challenges awaiting the boundary-spanning public manager throughout the history of US public administration. What results is akin to an “all hands on deck” capstone course covering the evolution of intergovernmental and collaborative public management from early federal relations to contemporary complex networks—certainly not a small endeavor. In the author’s words, the book is “designed to understand the political and managerial challenges of navigating within the protracted multi-entity system that involves layers and sets of legal-political, interdependent operations, or partnerships that require degrees of interoperation and networked connections” (pp. x–xi). Not an easy task. With the proliferation of “collaborative” and “network” and “complexity” scholarship across the journals in our field now reaching several decades, Agranoff takes the bold step in this book to construct an evolutionary story of these ideas within American public administration that demonstrates how early approaches to intergovernmental relations (IGR) inform contemporary scholarship on networks and collaborative management, encapsulating these experiences and research as “intergovernmental management” (IGM). While the links between IGR and IGM at times become a little tenuous amongst the density of ideas presented and the increasing abstractions of network-based public management theory and practice, the book provides the academic community a foundation for holistically seeing the political, social, and institutional origins of pursuing agency objectives with means that exist beyond the bureaucracy. To accommodate the need to balance historical precedent with here and now managerial implications, Agranoff alternates the focus of the chapters, creating a pattern where the even-numbered chapters provide rich details of the historical context in which IGM has evolved and the odd-numbered chapters aim to inform managerial implications. While some redundancies between paired-up chapters occur, the overall effect provides necessary reinforcement between key themes of management context and management practice. Early chapters (1 through 4) review the role of IGR in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries and how the broader political, economic, social, and institutional contexts shaped the evolution of IGR. In these chapters, Agranoff efficiently communicates the interplay of historical events with public management practice throughout the rapidly changing American experiment in federalism. He describes how key moments such as the Dillon’s Rule (p. 29), Reconstruction (p. 40), land grants (p. 57), the Progressive Movement (p. 65), and the New Deal (p. 83) layered upon one another to craft a rich socio-political tapestry within which IGR and IGM evolved. In this first section of the book, the management implications remain relatively simple, focusing upon what we might now consider basic approaches of managing between layers of government through a hyper-awareness of the institutional and legal constraints shaping those relationships. In Chapter 5, Agranoff prepares the reader for the advent of cross-sector public management by making more explicit the core managerial challenge of working across organizational boundaries. Specifically, he draws attention to the “least visible processes” of “information-seeking, adjustment-seeking, and other standard managerial behaviors, along with joint agreements and joint projects, services exchanges, and many established approaches such as negotiating, strategic planning, and capacity building” (p. 98) that underlie the practice of managing the interdependencies between government actors. The familiarity of these competencies to the current cross-sector collaborative management scholar reminds us that cross-boundary work within the IGR context has, indeed, greatly influenced how we conceptualize institutions, management, politics, and performance within our research. It is in Chapters 6, 7, and 8 where the book fully arrives at this key contribution—that how we practice and study horizontal networks and collaborative public management directly results from the practice and study of the more vertical IGR arena. As political contexts changed and privatization emerged as a primary value for government operations, the policy tools initially created to facilitate vertical relationships within government evolved to enable accelerated incorporation of relationships beyond government. By walking us through the introductory levels of contracting, vouchers, and other tool-based mechanisms for bridging government and nongovernmental (NGO) actors, all the while embedding the evolution of practice in the institutional and political contexts surrounding their use across federal, state, and local government efforts, Agranoff helps us arrive at a rich understanding of why and how cross-sector work became so relevant. Agranoff is, indeed, one of the few contemporary scholars with a body of work broad enough to attempt this explanation of today’s collaborative public management as a function of earlier IGR work. However, the explanation is not seamless. When shifting from the tools-based approach of managing dyadic government/NGO interdependencies to the more nebulous challenges of managing collaboration in networks, we lose the thread of IGR itself and a few questions emerge but remain unanswered. For instance, what happens to IGR and management within those structures when we focus our attention on complex multi-actor networks that emphasize governance over government? Where are the direct links between the vertical dynamics of Constitutional federalism and the broader approaches of horizontal collaborative management? Based on the definition of IGM provided (“IGM refers to the transactional connections, routine and system defining, that take place within IGR,” see p. 6), the reader has an expectation that, if networks and collaborative management fall within the boundaries of IGM, then there should be stronger conceptual ties between management in IGR and the multi-actor management inherent to networks. Perhaps the use of the term “intergovernmental” to also refer to complex governance networks extending beyond government confused me, but I found myself wanting a more focused discussion that would help me see if our current network work is fully a function of what came before in IGR or if what we are observing, experiencing, and examining today runs in a parallel track. The change in tone in Chapter 9 illustrates how the ease at which Agranoff was able to embed evolving management practice and capacity within social and political contexts earlier in the book becomes understandably more difficult as the complexities underlying causes and impacts of multi-actor management increase exponentially. The current lack of consensus regarding making sense of collaboration and networks leads to a more disjointed chapter narrative where the author notes emergent ideas but cannot provide sufficient space for embedding these ideas in context or within one another. This is perhaps appropriate as it echoes the diversity of frameworks used for understanding multi-dimensional management systems. However, while I appreciate the inclusion of such theories as that of complex, adaptive systems (p. 218), the limited space for describing where these ideas emerged from their ontological and epistemological assumptions, and where they might go next hinders our understanding of where these ideas fall in the broader story of IGM. Similarly, the author’s attempt to bound divergent ideas regarding multi-actor public management within Armstrong and Saint-Onge’s (2004) notion of the “conductive organization” feels out of place, not only due to the market-based basis of Armstrong and Saint-Onge’s work but also because it is the first instance of Agranoff attempting to use an overarching framework to structure one of the management implications chapters. Despite the tenuous jump from traditional IGR and tools-based government/NGO relationships to managing multi-actor network relationships, I argue that this book is an important read for those whose research agendas significantly overlap with what Agranoff terms IGM—IGRs, collaborative management, networks, management complexity theory, etc.—as the text allows us to better understand where we might be situated in the conceptual evolution of these ideas within public management practice. By following the multiple threads he introduces and unravels, we gain an appreciation for how we participate in and contribute to this very large body of research and very relevant world of practice as well as where we have much to discuss, debate, and discern. I do have some recommendations for enhancing the readability and usability of the book. First, at multiple places in this text, the reader would greatly benefit from the presentation of a relevant framework or table that organizes the author’s key ideas in that section as a touchstone or reference point for then wading back into the dense information of the chapter. I understand that a text aiming to describe the full story of how a body of ideas evolved in context cannot merely pick and choose frameworks developed by individual authors whose work are only part of that story, but perhaps the author, if a next edition emerges, could add a few sign posts to help the reader continue to see the forest along the way. It is important to point out that Agranoff does present his own framework at the end of Chapter 9 that strives to incorporate the transition from an IGR agenda to that of IGM. In these tables (pp. 214–215), he presents a balcony-level summary of six areas for public management within network structures and then maps likely roles for a host of actors (federal and state agencies, non-profit and for-profit delivery organizations, universities, etc.) within these areas. While certainly not intended for prescription, this synthesis is useful for better visualizing why current public administrators need to understand the broad history laid out within this text. Perhaps these figures could appear earlier in the book as a scaffolding upon which the odd-numbered management chapters, in particular, could hang their ideas. Another way to assist the reader in this way might be to clarify the Key Learning Points and Key Practice Points at the end of each chapter. Depending on the chapter, these specific editorial elements do not necessarily satisfy needs for clarification or summative, and they sometimes even introduce new ideas or questions rather than provide a recap of the just-read chapter. Similarly, each chapter includes multiple Boxes in which key ideas are summarized, but the lack of titles for these Boxes and the absence of in-text references to them limit their effectiveness. Second, while Agranoff explicitly warns the reader from the outset that the book is not an “operations manual about how to manage” (p. x), I still found myself wanting more of the individual-level perspective throughout the chapters focused on management applications. Many important management messages exist within the management-oriented, odd-numbered chapters, such as “in IGM the process calls for fostering what some regard as new intergovernmental skills—that is, developing persons who can advance both public purpose and relational programming” (p. 161), but there is not space within the chapters for these management prescriptions to fully sink into the reader’s understanding. Finally, I also found myself interested in the exploration of some of the more normative questions that underlie the trends that are the focus of the book, particularly in regards to whether or not the increasing complexity of management scenarios at the boundaries and intersections of complex networks is positive or detrimental to democracy. There are opportunities to more explicitly weave in important questions raised during the rise of New Public Management approaches and other infusions of market value primacy (Bozeman 2007). Also, I am interested in knowing more about how Agranoff sees past and present work regarding citizen involvement in democratic decision-making impacting the development of collaborative management and networked approaches. Overall, this book is an excellent touchpoint for discussion between scholars whose current research agenda falls within the conceptual boundaries drawn by Agranoff and to explore important questions regarding antecedents and future pathways. I envision this text being a useful centerpiece for a doctoral seminar on “The Evolution and Application of Cross-Boundary Public Management” (or something more cleverly named). I am less confident, though, in its application within MPA and undergraduate courses due to the density of ideas and the intentional elevation of its focus above the “how to” side of management practice. Again, I draw attention to the fact that Agranoff warns us of this at the start of the book, and I affirm his decision to not try to be everything at once, but his life work encompasses so many rich case stories and examples. I wish that he had created more space to better illustrate the key practice points he is trying to make. I thank Agranoff for sharing this capstone experience with those of us who won’t (or missed the opportunity to) walk through this dense history with him in the classroom. His ability to teach us how social, political, and institutional contexts have shaped cross-boundary public management practice over time within a relatively short book is exemplary. Perhaps the challenges of writing a “final chapter” to this history is his way of prodding us to leave his classroom motivated to pick up where he leaves us and make our own contributions going forward. References Armstrong , Charles , and Hubert Saint-Onge . 2004 . The conductive organization: Building beyond sustainability . Amsterdam: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann. Bozeman , Barry . 2007 . Public values and public interest: Counterbalancing economic individualism . Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press . © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Public Management Research Association. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: email@example.com. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 24, 2018
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