Collaborative public management is a complex yet valuable factor that must emanate from all public managers. As emphasized in Collaboration Processes: Inside the Black Box, James Perry and Ann Thomson explained that public managers must employ systematic approaches in prompting collaborative efforts with their stakeholders to ensure a fully synergetic relationship between all actors (2006). The essence of collaboration in public management is evident in the Philadelphia municipal wireless network (MWN) case presented by Rajiv Banker, Abhijit Jain and Munir Mandviwalla. The case involves the efforts of the local government of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to collaborate with various stakeholders to push through with the installation of an MWN that covers the whole city – a project initially criticized for potential inefficiency and costliness that is injurious to the city’s poor financial condition (Banker, Jain and Mandviwalla, 2007).
Perry and Thomson’s thesis perfectly fit the case at hand, as it shows how the local government of Philadelphia forged common grounds with the stakeholders who are heavily involved in the MWN project. The local government of Philadelphia, in Banker, Jain and Mandviwalla’s case, fully acknowledged the wave of dissent coming from those who have different viewpoints on the provision of a citywide Internet access service in Philadelphia that can benefit many city residents because of its low-cost, reliable and high-speed properties (2007). Emphasizing on its role as a catalyst, the local government of Philadelphia sought to introduce the MWN project in a bid to keep the city inclined with the digital times. The project, which attracted different viewpoints in the beginning, ushered in the building of collective interests that led to its success. At the start of the 20th century, Philadelphia mayor John Street introduced a convenient innovation to the city, which is the use of the Internet to access local government services (Banker, Jain and Mandviwalla, 2007). In the process, proponents of that project encountered problems attributed to the citizenry’s lack of efficient Internet connectivity and education on Internet usage.
As a solution, the local government proposed to establish an MWN, which aims to introduce wireless Internet access to people in Philadelphia that is dependable yet inexpensive at the same time. The local government sought to unite the stakeholders into one binding perspective, which is the greatness of the city of Philadelphia and its reputation of being a “city of firsts” (Banker, Jain and Mandviwalla, 2007). The MWN introduced several potential benefits to the city, and the local government used those as convincing arguments to influence the corporate sector and community groups within the city. The positive image-boosting properties of MWN pleased those behind the city’s corporate circle. Unbridled access to information that would significantly enhance the quality of education amplified support from the city community (Banker, Jain and Mandviwalla, 2007).
Banker, Jain and Mandviwalla’s case on the successful Philadelphia MWN project fully characterize the application of collaboration processes in public management. Thomson reiterated her definition of collaboration as “a process involving shared norms and mutually beneficial interactions” between autonomous actors (2006). Thomson and Perry further reiterated that failure in collaboration would follow if done only for individualistic interests and “for collaboration’s sake” (2006). Collaboration, being a costly process, is dominant in the Philadelphia MWN project. The case encapsulates Thomson and Perry’s five key dimensions of collaboration. The Governance Dimension came in when Wireless Philadelphia, a nonprofit organization tasked to supervise the execution of the wireless network, instituted decisions that led to the efficient accomplishment of the MWN project through its executive committee. The Administration Dimension of the case is present in the formation of Wireless Philadelphia’s executive committee, which includes its chief executive officer Greg Goldman and the city’s chief information officer Diana Neff, alongside other residents of the city deemed to wield considerable influence in the city concerned with the accomplishment of the MWN project.
The Autonomy Dimension rested on the collective interests of those involved in the project and the various stakeholders. The cause to establish an MWN in Philadelphia was championed effective by Goldman and Neff, hence resulting to consensus-building measures that laid the foundations for the collective interests that made the project into full reality. The Mutuality Dimension of the MWN project is apparent in the stakeholders’ interest in the main benefit MWN provides, which is to provide wireless Internet that is affordable yet stable. The Trust and Reciprocity Dimension is evident on the delegation of several tasks needed for the accomplishment of the Philadelphia MWN establishment. For instance, Wireless Philadelphia chose Earthlink to construct and provide service to the network – a move that provided competence to the local government of Philadelphia, given that establishing an MWN is one that it cannot do on its own. For the entirety of the Philadelphia MWN project case, the role of the government as catalyst led to the emergence of collaborative public management, which it used to turn the project into a full-fledged reality (Perry and Thomson, 2006; Banker, Jain and Mandviwalla, 2007).
The Philadelphia MWN project has shown that government projects could catalyze and work efficiently and favorably with several other actors through collaborative public management. The government cannot just institute programs without the approval of various stakeholders, who are generally concerned with the benefits of those programs because public money is involved. In a clear-cut sense, collaborative public management enhances the introduction of beneficial programs for the people, anchored on consensus, cooperation and coordination. Consultation between the government and different actors should take place so that an exchange of expertise, recommendations and discussions can improve the nature of government programs. Many examples similar to the case of the Philadelphia MWN project prevail. One such example is on commuter rail projects within cities.
The Ann Arbor – Detroit Regional Rail Project is an effort of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) to provide commuter rail service between the cities of Ann Arbor and Detroit (SEMCOG, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, 2001). With Amtrak as the main provider of rail transport, the SEMCOG sought to utilize infrastructure that is in active use in order to ensure competent results, given that a segment of the existing Pontiac-Detroit-Chicago Amtrak corridor is ready to support the Ann Arbor – Detroit route. The project promised to “build consensus from the start” and that there is “input from all transportation system stakeholders” involved, particularly in terms of technical analysis (SEMCOG, 2001). Inputs from stakeholders is a result of 23 public working sessions held throughout the project development process, with the inclusion of various viewpoints and perspectives from stakeholders, hence the project being declared as one that contains “true regional output” (SEMCOG, 2001).
In the realm of my personal experience, I can relate collaborative public management in terms of campus leaderships. When student-leaders recommend programs, it is always important to consult the general studentry or those who are highly concerned with certain programs. Student-leaders cannot proclaim that all programs are beneficial in an outright fashion without first asking other actors – in this case, the students and those who belong to certain groups as defined by program proposals.
In sum, collaborative public management essentially follows when government acts as catalysts for programs. Assuming that the whole populace of different jurisdictions, as specified, will benefit from government programs, it is important to take note of Perry and Thomson’s thesis on the complex yet systematic dimensions of collaborative public management. This is to ensure that there is consultation with stakeholders and building of collective interests between all actors involved. In that sense, the government can avoid incompetent measures that can drastically affect its otherwise grand projects for its jurisdiction. At the same time, collective interests can mend social divisions, which will lead to further progression.
Banker, R., Jain, A. & Mandviwalla, M. (2007). Government as catalyst: Can it work again with wireless internet access? Public Administration Review, 67(6), 993-1005.
Perry, J. & Thomson, A. (2006). Collaboration processes: Inside the black box. Public Administration Review, 66(s1), 20-32.
SEMCOG, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments. (2001). Improving Transit in Southeast Michigan: A Framework for Action. Detroit, MI: SEMCOG Southeast Michigan Council of Governments Information Services.