Doctor of Philosophy
Despite sustained efforts, the pervasiveness of complex social challenges continues to confound governments at all scales. While the local manifestations are unique to socio-political and geographic context, issues such as homelessness, poverty, and food insecurity are global in nature. The centrality of local government in identifying and addressing complex social challenges is at the forefront of global agendas like the New Urban Agenda (NUA) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There is broad agreement on the importance of local governments, yet, how to equip them with the resources and autonomy required to meet complex social challenges remains contentious. Indeed, governance reforms are often based on normative arguments void of nuanced discussion about unique contextual considerations. Prescriptions from the Global West, without significant adaptations, are prone to failure when transplanted to different socio-political environments.
This research investigates the effectiveness of local government facilitated network governance that leverage local institutional actors to overcome inherent resource and capacity constraints. Employing an institutionalist perspective, this research focuses specifically on governance networks that include civil society actors in a meaningful way yet center the role of local government. The objective of this dissertation is to empirically examine local governance in cities around the world and investigate the question: how are local governments leveraging local institutional actors to identify and address complex social problems? To meet its objective, this dissertation examines the role of local government in catalyzing network governance relationships, based on open government tenets of transparency, civic participation, and accountability, to identify local challenges and address them in locally relevant ways that leverage the resources within local institutional actors.
This dissertation employs qualitative methods in distinct geographic and socio-political environments. The research began with a broad focus on policy documents from participants in a multilateral collective and then narrowed into case studies in two distinct locations, Ghana, and Canada. Overall, this dissertation demonstrates that local governments are under-utilizing local governance actors and when they do catalyze networks there is insufficient transparency and a default to hierarchical accountability. As the complexity of the social challenge increases, governance networks benefit from being facilitated by non-governmental institutions.
Summary for Lay Audience
Complex social challenges, such as homelessness, poverty, food insecurity and precarious employment, are pervasive in countries around the world. Even though local governments are not often constitutionally or legislatively responsible for identifying or addressing these challenges, major global agendas, like the New Urban Agenda (NUA), Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the Open Government Partnership (OGP), expect them to take a central role. A big question is how to equip local governments to meet the increasing complexity of social challenges. Global governance reforms have historically been based on assumed benefits, versus acknowledging context-based limitations. Without significant adaptations, reforms from Western implementers are prone to fail when brought to different contexts.
This dissertation begins from a place where local governments operate with resource and capacity constraints, but are responsible for addressing social challenges, and therefore, need to leverage local networks of civil society actors. The research uses open government tenets of transparency, civic participation, and accountability, to examine how local governments use network governance relationships to identify local challenges and address them in locally relevant ways, using existing resources within their network partners.
Beginning with a broad focus on policy documents from participants in the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Local Program, this research then narrows into case studies in two distinct locations: Ghana and Canada. Overall, this dissertation demonstrates that local governments are under-utilizing local governance actors, and when they do catalyze networks, their effectiveness is limited by a lack of transparency and a default to hierarchical accountability. As the complexity of the social challenge increases, more harm is caused by local government control and leadership. Promising examples of network governance found in this research exist outside of the control of local government, and are facilitated by non-governmental organizations, such as academic institutions or civil society organizations.
Chatwin, Merlin R., "Working Within Constraints: Examining the Effectiveness of Local Network Governance in Addressing Complex Social Challenges" (2021). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 8024.
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Available for download on Thursday, August 31, 2023