Chains, networks or Gordian knots? The organization and management of local welfare systems

In local welfare systems, the collaboration of a wide variety of service providers is mandatory for successful service delivery. In the case of the recent decentralizations in the Netherlands, policy makers also presumed large efficiency gains through better collaboration and innovations in care networks. However, network theory has taught us that collaboration is not a default: organizational interests and cultural differences prevail above socially desirable outcomes (Klijn and Koppenjan, 2015). This will probably even more the case in the area of local welfare systems. In this area, political and administrative leaders increasingly need to become network managers, with a great role for private economic actors on the one hand and for parts of civil society on the other (Swyndegouw, 2005; Sørenson and Torfing, 2009).

However, the transformation of the welfare state not only involves the external management but also the internal management. A new role for professionals (see theme 1) also requires a new role for organizational leaders. Literature on organizational change in the public sector learns us that success of large scale reforms – such as the introduction of new public governance systems – is certainly not guaranteed (Fernandez & Rainey, 2006). This will be even more true if one relies on the self-management of teams of professionals who provide welfare services. The question here is how to create ‘high performing teams’ (Kuipers & Groeneveld, 2014) that can deal with the tensions and dilemmas of integral service delivery. To achieve the goals of a governance reform the daily routines and behavior of managers and employees in the organizations need to change. These issues leave a crucial role for leaders in the organization to mobilize others to implement the change (Higgs & Rowland, 2005).

Important research questions are:

  • What challenges and dilemmas do local leaders experience in crafting effective, efficient and sustainable service delivery networks?
  • What strategies do these leaders develop to overcome these challenges and dilemmas?
  • How is leadership behavior of political and administrative leaders related to the performance of the local welfare system?
  • Which (organizational) conditions contribute to the transformation of professional teams providing local welfare into ‘high performing teams’?

EUR Research Excellence Initiative Research programme 2016-2020

The State of Local Welfare: Devolution of welfare state arrangements and the implementation, organization and management of welfare services