Governing Structures and Change

In March 2014 I went to Australia with the intention of examining how new public organizing strategies were facilitating the implementation of plans for concentrated development along transit corridors. I was inspired to visit Melbourne and Perth because both regions were pursuing innovative governing arrangements that appeared to vest responsibility for land use and transport investment with a single entity (the Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure in Victoria and the now defunct TOD Committee in Perth). During these on-site investigations, I came to the conclusion that organizational transformations – although important for facilitating regional, cross-sector problem solving – were a necessary but insufficient component. New organizational strategies had limited impacts on development patterns when the outlooks of individuals in decision making roles, the private sector actors they worked with and the political economy of development remains largely the same.

I was naturally drawn to questions of power in the public decision making process. Power does not ultimately reside in the organizations we create and changing organizational arrangements will not necessarily change power structures or even result in the practical outcomes desired. Power resides in social relations – how individuals interact in the decision-making and planning process determines the outcomes. Social relations and interactions may be influenced by governing structures in important ways, such as having stakeholders interact in ways they might not have otherwise and develop solutions that would be impossible without specific structural support (such as TOD committee), but the real essence of decision making is found in the detailed social processes that play out over specific conflicts and negotiations in the decision-making process. Such a finding aligns nicely with Bent Flyvbjerg‘s work in Europe, although it does present some challenges for research – how do we identify and examine conflict and negotiation in TOD implementation? What can we learn from such investigations? Are there clear policy solutions or only “words of caution” that can be offered in conclusions of such research?


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