When social scientists talk about the adoption of new governance arrangements in a given policy area, their questions are most often functional: What will those new arrangements do better than the previous way of making policy? Yet politicians do not always, or even usually, pick policy solutions because they offer the best functional answer to a policy problem. Instead, they adopt solutions at a given time that advance their electoral or partisan interests as well as responding to a perceived policy problem (cf. Kingdon 1984). Thus, they not only want to do things (provide child care, increase economic development), but to do things that are politically useful (fortify their local political machine, distribute benefits to political supporters).
It in this light that I evaluate in this paper two of the most significant innovations in collaborative governance arrangements in Europe in the 1990s. The first is the 1993 French reform that created regional–level multi–partite institutions to develop proposals for regional education and training initiatives that aimed to spur private investment in human capital. The second is the institution of territorial pacts as the cornerstone of Italian development policy in the 1990s. The development pacts were to sponsor the participation of local secondary associations and politicians in proposing territorial development plans, with the goal of promoting ongoing cooperation among these actors at the territorial level. These reforms are especially significant because they took place in two unitary states with weak regional governments and weak traditions of corporatist policy–making. They were innovative, at least in form, because they attempted to build institutions of public/private collaboration to provide collective goods at a local level. As such, they simultaneously marked an attempt to break radically with the nature of past policy and with the institutions through which those policies had been designed. These were not equivalent to sectoral neocorporatist policies practiced especially widely in northern Europe (Lehmbruch 1984) both by virtue of the scope of private actors involved and of the delegation of policy autonomy to these actors. In terms of scope, they attempted to involve a wide range of local stakeholders, rather than monopolistic employers and unions. And in terms of policy autonomy, these new instances were empowered not merely to implement policies decided at the center, but to develop their own analyses of local problems and proposed responses to them. They were not merely bodies of decentralized implementation, but of decentralized policy design, with the institutions for designing policy moved away from national politicians and to local actors (among which politicians were just one, if still the primus inter pares).
The actual institutions have, so far, shown themselves to be quite heterogeneous. In this paper, I first summarize their experiences?both their political origins and their successes and failures in fulfilling the institutional mandate delegated to them. After reviewing the major developments in each institutional experiment, I draw parallels between the two ongoing experiments, focusing in particular on the organizational prerequisites for their success and the dilemmas they pose for public actors who would attempt to expand collaborative governance arrangements.