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Divided loyalties, many hats, and punctuated worlds: the challenges of political, administrative and stakeholder collaboration for federal public servants in Canada

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(Thesis) Ph.D.
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While network studies have focused on mapping out the structural linkages between participants within a policy network, less attentionhas been paid to the behaviours of policy actors. Attention to network behaviour is important because it varies and with implications for the performance, legitimacy, and effectiveness of government. This dissertation seeks to examine actor behaviour by investigating the challenges, opportunities, and coping strategies of public servants who work in policy networks. Interviews were conducted with forty-five Canadian federal public servants across four horizontal initiatives: the Mackenzie Gas Pipeline Project, the Sector Council Program, Team Canada Inc, and the Federal Initiative to Address HIV/AIDS in Canada. Together with organizational documents and reports, these interviews highlight the limited ability of networks to support long-term policy development, translate political ambiguity into policy outputs, generate effective leadership, and adopt new collegial cultures. Reconfiguration of existing accountabilities, renewal of central agency support structures, and increased senior leadership might help public servants to overcome key network challenges: gaining inclusion, obtaining commitment, facilitating collegiality, and achieving agreement. This work highlights the importance of actor-centred understandings of collaboration. It reveals distinct challenges for public servants when they collaborate with other public servants, stakeholders, and political actors and uses a framework of rule contestation due to an institutional deficit to understand why they face these challenges. In turn, the concept of rule contestation raises important questions regarding the fit of current political and administrative arrangements for governance in an increasingly networked era.
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