This project follows the work agenda of the LEED Committee on employment and governance .
This study programme was launched with the publication on Local Management for More Effective Employment Policies in 1998, which identified a relationship between the effectiveness of labour market policies and local governance, defined as the sum of policy co-ordination, adaptation to local conditions and participation of civil society and the private sector in policy design and implementation. Local Management also identified two tools to improve local governance - decentralisation and partnership -, which have been the subject of subsequent work (Decentralising Employment Policy: New Trends and Challenges, 1999; Local Partnerships for Better Governance, 2001 ).
A high-level conference was held in Venice in April 1998 on the decentralisation of the public employment service and the local management of employment policies. It concluded that decentralisation is not a necessary nor a sufficient condition to improving governance. Partner relationships must be established between labour market authorities at regional level and the actors responsible for economic development and social inclusion at local level. As a follow-up, the LEED Commitee decided at its 33rd session, on 20 November 1998 in Sheffield, UK, to explore the role of area-based partnerships in governance and policies.
Partnerships are becoming a popular tool to improve local governance. Networks of partnerships have been set up in almost all OECD countries to tackle issues of economic development, employment, social cohesion and the quality of life. However, working in partnership is not an easy task. It raises a fundamental challenge: that of harmonising public accountability and participatory democracy. Elected officials and public officers are accountableto their constituencies and to the government respectively. Similarly, trade unions and employer representatives are accountable to their own members in the first place. However, civil society and NGOs have little or no accountability. For partnerships to be effective in fostering co-operation and co-ordination, ways must be found to reconcile standard accountability frameworks with the use of collective strategic planning exercises involving various types of actors. It is to address this central challenge that the Study on Local Partnerships was launched.
The OECD conducted a first series of reviews in seven countries (Austria, Belgium/Flanders, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Italy and the United States) to explore the performances of local and regional partnerships between government, civil society and the private sector in improving governance. The methodology of the study was to identify and compare across countries: i) the mechanisms used by partnerships to pursue their main functions (fostering co-operation, conducting a strategic planning exercise and implementing the strategy) and ii) the methods used by the partnerships and their constituencies to meet a series of conditions for partnership efficiency defined through research work and expert seminars and agreed by the LEED Committee (these are: flexible management frameworks, institutional commitment, social partners assuming local responsibilities, mobilisation, legitimacy and administrative efficiency).
The analysis of the partnership mechanisms and of the problems encountered in meeting the efficiency conditions shed light on three main challenges that partnerships are facing: (i) the inconsistencies in the national policy framework and weak vertical co-ordination; (ii) a narrow approach to policy implementation taken by public services seeking to maximise efficiency in service delivery; and (iii) weaknesses in accountability due to blurred lines of responsibility.
In response to these obstacles, the Study proposes the Strategy to Improve Governance through Partnerships, a series of 20 recommendations meant to increase institutional commitment to cross-sector strategies, reduce compartmentalisation of public services, and strengthen accountability in partnerships (results are published in Local Partnerships for Better Governance, 2001 ).
A second round has now been completed. Participating countries include: Belgium (Walloon region), the Czech Republic, Mexico, Norway, Spain and Sweden. In addition to identifying thecontribution, mechanisms and obstacles of partnerships, the work carried out as part of the second phase aimed to identify indicators of governance that would both be applicable to partnerships and suit public accountability frameworks. This follows up one of the recommendations of the first phase on the need to evaluate partnerships in terms of governance outcomes rather than policy results.
As for the first phase, in each country (or region), a team of experts led by the OECD Secretariat meets local, regional and national organisations from the public, private and civil-society sectors in pre-selected areas. Interviews and research are conducted following a methodology adopted by the LEED Committee. A report is then prepared and discussed in a national/regional seminar. The report is published as part of an OECD publication.
Advice on the project is provided by an ad hoc advisory committee of research institutes, government administrations and agencies involved in partnerships. All material prepared within the framework of the Study is also reviewed by a panel of experts.
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