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Jacob Torfing, Eva Sørensen and Tina Ollgaard Bentzen

The purpose of this paper is to study and assess the content, functioning and impact of institutional reforms aiming to enhance collective and holistic political…

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to study and assess the content, functioning and impact of institutional reforms aiming to enhance collective and holistic political leadership at the level of local government.

Design/methodology/approach

The authors conduct a comparative case study of two Danish frontrunner municipalities drawing on relevant documents and qualitative interviews with both elected politicians and public administrators.

Findings

The authors found that institutional design is effective in promoting collective and holistic political leadership at the local level, even if no formal design options are available and the municipalities have to invent their own designs. Support both from both councilors and administrators is paramount for successful implementation of local political leadership reforms.

Research limitations/implications

Due to the purposive selection of a limited number of cases, the findings cannot be generalized to the population from which the cases are drawn. However, other municipalities may learn from and become inspired by the positive impact of the new institutional designs on collective and holistic political leadership.

Practical implications

Whereas some institutional political leadership reforms aim to enhance the power of the mayor and other reforms aim to create a cabinet or a committee system, the reforms the authors are studying aim to create a space for local councilors to work together across party and sector lines in creating collective and holistic policy solutions. The study shows that it is crucial that local councilors are involved in cross-boundary agenda setting before developing policies in standing committees and endorsing them in the council assembly.

Social implications

There is a large amount of more or less wicked problems that require the formulation and implementation of innovative policy solutions, which, in turn, call for a clear and determined political leadership. However, local politicians typically suffer from decoupling and tunnel vision. The results show that these problems can be solved through new institutional designs that promote a more collective and holistic political leadership that can take the local community forward.

Originality/value

Few studies have hitherto addressed the need for institutional reforms enabling collective and holistic political leadership through both theoretical and empirical analyses, but that is exactly what the authors try to accomplish.

Details

International Journal of Public Leadership, vol. 15 no. 1
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 2056-4929

Keywords

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Article

Tina Ollgaard Bentzen

Public organizations are constantly offered new ideas and concepts that involve a substantial investment of resources when it comes to translating them into organizational…

Abstract

Purpose

Public organizations are constantly offered new ideas and concepts that involve a substantial investment of resources when it comes to translating them into organizational practice. An especially powerful group of such concepts in the discourse of organizations comprises so-called “magic concepts” that both pose opportunities and challenges for public leaders trying to translate them. Although critical discussion about the value of popular concepts has been intense in existing research, there is still little knowledge about the factors that determine why some magic concepts have a pervasive influence, while others quickly go out of fashion and leave little trace in organizational practice. The paper aims to discuss these issues.

Design/methodology/approach

By combining insights from public leadership theory, implementation theory, institutional theory and organizational psychology, this paper outlines four dimensions that are central to the robustness of the organizational translation of magic concepts. The paper develops a conceptual model labeled “The Translational Diamond,” which suggests that the robust translation of organizational concepts depends on the level of both strategic and local anchoring, as well as the interplay between reflection and experimentation in the translation process. The Translational Diamond is applied in two embedded case studies, which offer insight into the variance between two organizational departments attempting to translate the same magic concept.

Findings

A central argument in the “translational diamond” is that bigger, balanced diamonds reflect more robust translations than smaller, warped diamonds. The results support this assumption. Although the translation of trust involves challenges in both departments, there are much more severe difficulties in the social department, which is characterized by a notably smaller and much more warped diamond than the health and care department.

Research limitations/implications

While this paper argues that strategic and local anchoring and the interplay between reflection and experimentation play a crucial role in the translation of magic concepts, there may be other factors at stake in the process. For example, Røvik argues that the skill of the individual translators engaged in the process is important for creating a robust translation (Røvik, 2007). In addition, magic concepts are potentially involved in a power battle with other magic concepts that are constantly competing for organizational attention (Hood, 2005). Such power dynamics may substantially influence actors’ engagement in translation, but are not within the scope of this paper.

Practical implications

For public leaders, the translational diamond may serve as a conceptual framework that can spur their understanding of, and reflection about, how to support the translation of magic concepts in their organization. For example, archetypically warped diamonds can illustrate the problems that might occur if translation is not sufficiently anchored in all four dimensions. Translating organizational concepts involves respect for the inherent dilemmas of securing a balance between strategic and local perspectives, as well as the strengths of securing feedback loops between reflection and experimentation. These dimensions will not necessarily be equally balanced at all times in the process of translating magic concepts. The conceptual model of the translational diamond may help leaders to understand the current status of a translation and guide them in their endeavor to support a better balance.

Originality/value

While symbolic change may serve other organizational purposes than effectiveness, this paper addresses the under-studied question of how organizational concepts are translated robustly into practice. The originality of the “translational diamond” is its focus on “how” rather than “whether” the translation of magic concepts should be attempted. In addition, the diamond’s integration of theoretical constructs from leadership theory, implementation theory, institutional theory and organizational theory offers a more nuanced understanding of central dimensions impacting organizational translation at a practical level.

Details

International Journal of Public Leadership, vol. 15 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 2056-4929

Keywords

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