ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Coordination Failure in Local Government Networks

Local government networks are often characterised by coordination failures between multiple actors possessing resources that are critical for the success of the network. In the study of public networks, focus is drawn here on the obstacles faced in managing these networks, a relatively understudied phenomenon. While the existing literature throws light on how to manage such networks, relatively less attention is paid to understanding the obstacles they face. Using a decentred approach, we examine the implementation network for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 in the panchayats of West Bengal. The findings reveal that network composition plays a greater role in coordination compared to network structure. The study also shows that the inability to address a hidden agenda often makes bureaucratic leadership ineffective, whereas control over public discourse makes political executives better suited to manage networks.

Existing network literature throws considerable light on how to manage networks; however, relatively less attention has been paid to understanding the obstacles faced by networks (McGuire and Agranoff 2011). Of late, there has been a growth of scholarly interest in understanding these obstacles. For example, Cristofoli et al (2017) and Davies (2009) show that shallow consensus, arrived at by eschewing conflict, creates a perception of shared norms although silo practices remain unchallenged, whereas interorganisational trust could advance coordination. Schrank and Whitford (2011) identify the inadequacy or complete absence of institutional safeguards against opportunistic behaviour and incompetence as the potential causes of network failure. Further, a sudden fiscal weakening or partisan shifting of priorities could happen when newcomers to a network potentially destroy all these (Bardach 2017). However, the barriers posed by power and politics to networks comprising multiple actors are issues yet to attract much scholarly attention. This paper will explore the coordination barriers faced by local government networks between multiple actors possessing resources that are critical to the success of the network.

Panchayats, or rural local governing institutions in India, offer us an opportunity to study coordination barriers faced by networks comprising of powerful actors. While democratically elected political executives have popular support, the bureaucracy controls the purse strings necessary for the functioning of panchayats. In order to understand the coordination barriers faced by panchayats, we look at the implementation process of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), 2005, the most important rural development programme of the Government of India. Our study covers nine gram panchayats (village councils) in three districts of West Bengal, which has a history of successful decentralisation, including the conduct of regular elections (Chakrabarti 2016). The study is based on a decentred approach (Davies 2009), employing ethnographic methods like participant observation, and the study of artefacts like government orders, implementation guidelines, and management information systems (MIS) reports. In-depth interviews with bureaucrats, politicians and other actors associated with MGNREGA implementation were also conducted. We find that the bureaucratic inability to address the hidden agenda of political executives becomes an insurmountable coordination barrier; nevertheless, political executives are more successful in achieving a solution that takes care of the core interests of all actors.

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Updated On : 12th Dec, 2022
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