Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Public Administration


Carboni, Julia


Collaborative governance, Collaborative networks, Collaborative systems, Interorganizational networks, Public management, Representation

Subject Categories

Public Administration


Complex and boundary-spanning problems like overpopulation, hunger, pandemics, homelessness, and environmental degradation occur more frequently now than ever (Bynander & Nohrstedt, 2019; Criado & Guevara-Gómez, 2021; Huang, 2020; Kapucu, 2015; Getha-Taylor, 2007; Jayasinghe et al., 2022). Policymakers increasingly address these challenges through interorganizational collaboration (Isett et al., 2011). Countries worldwide now use collaborative governance to respond to such wicked problems (Jayasinghe et al., 2022; Huang, 2020; Megawati et al., 2020). Despite growing in popularity, gaps remain in understanding collaborative governance at scale. In this dissertation, I present research on the interconnected nature of collaborative governance initiatives in the United States by studying the units that carry out collaborative governance in modern public management: collaborative governance regimes (CGRs). A CGR is “a particular mode of, or system for, public decision-making in which cross-boundary collaboration represents the prevailing pattern of behavior and activity” (Emerson et al., 2015, p. 18). Collaborative systems occur when multiple CGRs operate within or across policy arenas in a defined geography or jurisdiction (Annis et al., 2020). I explore the contexts that collaborative systems operate within. System context refers to “the broad and dynamic set of surrounding conditions that create opportunities and constraints for initiating and sustaining CGRs (Emerson & Nabatchi, 2015a, p. 232). Studying the system context is essential because collaboration does not occur in a vacuum. System context factors can create opportunities for or constraints on CGRs that influence their processes and performance. I show the existence of collaborative systems in the U.S. and ask, what leverage can be gained by exploring the broader system contexts of collaborative systems? I present studies of collaborative systems consisting of hundreds of interconnected CGRs in practice today to uncover lessons about collaborative governance at scale. In Chapter One, I detail a collaborative system operating in Oregon in a facilitative system context for collaborative governance. Oregon’s system context features state support and legislation that supports the CGRs there (Cochran et al., 2019). In Chapter Two, I examine the context of the COVID-19 pandemic to understand collaborative governance when an unexpected crisis occurs. I analyze adaptation in two community referral networks whose system context is unstable due to the pandemic’s onset. In Chapter Three, I do not examine the characteristics of a collaborative system; instead, I study the association between states’ broader system contexts and formal CGR registration to that state. I find that collaborative systems exist and can be measured. Chapter One explores representation in a collaborative system in Oregon. The results reveal a high amount of membership overlap among CGRs, even across sectors. This high level of membership overlap has resulted in a tightly interconnected collaborative system in Oregon. It should alert leaders to probe whether a diverse set of actors are substantively represented across the system because the same actors appear in CGRs repeatedly. In Chapter Two, I examine what leverage analysts can gain from looking at collaborative systems in a system context impacted by a crisis. I do this by studying two community referral networks in a U.S. state where the system context was unstable due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. I document that community referral networks adapted to changes in supply and demand for services during the pandemic’s emergence. I find organizational tenure and resource munificence contributed to CGR's adaptability during the crisis. Rather than going through the lead organization governance model with the coordination center directing ties, organizations saw greater returns to modifying the governance structure for faster service delivery to locate and serve clients directly and more quickly during the early days of the pandemic. I find flexible governance structures can buffer CGR member exit during crises. In Chapter Three, I analyze collaborative governance in Medicare to show how researchers can understand CGRs’ broader system context. Chapter Three demonstrates how leaders and managers can use data analytics to understand CGRs, system context factors, and outcomes. I draw four conclusions from the three essays. First, I conclude that researchers and practitioners can gain leverage by examining the system context of collaborative systems, including public management insights on steering collaborative systems for large-scale policy implementation. Second, my results indicate that studying collaborative systems and their contexts allows scholars to contribute to a concise theory of collaborative governance that transcends disciplines. Third, I find that managers can enhance the success of CGRs by focusing on their governance structures and the entities that support them. Fourth, my results show that scholars can gain leverage in understanding collaborative systems and broader system contexts using various data types and methodologies, including qualitative methods, network analysis, and econometrics. The broad range of data types and methodologies available to understand collaborative governance is good for scholarship and practice. When leaders know system context conditions, they become better equipped to manage the current and changing conditions that influence their work (Emerson & Nabatchi, 2015a).


Open Access