Governing Structures and Change

Despite my previous post – on the role of KCBiz in facilitating TOD development in Kansas City – I do not believe that governing structures are a panacea for TOD implementation. That is, governing structures alone are not sufficient to guarantee a particular outcome, although they may be one of the components needed to realize policy solutions. This is an idea that I first formulated during my research trip to Australia in March 2014.

I went to Australia with the intention of learning how different governing arrangements may facilitate TOD implementation and came away with the notion that planning competency and governance structures may not be as important to facilitating change as I had originally anticipated. I was inspired to visit Melbourne and Perth because both regions were pursuing innovative governing arrangements that appeared to vest responsibility for land use and transport investment with a single entity (the Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure in Victoria and the now defunct TOD Committee in Perth). After on-site investigations, however, I came to the conclusion that even when key competencies reside in a single organization – an element thought to facilitate regional, cross-sector problem solving – the character of the organization and the outlooks of individuals in decision making roles were still of considerable importance.

Such a revelation necessarily leads to questions of power in the public decision making process. Power does not ultimately reside in the organizations we create and changing organizational arrangements will not necessarily change power structures or even result in the practical outcomes desired. Power resides in social relations – how individuals interact in the decision-making and planning process determines the outcomes. Social relations and interactions may be influenced by governing structures in important ways, such as having stakeholders interact in ways they might not have otherwise and develop solutions that would be impossible without specific structural support (such as TOD committee), but the real essence of decision making is found in the detailed social processes that play out over specific conflicts and negotiations in the decision-making process. Such a finding aligns nicely with Bent Flyvbjerg‘s work in Europe, although it does present some challenges for research – how do we identify and examine conflict and negotiation in TOD implementation? What can we learn from such investigations? Are there clear policy solutions or only “words of caution” that can be offered in conclusions of such research?

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