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Weil Program on Collaborative Governance

The Weil Program on Collaborative Governance departs from the proposition that a large and growing fraction of the capacity required to create public value exists outside government narrowly defined. This “distributed” capacity can include financial resources, skilled personnel, physical assets, managerial capabilities, information, and even trust and legitimacy. The outside reservoirs of such capacity may be for-profit firms, non-profit organizations, or sometimes units of government at a different level or intergovernmental organization. Public missions’ reliance on external capacity is by no means new. But it is becoming more important for several reasons. First, and most obvious, is the fact that a large part of the world’s population lives in areas where the formal state is weak. The second reason is the widespread reaction against the centralized bureaucratic state in its mid-20th-century incarnation. The third, subtlest, and perhaps most important reason is that a growing fraction of collective tasks in a complex, interconnected, information-dense world—knit together and energized by powerful market forces—simply cannot be accomplished (well, or at all) by government acting alone.

When government is responsible for a mission that depends upon external capacity, there are several ways to engage that capacity. One way is to require entities outside government to play their parts, through mandates, regulations, or other means of imposing obligations. Another is to induce them to participate through contracts, grants, tax incentives, or other means. The Weil Program is concerned with a third approach—collaboration. Firms, non-profits, and other external agents work to advance a collective goal not because they are forced to do so or paid to do so, but because participation advances their own interests as well. Collaboration may be linked to mandated and to induced cooperation (both conceptually and in practice). But our working premise is that collaboration is distinguishable theoretically and empirically; an important category of collective action; and under-examined relative to its importance.

The Weil Program on Collaborative Governance's mission is to nurture a better understanding of the potential, limits, and proper realm of collaborative governance; to identify the professional skills that matter most in shaping effective, accountable collaboration in the service of common goals; and to promulgate those skills through the curricula of the Kennedy School of Government and other parts of Harvard.

Collaborative Governance and the Broader Kennedy School Enterprise

The Kennedy School's mission is "to train public leaders and solve public problems." Cross-sectoral collaboration is increasingly central to both of these aspects.

Solving problems
Few important public problems - and perhaps even fewer of the solutions to these problems - lack a major private-sector component. From immigration policy to vaccine production to college lending to defense logistics, private players hold central roles in most policy challenges in the U.S. and other advanced countries. A growing share of these private roles are the kinds of complex, discretion-laden functions that we term collaborative, as distinct from the simpler roles defined by clear-cut contractual obligations.

Training leaders
The increasing interconnectedness of the public and private sectors means that leaders in business and government need to understand the structures, cultures, values and constraints of the other sector. Cases and other curricular material prepared under the Weil Program's auspices are equipping students to operate effectively across sectoral boundaries. Many leaders, moreover, will divide their careers between public and private roles. In 2008 Harvard took a major step toward accommodating cross-sectoral careers by launching the first truly joint degree programs between the Kennedy School and Harvard Business School. John D. Donahue and Richard J. Zeckhauser of the Weil Program are heavily involved in the on-going joint degree programs.