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A study published in the May 2002 edition of Economic Development Quarterly identified factors that influence the degree of local government cooperation in rural areas. The study was conducted in the Tennessee Valley region. Authors were Steven Brent Lackey from the Kentucky Economic Development Cabinet, David Freshwater from the University of Kentucky, and Anil Rupahingha from Pennsylvania State University. Findings include:

  1. Many rural governments are not equipped to "go it alone" in their community development efforts because their decision-making and implementation capacity is inhibited by a lack of external linkages and a decline in local resources. Collaboration can enhance decision-making and implementation capacity.
  2. The most common issues for cooperative arrangements in the rural governments studied were emergency services, landfills, solid-waste collection, recycling, jails, airports, water, sewerage, recreation, programming for seniors, police, and fire services. The least amount of cooperation was expressed around health care, telecommunications, promotion of tourism, housing, leadership development, and small business development.
  3. Facotrs for successful collaboration include:
    • an established working relationship
    • the presence of a "spark plug" or collaborative leader (could be anyone, not necessarily an elected leader or head of an organization) in the cooperative effort
    • an attitude that favors cooperation over competition on the elected boards of the participating governments
    • involvement of a relatively small number of governments - "too many chefs can spoil the stew"
    • other factors mentioned include state support, mutual needs and goals, open communication, and reciprocal agreements
  4. Obstacles to cooperation were:
    • competitive "cold-war" attitudes stemming from past "wrongs" and lack of trust between communities
    • time and resources needed to plan and administer a cooperative agreement effectively
    • mismatches in fiscal capacity and economic structure between governments
    • other obstacles include individualism, greed, shortsightedness, personality differences, loyalty to a political party, and lack of support by key constituents.
  5. The larger governments of an area are not as likely to seek out cooperative efforts because they have greater capacity to act alone than do neighboring smaller governments.
  6. Establishing a new service program versus relinquishing local control of existing activity to a new regional authority causes important differences in the dynamics of cooperation that affect the planning effort and time required to reach agreement.
  7. The existence of networks of local government officials is conducive to cooperation. Conversely, isolation can be a major impediment to local government cooperation.
  8. The use of a skilled convener to bring parties to the table, manage the process of discussion, negotation and agreement development, maintain enthusiasm and vision and to ensure that all parties benefit is critical.

Click here to download full report (980 kb).

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