Reviewed by Nicholas Marantz, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Collaborative Governance: Private Roles for Public Goals in Turbulent Times, by John D. Donahue and Richard J. Zeckhauser, Princeton University Press, 305pp

In recent decades, U.S. government has relied increasingly on private corporations (including non-profits) to provide an array of services. John Donahue and Richard Zeckhauser call this phenomenon “collaborative governance,” and their book describes strategies to increase the public benefits from such arrangements. Donahue and Zeckhauser present over a dozen cases of collaborative governance in action, in domains ranging from education to national security. They explain how administrators can determine when to delegate tasks to private organizations, how to assess potential collaborators, and how to evaluate ongoing projects. But, while Donahue and Zeckhauser provide much clear technical guidance for government officials and concerned citizens, their evidence suggests that collaborative governance may be inherently upwardly distributive, an issue which they do not clearly address.

Donahue and Zeckhauser contend that, among other advantages, collaborative governance can increase public benefits by inducing private actors to commit additional resources. To illustrate this potential, the authors invoke examples from three New York City parks. While these collaborations all resulted in the commitment of additional funds and talent, they also entailed the upward distribution of public resources. In the case of Central Park, Donahue and Zeckhauser note that collaboration has produced “an upscale tilt to the park’s image, amenities, and regulations.” Bryant Park “represents a relatively large investment of public funds to create an asset with quite focused private benefits.” Private investment in Harlem’s Swindler Cove Park yielded a $3 million dollar boathouse, used mostly by rowers who live far from the surrounding disadvantaged community.

The authors acknowledge these distributive consequences without addressing whether they are intrinsic to “collaboration for resources,” as they term the relevant arrangements. Given the consistency of their evidence, the question merits attention. Collaborative Governance would have been more successful if Donahue and Zeckhauser had addressed this possibility with the same zeal and insight that they bring to other aspects of their topic.

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