Authors: David Thacher
September 1, 1998
Wiener Center for Social Policy, John F. Kennedy School of Government
Partnerships with the community play a growing role in the public service, particularly in policing. These relationships can improve the legitimacy and effectiveness of public agencies, but they complicate public servants' work and create unexamined challenges for their practice. This study argues that the central problems of working in partnership involve conflict over values: Different organizations advance different social values, and when the partners who cling to them try to collaborate, conflict flares up at the point of contact. In some views, such conflict is unavoidable, and calls for "coordination" among distinct organizations are futile. But based on a comparative analysis of eleven diverse case studies, the author argues that effective police practitioners have been able to manage this conflict in two ways. First, they have shifted their agencies' commitments to make them more acceptable to the community (notably by putting more emphasis on "soft crime," demanding more parsimonious use of authority, and embracing a deliberative conception of the public interest). Second, they have made effective use of metaphors that synthesize distinct ends and of strategies that lie at the intersection of competing values: In short, they have developed a style of practice that allows them to pursue competing aims and thereby work effectively in an environment of value pluralism.
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