The Influence of System Context on Collaborative Actions

Project: Research

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Much research has been conducted on the forces influencing collaborative actions. However, the literature has focused exclusively on interactions between collaborating partners developing joint capacities for actions. The circumstances that form the socioeconomic and political context for these collaborations have largely been ignored. These contextual forces are known as the system context in the popular Collaborative Governance Regime (CGR) model in which the system context is portrayed as having only an indirect effect on collaborative actions. Context is not considered a driving force for collaborative actions, which proceed directly from dynamics that build on principled engagement and the partners’ shared motivation to initiate joint actions (Emerson et al. 2012).However, this portrayal differs from what I have anecdotally observed in collaborative activities between Hong Kong and mainland China. In this context, sociopolitical circumstances have appeared to play a critical and sometimes dominant role in driving collaborative actions, at least before the enforcement of the National Security Law in 2020. For example, political parties in the Hong Kong legislature have framed current issues in ways that led to funding delays for collaborative projects. Similarly, legal action launched by an environmental group to press for more environmental impact analysis has postponed a collaborative project.The gap in the literature is not merely theoretical—that the current models lack explanatory power. More importantly, it indicates that contextual forces might be overlooked as the foundation that shapes or drives collaborative actions, and as the condition for collaborative capacity building. Failing to consider these contextual circumstances can lead to the lack of responses to them, putting the collaboration at risk of disruption or even complete collapse. Addressing the role played by contextual influences will not only contribute to a better theoretical explanation of collaborative actions, but will also help policymakers articulate policy actions during contextual uncertainties.Methodologically, I propose to collect data about major collaborative projects between Hong Kong and mainland China in several key policy areas: service delivery, transportation infrastructure development, environmental policy, and technology and innovation. The unit of analysis is “collaborative friction”— the resisting forces between partners during collaborations. This unique and innovative concept allows data collection of the collaborative process, thereby capturing detailed procedural and institutional variations. Complementary to project-level data, also collected, the friction-level data will allow conducting quantitative analysis with a large sample size. Together, the project-level and friction-level data should provide a complete picture of this issue.


Project number9043460
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/01/23 → …