The gravitational pull toward formality

Development Policy03 Jun 2011Sean Lowrie

As we prepared a joint paper for the upcoming conference, ECB’s Matt Bannerman, and CDAC’s Rachel Hougton and I spent some time talking. We had each participated in inter-organisational collaborations that had drifted from informal relational entities to formal bureaucratic entities. As facilitators of collaboration, we seem to be emphasizing the value of process and relationships, within an inter-organisational environment which values rules and procedures. In other words we look like tree-huggers when real power is with the bureaucracy.

There are powerful arguments about the value of informal processes. They help organisations make sense of complex situations, and flexibly adapt to changing circumstances.

Yet there are equally powerful forces that pull most inter-organisational collaborations from an initial stage of social trust to the subsequent stage that is predictable, but rather cumbersome. Organisations understand bureaucracy, and strive to re-create it when possible.

In our paper, we argue that a balance is needed between formal bureaucracy, and informal relationship-based approaches. At minimum, we are suggesting that informality be explicitly identified as an important part of collaboration.

Is it possible to retain informality and still be cool?