Document Type

Conference publication

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Mills, DE & Keast, RL 2009, 'Achieving better stewardship of major infrastructure assets through configuration of governance arrangements utilising Stewardship Theory', 3th International Research Society for Public Management Conference (IRSPM XIII), Fredericksberg, Denmark, 6-8 April, IRSPM.


Major infrastructure assets are often governed by a mix of public and private organizations, each fulfilling a specific and separate role i.e. policy, ownership, operation or maintenance. This mix of entities is a legacy of Public Choice Theory influenced NPM reforms of the late 20th century. The privatization of the public sector has resulted in agency theory based ‘self-interest’ relationships and governance arrangements for major infrastructure assets which emphasize economic efficiency but which do not do not advance non-economic public values and the collective Public Interest. The community is now requiring that governments fulfill their stewardship role of also satisfying non-economic public values such as sustainability and intergenerational responsibility.

In the 21st century governance arrangements which minimize individual self-interest alone and look to also pursue the interests of other stakeholders have emerged. Relational contracts, Public-Private Partnerships (PPP’s) and hybrid mixes of organizations from the state, market and network modes (Keast et al 2006) provide options for governance which better meet the interests of contractors, government and the community there is emerging a body of research which extends the consideration of the immediate governance configuration to the metagovernance environment constituted by hierarchy, regulation, industry standards, trust, culture and values. Stewardship theory has reemerged as a valuable aid in the understanding of the features of governance configurations which establish relationships between principal and agent which maximize the agent acting in the interests of the principal, even to the detriment of the agent.

This body of literature suggests that an improved stewardship outcome from infrastructure governance configurations can be achieved by the application of the emerging options as to the immediate governance configuration, and the surrounding metagovernance environment. Stewardship theory provides a framework for the design of the relationships within that total governance environment, focusing on the achievement of a better, complete stewardship outcome. This paper explores the directions future research might take in seeking to improve the understanding of the design of the governance of major, critical infrastructure assets.

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