A statue symbolizing interaction patterns of a handshake in front of a building.

Jale Tosun and Jennifer Shore (Heidelberg University), and Sebastian Koos (Mannheim University)

Which types of relationship between public and private actors exist? Do the forms of co-governance change over time? When is the relationship between public and private actors cooperative, when is it competitive, and when do we witness conflictual relationships? These research questions lie at the heart of the special issue of Policy & Society, which seeks to shed further light on the origins and impacts of the various co-governance patterns.

The contributions show that different relationships between public and private actors exist, and that the forms of co-governance can also change over time. While the dominant form of co-governance is cooperation, one can also observe instances of competition or even conflict between public and private actors. Most importantly, we find that both public and private actors are ready to reclaim competences in areas where they perceive the other actor to have gained too much influence. As we discuss in this article, the degree of cooperation and competition mostly depends on the existing regulatory arrangements, the congruence of goals of the different actor groups, and the institutionalization of industrial relations.

Which of the three scenarios (cooperation; cooperative competition; conflictual competition) can be observed furthermore depends on the observation period – as several contributions to this themed issue have shown, the relationship between state and non-state actors tends to be dynamic, which can be the result of an increase or decrease in overall state capacity, the willingness of the non-states actors to participate in co-governance, but also cases in which states with generally high state capacity lack adequate capacity in specific areas. A case in point is climate change governance, which, due to its complexity, has largely induced state actors to seek cooperation with non-states actors –at local, national, and transnational levels – to develop innovative solutions, facilitate their diffusion, and assess their effectiveness.

The contribution by Alive Favotto, Kelly Kollman, and Patrick Bernhagen is particularly noteworthy in this context. This article examines the relationship between national varieties of capitalism and firm engagement with the norms and best practices promoted within the global organisational field for corporate social responsibility (CSR). Using a content analysis of the CSR reports of US and European firms, we show that firms from the coordinated market economies (CME) of Europe engage more substantively with labour and human rights than their US counterparts that operate in a liberal market economy (LME). The environmental commitments of firms in both regions, however, are more developed than practices related to these social issues. These findings support the view that CSR is more developed in CMEs than LMEs, but limit this support to social CSR issues. We posit that firms’ higher levels of engagement with environmental and climate CSR is likely to reflect the extent to which environmental and climate norms have become embedded in global markets rather than how CSR is promoted by national capitalist systems.

We believe that this is an important insight as it shows how climate governance can become embraced by multinational companies if there is a sufficiently high public support for climate action. Eventually in such situation climate governance should take place in form of a true cooperation between state and non-state actors.

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