Summer heat and forest fires: could more collaboration be the answer?

13 Aug 2018 | Published by Sara Svensson


The summer of 2018 has been among the hottest and driest on record in many parts of Europe. In Sweden this has led to the outbreak of the largest forest fires the country has ever seen, and in Greece the highest casualty numbers resulting from a forest fire. Since many fear that forest fires will become more common due to climate change, we can expect renewed calls for more and better collaboration and coordination among and between public authorities from different levels and sectors, and with citizens, private companies and civil society organizations. Such collaboration and coordination is crucial for governance capacity as well as preparedness and response. The value of a European collaborative response has already been amply demonstrated as Italian fire fighter planes have crossed the continent through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. A convoy of Polish firefighters arriving to help in Sweden were heralded as heroes by local populations as they drove the thousand kilometers north to the areas hardest hit.

Through research on individual and institutional drivers and barriers for collaborative governance in theory and praxis. TROPICO aims to provide knowledge that may be used to improve frameworks and practices for collaboration in public administration and governance. In the first year of the project, we have mapped the extensive literature on collaborative governance and examined the institutional conditions for such collaboration. The mapping shows that the process of collaboration has been studied from various lenses, and researchers have observed numerous barriers as well as positive outcomes. Barriers and drivers for collaboration are linked to basic structures of the state, such as the presence of federal or strong sub-national elements or characteristics of national administrative traditions. Research over the past decade has also demonstrated the importance of trust in collaborative networks. Actors that know and trust each other are more likely to initiate collaboration across boundaries and to create structures for collaboration that function well.

Trust cannot be created overnight, but promotion of common values and repeated interactions can change behavioral patterns and facilitate collaboration. Firefighters arriving to Sweden from a country with which relations are less developed, might have received a less trusting welcome. Handled right, collaboration and trust may be promoted through sensible creation of formal rules and laws on collaboration, but will also depend on established norms for collaboration, as well as practice and implementation. A TROPICO mapping of ‘Codes of Collaboration’ in ten European countries showed that collaboration is varied, but relatively under-regulated. Most constitutions lack direct references to collaboration beyond the regulation of competences across levels of government. The more explicit legal frameworks for collaboration are concentrated in a few areas, such as the regulation of the legislative process. There are, however, signs that awareness of the importance of collaboration and corresponding policy activity is picking up, increasingly manifested in government guidance and strategy documents. The possibilities offered by digitalization and ICT tools to improve collaboration were recognized across the investigated countries. This may result in more regulatory activity – and perhaps more and better collaboration – down the line. In turn, this could lead to more collaboration in how to prepare for the next hot summer.