The Role of Relational Contract Governance in Improving Performance in Human Services Delivery

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Current findings in the human services contract literature suggest that contract relationships between government and its nonprofit contractors, which are “relational” in nature (i.e., characterized by collaborative, nonadversarial, and flexible interactions), facilitate effective outcomes in contracted human services delivery. However, despite its potentials for improved government performance in this sector, findings also indicate that public and nonprofit implementing managers vary in their use of relational approaches in contract implementation. This qualitative study explored the interpersonal context of the contract interactions of counterpart managers implementing Florida’s contracted child welfare services to identify the factors that encourage or potentially inhibit their use of relational contract practices in implementing the child welfare contract. Agency theory provided a framework for understanding “arms-length” transactional contract relationships as an accountability mechanism utilized by government in contracting. As a complementary theoretical lens, relational contract theory provided an explanatory framework for why government and its contractors collaborate and cooperate in complex contract situations and the mechanisms for ensuring accountability and performance. A qualitative exploratory research approach and the use of semistructured interviews allowed for gleaning rich insights from 17 implementing managers of the Florida child welfare contract. The findings from the study suggest that mutual trust between counterpart managers built through ongoing informal dialogue, the transparent sharing of contract-related information, and mutual responsiveness encourage relational contract interactions between counterpart managers. However, a lack of leadership support for collaboration between the contract partners may hinder relational interactions with counterpart managers. The study concluded that relational contracting as a formally articulated governance approach is necessary for overcoming the implementation challenges created by Florida’s child welfare contract model and supports the policy intent of the Florida community-based care privatization model. The researcher recommends that the Florida partnership consider implementing management and organizational strategies that promote the practices and values associated with relational contracting. The researcher also recommends that the Florida partnership equip managers with the skill sets and competencies supportive of relational contracting as a strategic approach to reprogramming current organizational cultures.
A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Doctor of Public Administration
Public Administration, Leadership