Dealing with in-between dynamics

Both academics and practitioners consider working in coalitions across organizational boundaries as crucial to deal with ‘wicked’ public issues. When forming coalitions, a new space of interaction comes into being: the in-between space. In this space, spanning across organizational boundaries, new coalitions are shaped, new pathways and strategies are defined and new logics of interaction emerge. The in-between spaces thus offer potential for new creative combinations and solutions. But also for conflicts between interests and interpretations. In the in-between, people from different organizational cultures meet and have to work out ways to deal with their differences in approach.

Working in-between means being able to collaborate with the internal departments in a formal context, with the external parties involved in an informal context, and furthermore being able to combine the different dynamics of these contexts. This combination can lead to tensions. Examples of these tensions are: “being in control vs letting go”, “regulating vs disrupting”, “autonomous vs interdependent”, “predefining vs becoming” and “exploitation vs exploration”. Through this, in-between practices are characterized by complexity and ambiguity. Coming to grip is hard because of the lack of generally accepted rules and norms. Especially professionals working in public organizations are having difficulties dealing with in-between dynamics. This, because of their specific authorities, responsibilities and activities to produce legitimate decisions. At the same time, it is exactly these organizations that could benefit from in-between produced public values and services that have greater impact on persistent social problems.

In-between spaces are therefore gaining relevance, yet they are still relatively unknown and undeveloped territory. We know little about the in-between dynamics and ways to deal with them. How can public professionals make this tough and tense place productive? The Urban Futures Studio therefore researches the in-between dynamics through empirical cases and practical interventions. Why is working in-between challenging? What orderings can offer grip for in-between-practices? And what techniques can be used to make in-between practices productive? In the coming years, we will try to identify several ordering devices and practical techniques to help public professionals in dealing with in-between dynamics.

A first publication about three types of coalitions has been published here. Do you have suggestions for or questions about the research? Please contact Martine de Jong.