The importance of interpersonal relations in green networks
experiences from Denmark.
Four green networks are established in the southern part of Jutland in order to initiate activities that facilitate an extended collaboration between local and regional authorities and companies.
This abstract presents some of the preliminary results of a project initiated to analyse how interpersonal relations influence the collaboration between authorities and companies.
Dialogue-based networking is the main means of facilitating collaboration between authorities and companies. This type of networking goes beyond public regulation to self regulation facilitated through strategic dialogue. This calls for new roles. The environmental authorities must combine enforcement and facilitation at the strategic as well as at the operational level.
At the theoretical level, an analytical framework is developed to address the interpersonal factors influencing the dialogue. This theoretical framework draws on social psychology and communication theory and highlights:
1) The importance of personal attitudes, competences, proximity and the sense of familiarity.
2) The institutions which are carried into the dialogue through roles and scripts which are confirmed or negotiated in the dialogue and through power relations
3) The communicative practise carried out in the interpersonal relation through codes, media, rhetoric and means of establishing and maintaining the dialogue.
In this paper, we will address the importance of personal attitudes, proximity and the sense of familiarity, by drawing on empirical data from qualitative interviews with environmental inspectors as well as environmental employees from companies. To analyse the factors built into the analytical framework, both the inspectors and the companies filled out a questionnaire assessing the importance of a series of variables. The variables are, together with the results, presented in Figure 1. Figure 1 is based on 17 interviews.
As the figure shows, attitudes and the sense of familiarity and proximity matter in the strategic dialogue. However, proximity seems to have its limits, as it is considered to be a barrier to the strategic dialogue if the involved actors know each other in private. However, several variables addressed in the analytical framework are assessed by the partners as being of considerable importance to the outcome of the dialogue.
Figure 1: Illustration of the average score for a number of factors influencing the collaboration between the company and the public environmental inspector.
The results of both the questionnaire and the interviews show that especially trust, equality, mutual credibility and respect for each other's competencies influence the collaboration. The roles that facilitate the establishment of these factors are very dependent on the individual perception of the tasks, but most of all, dependent on the possibility of creating a dialogue-based collaboration. In this collaboration, the environmental inspector demonstrates his willingness to move beyond the regulator role; not telling the companies how to comply with regulation, but informing them about the aims of environmental performances. In this case, it is up to the companies to design the solutions.
Furthermore, the analyses show that not only do the dialogue-based environmental inspections lead to a more positive perception of the inspectors; the companies also become more positive towards environmental improvements. Those companies that decide to join the green networks improve their environmental effort beyond the requirements of environmental legislation. For some companies, this includes the implementation of renewable energy and the reduction of energy consumption.
The strategic dialogue serves to negotiate the traditional role systems and power relations, and this leaves room for synergy. Furthermore, the green network and the meetings within the network play an important role in terms of setting the scene for the strategic dialogue. However, nor the practise of the strategic dialogue or the maintenance of the green network will guarantee a successful dialogue and environmental momentum. Interpersonal relations matter. They might not be able to change role systems, but this paper shows a need for paying more attention to proximity, familiarity and the match of personal attitudes in network relations.