Making sense, discovering what works…

Cross-agency collaboration in Child Welfare and Protection in Norway and Quebec


  • Oscar E. Firbank
  • Janne Iren Paulsen Breimo
  • Johans Tveit Sandvin



cross-agency collaboration, service networks, Child Welfare and Protection, sociology, Norway and Quebec, meta-ethnography


This paper addresses the enabling and constraining factors that underpin inter-organizational collaboration in Child Welfare and Protection services in Norway and Quebec. Characterized by different regulatory systems, but with a common drive to hierarchically promote cross-agency collaboration, these jurisdictions provide the basis for two instructive and contrasting case studies on the subject. The paper builds on meta-ethnography as a means to synthesize and translate results from separate qualitative research undertakings carried out in each place. It argues that although a core set of properties may be identified as necessary for collaboratives to operate in a successful, sustainable manner; greater attention should be paid to how these properties interact with one another on the ground, given schemes’ particular scope and scale of objectives. Moreover, regulatory provisions aimed at stimulating or mandating cross-agency networks may align with collaborative capacity in various ways, occasionally in a mutually reinforcing, but sometimes antagonistic manner. The conclusions drawn have implications for both research and policy.

Author Biographies

Oscar E. Firbank

Associate Professor
School of Social Work
University of Montreal
P.O. Box 6128, Centre-ville station
Montreal, Quebec H3C 3J7
Phone: (+1) 514-343-2294

Janne Iren Paulsen Breimo

Associate Professor
Nord University
Faculty of Social Sciences
Postbox 1490
8049 Bodø
Phone: 004775517425

Johans Tveit Sandvin

Nord University
Faculty of Social Sciences
Postbox 1490
8049 Bodø
Phone: 004775517631


Ansell, C., & Gash, A. (2007). Collaborative governance in theory and practice. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 18(4), 543–571.

Archambault, J., & Nadeau, M.-E. (2012). Les initiatives déployées dans les RLS du Québec: Bilan des réalisations 2011-2012. Sherbrooke: OQRLS.

Backe-Hansen, E., Höyer, I., Sjöblom, Y., & Storø, J. (2013). Out-of-home care in Norway and Sweden – similar and different. Psychosocial Intervention, 22, 193-202.

Baklien, B. (2009). Skole, barnehage, barnevernstjeneste – bilder av ‘de andre’ hindrer samarbeid. Norges barnevern, 86(4).

Breimo, J., Turba, H., Firbank, O., Bode, I., & Sandvin, J. (2016). Networking en-forced – Comparing social services’ collaborative rationales across differ-ent welfare regimes. Social Policy and Administration (forthcoming).

Breimo, J., Sandvin, J., & Thommesen, H. (2015). Trøblete overganger i et al-dersdelt hjelpeapparat. Tidsskriftet Norges Barnevern, 92(1), 28-44.

Breimo, J., & Sandvin, J. (2009). Samordning som diskurs. In J. Tøssebro (Ed.), Funksjonshemming- politikk, hverdagsliv og arbeidsliv, (pp. 179-191). Os-lo: Universitetsforlaget.

Bryson, J., Crosby, B., & Stone, M. (2015). Designing and Implementing Cross‐Sector Collaborations: Needed and Challenging. Public Administration Review, 75(5), 647-663.

Britten, N., & Pope, C. (2012). Medicine taking for asthma: A worked example of meta-ethnography. In K. Hannes & C. Lockwood (Eds.), Synthesizing Qualitative Research: Choosing the Right Approach, (pp. 41-57). Oxford: Wiley & Sons.

Demers, L. (2013). Mergers and integrated care: The Quebec experience. Inter-national Journal of Integrated Care, 13(1), 1-4.

Deshaies, S., & Pollender, H. (2014). Les réseaux locaux de services: Perspec-tives du terrain. Le Point en administration de la santé et des services so-ciaux, 10(2), 50-55.

Huxham, C., & Vangen, S. (2005). Managing to Collaborate: The Theory and Practice of Collaborative Advantage. New York: Routledge.

Klijn, E-H. (2008). Governance and governance networks in Europe. An as-sessment of ten years of research on the theme. Public Management Re-view, 10(4), 505-525.

Lee, R., Hart, R., Watson, R., & Rapley, T. (2014). Qualitative synthesis in prac-tice: Some pragmatics of meta-ethnography. Qualitative Research, 15(3), 334-350.

MacKean, G., Popp, J., & Casebeer, A. (2015). Networks as Interventions: Policy Tool or Panacea. Symposium Proceedings, Edmonton, Alberta.

Morris, J., & Miller-Stevens, K. (Eds.) (2015). Advancing Collaboration Theory: Models, Typologies, and Evidence. London: Routledge.

Noblit, G., & Hare, D. (1988). Meta-Ethnography: Synthesizing Qualitative Stud-ies. California: Sage.

O’Leary, R., & Vij, N. (2012). Collaborative Public Management: Where Have We Been and Where Are We Going? American Review of Public Administra-tion, 42(5), 507-22.

O'Toole, L. J. (2015). Networks and networking: The public administrative agen-das. Public Administration Review, 75(3), 361-371.

Popp, J. K., & Casabeer, A. (2015). Be careful what you ask for: Things policy-makers should know before mandating networks. Healthcare Manage-ment Forum, 28, 230-235.

Popp, J. K., Milward, H. B., & MacKean, G. et al. (2014). Inter-organizational net-works: A critical review of the literature to inform practice. Alberta: Centre for child, family and community research.

Provan, K., & Lemaire, R. (2012). Core concepts and key ideas for understand-ing public sector organizational networks: Using research to inform scholarship and practice. Public Administration Review, 72(5), 638-648.

Provan, K. & Lemaire, R. (2012). Core concepts and key ideas for understanding public-sector organizational networks: Using research to inform scholar-ship and practice. Public Administration Review, 71(5), 638-648.

Raab, J., Mannak, R., & Cambré, B. (2015). Combining Structure, Governance, and Context: A Configurational Approach to Network Effectiveness. Jour-nal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 25(2), 479–511.

Robson, J. (2012). Social service collaboration: Moving towards integration of forms and services. Guelph: Institute for Community Engaged Scholar-ship.

Schutz, A. (1967). Collected Papers I: The Problem of Social Reality. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

Sorensen, E. & Torfing, J. (2009). Making governance networks effective and democratic through metagovernance. Public Administration, 87(2), 234-258.

Stoy, V. (2014). Worlds of Welfare Services: From Discovery to Exploration. So-cial Policy and Administration, 48(3), 343-360.

Sullivan, H. & Skelcher, C. (2002). Working across boundaries. Collaboration in public services. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Vaillancourt, Y. (2012). The Quebec model of social policy, past and present. In A. Westhues & B. Wharf (Eds.), Canadian Social Policy. Issues and Per-spectives, (115-144). Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

Voets, J., Verhoest, K., & Molenfeld, A. (2015). Coordinating for Integrated Youth Care: The need for smart metagovernance. Public Management Review, 7(7-8), 981-1002.

Willem A., & Lucidarme S. (2014). Pitfalls and challenges for trust and effective-ness in collaborative networks. Public Management Review, 16, 733-760.




How to Cite

Firbank, O. E., Breimo, J. I. P., & Sandvin, J. T. (2016). Making sense, discovering what works…: Cross-agency collaboration in Child Welfare and Protection in Norway and Quebec. Journal of Comparative Social Work, 11(2), 151–186.