Paper presented at “Leading the Future of the Public Sector” – The Third Transatlantic Dialogue, Newark, DE, Mon, 02 Jun 2007.
Government leaders at all levels are realizing that sharing information across organizational boundaries is essential to effectively respond to the most pressing public problems facing governments. A public health crisis, such as the outbreak of the West Nile virus in the United States, represents one of these pressing public problems. Sharing information across organizational boundaries in support of a governmental response required intergovernmental and multi-sectoral collaboration and information sharing. Examining these efforts provides an opportunity to explore questions about various actors in such response efforts; in particular, executives and informal leaders. This paper, based on a comparative case analysis of the response to West Nile virus (WNV) in two US states, New York and Colorado, extends what is known about leadership by providing new understanding about the mechanisms through which executive involvement, and formal authority, informal leadership affect multi-sector collaborative information sharing. The case analysis contributes to current knowledge about government leadership in complex, multi-sectoral network environments such as a public health crisis. A set of propositions drawn from the analysis provide a preliminary model of the mechanisms through which leadership variables affect intergovernmental and multi-sector information sharing in crisis response. The findings provide new insight for practitioners about the mechanisms through which executives and informal leaders influence cross-boundary information sharing and ultimately the capability of government organizations to respond to complex public problems.