Multilateral Collaboration with Diffuse Reciprocity

… a core term used in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100


Schertzer, McDougall, and Skogstad (reference below) describe multilateral collaboration with diffuse reciprocity as one of the three approaches to intergovernmental relations.

They summarize their framework of approaches (p. 3) as:

Intergovernmental Approach
Distinguishing features (Norms, Institutions, Outputs)
Multilateral Collaboration High level of FPT engagement based on equality of orders and norms of co-ownership of policy field through strong FPT institutions.

Outputs show diffuse reciprocity.

Bilateral Negotiation Federal-single province dynamic, with joint ownership of a policy field based on equality of orders, but with recognition of the unique federal-provincial relationship.

Outputs show specific reciprocity.

Unilateral Action Strong sense that a government can legitimately act on its own in a policy area, even if it impacts another government without consultation.

Outputs show particular interests.

Schertzer, McDougall, and Skogstad describe (p. 4) multilateral collaboration with diffuse reciprocity approach as follows:

“First, collaborative IGR is built upon a set of norms that stresses the equality of the two orders of government with joint federal-provincial ownership over the relevant policy field or specific area within a broader sector (Cameron and Simeon 2002: 49,54; Lazar 2006: 28-29). Critical in this respect is a high-level of trust among the actors involved that there is a genuine commitment and acceptance of these norms. Second, the processes and institutions of truly collaborative IGR reflect these norms. Accordingly, they operate on a multilateral basis (sometimes with the participation of Quebec, though not always) with a federal-provincial co-chair model and a mandate to carry out joint policy development and decision-making. Third, the outcomes of policy development and decision-making reflect the underlying norms and institutional process (Simmons and Graefe 2013: 30-32). The results from collaborative IGR show a demonstrable commitment to the principle of “diffuse reciprocity”: that is, to an outcome that will eventually “yield a rough equivalency of benefits” for all parties over time (Schertzer 2015; Ruggie 1993: 11; Keohane, 1985).”

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Federalism (core topic) in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100 Governance and Institutions.


Schertzer, R. McDougall, A. and Skogstad, G. (2016), “Collaboration and Unilateralism: Explaining recent dynamics of intergovernmental relations in Canada,” Working Paper, Presented at Canadian Political Science Association Annual Conference, 2016. References in the cited paragraph are:

Cameron, David and Richard Simeon. 2002. “Intergovernmental Relations in Canada: The Emergence of collaborative federalism.” Publius. 32(2): 49-71.

Lazar, Harvey. 2006. “The Intergovernmental Dimensions of the Social Union: A sectoral analysis” Canadian Public Administration 49(1): 23-45.

Simmons, Julie and Peter Graefe. 2013. “Assessing the Collaboration That Was Collaborative Federalism’ 1996-2006.” Canadian Political Science Review. 7(1): 25-36.

Schertzer, Robert. 2015. “Intergovernmental Relations in Canada’s Immigration System: From bilateralism towards multilateral collaboration.” Canadian Journal of Political Science. 48(2):383-412.

Ruggie, John. 1993. “Multilateralism: The Anatomy of an Institution.” In Multilateralism Matters: The Theory and Praxis of an Institutional Form, ed. John Ruggie New York: Columbia University Press.

Keohane, Robert. 1985. “Reciprocity in International Relations.” International Organization. 49(1): 1-27.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 6 September 2016.