The Study of Local Public Economies: Multi-organizational, Multi-level Institutional Analysis and Development


Ronald J. Oakerson is Professor of Political Science at Houghton College.

Roger B. Parks is Professor Emeritus of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University, Bloomington.


One important extension of the IAD framework has been to the study of local public economies. These are multi-organizational, multi-level arrangements defined as the set of governmental jurisdictions, public and nonprofit agencies, and private firms that interact in various patterns to provide and produce public goods and services within a specific locality or region. Commonly, the localities or regions studied from this perspective have been U.S. metropolitan areas, often defined as a central city and its surrounding or adjoining county. Localities can be delineated, however, on various terms, and in the IAD framework, it is the geo-physical nature of a locality that, in substantial part, drives the analysis. One of the strengths of the approach is its capacity to explain local variations in public organization as a function of the geo-physical diversity of localities, while at the same time developing empirical generalizations and normative principles that apply across diverse regions. What, for example, might the organization and governance of a complex metropolitan area have in common with the organization and governance of a complex protected area, such as the greater Yellowstone eco-region or the Adirondack Park? Construing both sorts of regions as local public economies can enhance our overall understanding of public organization at the same time that it permits a more nuanced understanding of diverse localities. Such work contributes to the ongoing IAD project of “understanding institutional diversity.”