Network governance (NG) is a form of governance that is likely to be continually used in the future for the solution of complex contemporary issues that require the coordination of actions of numerous actors. The present paper is aimed at gaining insights into the notion. It includes the definition of the term, the discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of the phenomenon, and the analysis of its key aspects supplied with relevant examples. The critical analysis of two theoretical articles is used to make assumptions about the related research, and the conclusions about NG are made.
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Network Governance: The Notion
A network can be defined as a group of interrelated but legally autonomous units that are united by a common goal or aim (Provan & Kenis 2008, p. 231). The term ‘governance’ describes the structures, which shape the ‘rights, rules, preferences and resources that structure political outcomes’ and individuals’ actions aimed at it (Bogason & Musso 2006, p. 5). NG can, therefore, be defined as a network that is united by the common aim of influencing varied aspects of public policies (Poocharoen & Sovacool 2012).
The forms of NG are numerous, and they can be related to various environments (Hansson & Longva 2014). For example, an NG can appear business (Provan & Kenis 2008; Poocharoen & Sovacool 2012), politics (Bogason & Musso 2006; Elson 2015), or environmental protection (Sandström, Bodin & Crona 2015; Van Buuren et al. 2014) settings.
The Strengths and Weaknesses
The strengths of NG include those that allow it to perform its mission (achieve a common goal) and positive side effects. The former incorporate the improved problem-solving and planning capabilities and enhanced flexibility, adaptability, and efficiency due to the increased number of thinkers and perspectives. For example, Bogason and Musso (2006, p. 8) explain that the NG carried out in the Ghent region through the increasing engagement of local governments provided additional viewpoints of the people who possess more extensive knowledge about the specifics of local problems, which led to the mentioned advantages.
The ‘side-effects’ of NG include the empowerment of the people involved and enhanced understanding of the issues. For a business, additional advantages include the improvement of competitiveness and customer satisfaction; for the politics, arguably, the democracy might benefit (Bogason & Musso 2006; Provan & Kenis 2008; Sandström, Bodin & Crona 2015).
The disadvantages of NG include relative instability (the downside of flexibility) and the need to balance between excessive and insufficient control (Sandström, Bodin & Crona 2015). Similarly significant is the issue of accountability and internal and external legitimacy (Hansson & Longva 2014). Finally, there is always a chance of mismanagement and power abuse in a situation where power is involved (Bogason & Musso 2006; Provan & Kenis 2008). In general, it can be concluded that when managed properly, NG is the most beneficial choice of governance when a complex common goal needs to be achieved.
Aspects of Governance
Key Conceptual Difficulties, Theoretical Perspectives, and Debates
The definitions presented above are relatively stable and can be formulated differently, but seem to represent more or less identical concepts (Provan & Kenis 2008, p. 231; Elson 2015, p. 42). It is acknowledged that NG is a form of governance that is created to achieve a particular goal (Provan & Kenis 2008).
The perspectives on NG tend to highlight varied aspects of the phenomenon: for example, participatory models are aimed at describing the various elements of participation and deliberative ones emphasize the importance of deliberation and debates (Van Buuren et al. 2014). The analytical approach to NG describes the micro-level of the network while a more comprehensive approach regards it ‘as a form of governance’ or a ‘mechanism of coordination’ (Provan & Kenis 2008, p. 232). As a result, the accumulating bulk of literature on NG attempts to create a more or less comprehensive picture of the phenomenon.
The Relationships between Political Actors and Institutions
Some of the key aspects of NG are its actors and the relations between them: technically, this is what constitutes a network (Elson 2015, p. 43). The phenomenon can be local, national, and international, which is why the following examples are concerned with different levels.
The relationships of the actors can be characterized by the degree of centralization. Low centralization is concerned with shared governance and significant independence of the units. An example is OPEC, a network of independent countries that are united by the common goal of attempting to influence the oil market (Poocharoen & Sovacool 2012). A high centralization level presupposes much less freedom in the actions of the units. For example, the neighborhood councils of Los Angeles that work together with the representative city council form a highly centralized and brokered NG (Bogason & Musso 2006, p. 9).
Similarly, Löfgren and Ringholm (2009, p. 513) describe local and regional governments in Nordic countries and indicate that they are making ‘modest’ steps towards further decentralization. It is also noteworthy that an NG can be governed by a member or an outside organization. Provan and Kenis (2008) mention the example of wood processing organizations being governed by an external not-for-profit institute. On the other hand, the national-level environmental NG described by Sandström, Bodin, and Crona (2015) consists of five regional networks that are governed by the National Environment Protection Agency. The variances in the relationships between the actors from different NG types.
Critical Analysis of the Theoretical Articles
NG in Politics
The theory of NG is a developing field that exhibits several varied approaches (Poocharoen & Sovacool 2012). Here, two articles are critically analyzed to discuss the research in the field.
The article by Bogason and Musso (2006) is titled ‘The Democratic Prospects of Network Governance’ and devoted to the use of NG for governmental purposes. Bogason and Musso (2006, p. 5) point out that the concept of NG changes our idea of democracy, which means that new models and theoretical frameworks are necessary for its description. The authors address the issue by discussing some aspects of NG, in particular, its ‘promises’ and ‘perils’ and the reasons for NG development (Bogason & Musso 2006, p. 5).
Bogason and Musso (2006) focus on the problem-solving capacity of NG and the issues of accountability and stability (or the fact that NG is conflict-prone). The authors also describe the notion of “meta governance” that is indirect and is concerned with various forms of self-governance. In other words, meta governance is NG in local, national, and international politics.
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The authors conclude that it arises “as responses to needs for the coordination of activities” to attend specific problems that cannot be resolved without the common effort (Bogason & Musso 2006, p. 12). Bogason and Musso (2006) insist that modern issues are too complex for the classical hierarchy to solve, and NG is better suited for them. The authors conclude that modern societies and governments do not have the option of not developing NGs (Bogason & Musso 2006, p. 13).
Bogason and Musso (2006, p. 14) suggests that hierarchies will be decreasing in numbers since they are less efficient. Still, they admit that the current theory and empirical research on NG are deficient, and further investigation is required for more extensive conclusions. Indeed, the conclusions of Bogason and Musso (2006) are admittedly tentative: they ‘hope’ for NG to be democratic, ‘hope’ for NG to bring along new ways of policy formulation, which may be considered a disadvantage of the article but, on the other hand, is explained by the lack of material. At the same time, the authors provide a comprehensive overview of the then-relevant theory, suggest numerous examples and their analysis, and make a challenging but well-founded conclusion concerning the future of NG, which turns their work into a valuable contribution to the NG research.
NG in Business
The article by Provan and Kenis (2008) is titled ‘Modes of Network Governance: Structure, Management, and Effectiveness,’ and it aims at filling one of the many blank spots in the theory of NG that is applied to the business world. The authors clearly state the place of their research in the then-current theoretical framework: they indicate that neither of the relevant approaches focus only on the network and not the governance part of the phenomenon, which means that NG remained underdescribed.
The research of Provan and Kenis (2008) results in a taxonomy of NG structures that are also analyzed from the point of their feasibility in different cases. The taxonomy presupposes stating the level of centralization and the type of governance (internal or external) for an NG; the conditions that define the effectiveness of a form include the size of the network, its trust, and consensus, and the need for specific competencies to achieve the goal.
The greater the number of participants or the need for specific competencies, the more effective a more centralized governance form might be. High trust and consensus are more characteristic of shared governance; hence, it is illogical to use shared governance where these two aspects are lacking. Also, the authors discussed NG-related issues including the efficient sharing of responsibility, legitimacy (both external and internal), and the balance between stability and flexibility.
They conclude by suggesting that NGs logically develop to adopt a most suitable form of government; if they do not, they will not be efficient and are not likely to survive. The contribution of the article to the built of NG-related literature is, therefore, commendable: the presented theory is both explanatory and practically applicable. The article may be considered a bit overly theoretical, though. The examples are few, but it is also noteworthy that the article is aimed at theoretical framework development, and it is consistent in grounding its conclusions.
The presented studies illustrate the attempts at describing NG from varied points of view, and it is noteworthy that both of them indicate the need for further research in the field.
Upon researching NG, its aspects, types, theoretical frameworks, and practical examples, we can make the following conclusions. NG is a form of governance that arises to satisfy the need for a common goal achievement. To achieve success, its specific type has to be tailored to suit this goal, and it needs to be properly managed to use the advantages and balance out the disadvantages of this form of governance. Given the fact that NG does seem to be more suitable for the solution of complicated contemporary issues in various settings (social, environmental, political, economical), it may be concluded that the research and practice of NG are likely to continue to develop.
Bogason, P & Musso, JA 2006, ‘The Democratic Prospects of Network Governance’, The American Review of Public Administration, 36, no. 1, pp.3-18. Web.
Elson, P 2015, ‘A Comparative Analysis of Nonprofit Policy Network Governance in Canada’, Canadian Journal of Nonprofit and Social Economy Research, 6, no. 2, pp. 42-64. Web.
Hansson, L & Longva, F 2014, ‘Contracting accountability in network governance structures’, Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management, 11, no. 2, pp. 92-110. Web.
Löfgren, K & Ringholm, 2009, ‘Introduction: New Network Modes of Nordic Local Governance’, Local Government Studies, 35, no. 5, pp.505-14. Web.
Poocharoen, O & Sovacool, B 2012, ‘Exploring the challenges of energy and resources network governance’, Energy Policy, 42, pp.409-18. Web.
Provan, K & Kenis, P 2008, ‘Modes of Network Governance: Structure, Management, and Effectiveness’, Journal Of Public Administration Research & Theory, 18, no. 2, pp. 229-52. Web.
Sandström, A Bodin, Ö & Crona, B 2015, ‘Network Governance from the top – The case of ecosystem-based coastal and marine management’, Marine Policy, 55, pp.57-63. Web.
Van Buuren, A Driessen, P Teisman, G & van Rijswick, M 2014, ‘Toward legitimate governance strategies for climate adaptation in the Netherlands: Combining insights from a legal, planning, and network perspective’, Regional Environmental Change, 14, no. 3, pp. 1021-33. Web.