Managing Complex Networks: Strategies for the Public Sector


Edited by: Walter J.M. Kickert, Erik-Hans Klijn & Joop F.M. Koppenjan

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  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Part I: Policy Networks and Network Management: A State of the Art

    Part II: Network Dynamics and Management

    Part III: Conclusion: Strategies for Network Management

  • Copyright

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    Contributors' Notes

    Dr J.A. de Bruijn studied Dutch law and political science at Leiden University. From 1986 to 1992 he worked at the Department of Public Administration at Erasmus University Rotterdam. He received his PhD on a dissertation about economic subsidization ‘The Ministry of Economic Affairs: an Instrumental and Organizational Analysis of the Use of Economic Subsidies’ (VUGA, Den Haag, 1991). Now he works as a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Systems Engineering, Policy Analysis and Management of the Delft University of Technology. He publishes in the field of public administration and the internal management of public organizations.

    Professor K.I. Hanf is a faculty member of the Department of Public Administration at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. He received his PhD in 1968. The title of his thesis was ‘The Higher Civil Service in West Germany’ (University Microfilm International, London). He is co-author and editor of Interorganizational Policy Making (with F.W. Scharpf, Sage, London, 1978). In early 1993 he was named part-time professor in the field of environmental management at Nijenrode University.

    Professor E.F. ten Heuvelhof is Professor of Public Administration at the Delft University of Technology and the Department of Public Administration at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. He received his PhD in 1982. His thesis was entitled ‘Towards an Empirical Policy Theory: Local Municipal/Council Policy-making with regard to New Local Neighbourhood Shopping Centres’ (in Dutch, Amsterdam, 1982). His publications include works on the administrative aspects of physical planning and environmental policy.

    Dr P.L. Hupe has been a lecturer in the Department of Public Administration at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. For several years he worked as a policy adviser in the Dutch civil service since 1986. He has published on issues of the welfare state, institutional analysis, and policy implementation, in particular in the field of socio-economics. His thesis, ‘The Quality of Power: Minister De Uyl's Employment Plan in a Fivefold Perspective’, was published in October 1992.

    Professor W.J.M. Kickert studied experimental physics at Utrecht University and received his PhD in organization science from the Department of Business Administration at the Technical University Eindhoven with his thesis ‘Organization of Decision-Making’ (North Holland Elsevier, Amsterdam, 1980). He then joined the Department of Public Administration at the University of Nijmegen and subsequently worked at the Ministry of Education and Sciences, most recently as an adviser. In 1990 he was appointed Professor of Public Administration, specializing in public management, at Erasmus University Rotterdam.

    Dr E.-H. Klijn studied public administration at the University of Twente and was employed as a researcher from 1984 to 1989 on the Faculty of Architecture at the Technical University Delft. He has been a lecturer since 1989 in the Department of Public Administration at Erasmus University Rotterdam. In 1996 he received his doctorate from Rotterdam with his thesis ‘Rules and Governance in Networks: the Influence of Network Rules on the Restructuring of Post-war Housing’. His research interests and publications focus on policy networks, housing policy and public-private partnerships.

    Dr J.F.M. Koppenjan worked until recently at the Department of Public Administration at Erasmus University Rotterdam. In 1993 he received his doctorate from Rotterdam with his thesis ‘Managing the Policy-Making Process: A Study of Public Policy Formation in the Field of Home Administration’ (in Dutch, VUGA, Den Haag). Since September 1996 he has worked as a lecturer at the Faculty of Systems Engineering, Policy Analysis and Management of the Technical University of Delft. His publications focus on policy processes, governance of policy projects and network management. His research interests lie in the field of intergovernmental relations, safety policy and the environment.

    Professor L.J. O'Toole Jr. is Professor of Political Science and Senior Research Associate in the Institute of Community and Area Development at the University of Georgia (USA). He has published widely on the subjects of policy implementation, administrative theory and intergovernmental relations. Previously he served in the faculties of the University of Virginia and Auburn University.

    Professor A.B. Ringeling studied political science at the Free University Amsterdam. In 1969 he joined the staff of Nijmegen University, initially as a member of the law faculty and later with the Institute for Political Science. He received his PhD in 1978 with his dissertation ‘Policy Discretion of Civil Servants’ (in Dutch, Samsom Uitgeverij, Alphen a/d Rijn). In 1981 he became a professor at Erasmus University Rotterdam where he teaches public administration, specializing in the study of public policy.

    Dr L. Schaap studied public sciences at the University of Groningen. In 1989 he was appointed as a research assistant at Erasmus University's Department of Public Administration. Since 1993 he has worked there as a lecturer. He publishes in the field of the formation of regions and the history of Dutch public administration. He is currently working on his PhD thesis on the contribution of the theory of autopoetic social systems to problems with societal steering.

    Dr G.R. Teisman is a senior lecturer at the Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Department of Public Administration. He has been Professor of Physical Planning at the Catholic University of Nijmegen since spring 1997. He received his PhD in September 1992. The title of his thesis was ‘Complex Decision Making. A Pluricentric Perspective on Decision Making about Investments in Infrastructure.’ He specializes in interorganizational management, policy making, physical planning, infrastructures and public works.

    Dr C.J.A.M. Termeer studied agricultural engineering at the Agricultural University in Wageningen. From 1988 to 1993 she worked at Erasmus University's Department of Public Administration in Rotterdam. In 1993 she received her PhD with her thesis ‘Dynamics and Inertia in the Dutch Manure Policies: a Study of Change Processes in the Pig Farming Network’ (VUGA, Den Haag). In 1993 she was appointed as a lecturer at the Technical University Delft. Since June 1996 she has worked at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. She publishes on change processes, the agricultural network and environmental policy.

    Dr M.J.W. van Twist studied the sciences of public and business administration at Erasmus University Rotterdam. Since 1989 he has been working at the Department of Public Administration as a research assistant and lecturer. In 1995 he received his PhD from Rotterdam with his thesis ‘Verbal Renewal: Notes on the Art of Administrative Science.’ At present he is a lecturer at the Faculty of Systems Engineering, Policy Analysis and Management of the Technical University Delft, where he teaches public management and policy science.

    Foreword by Professor R.A.W. Rhodes

    Britain and the Netherlands are both unitary states. Not for them the messy intergovernmental games of federal states. They have coherent policy making and effective central control. Unfortunately, the simplicities of formal-legal categories mislead as often as not. Britain and the Netherlands may be unitary states but they are also differentiated polities, operating through a multi-form maze of institutions which central government can steer only imperfectly and indirectly. ‘Governance’ is a defining characteristic of such differentiated polities.

    Finer (1970: 3–4) treats government and governance as synonyms but in current use governance stands for a change in the meaning of government, referring to: a new process of governing; or a changed condition of ordered rule; or the new method by which society is governed. Inevitably, there are several contending meanings for the term. It refers to, for example, the minimal state; corporate governance; the new public management; and ‘good governance’ (see Rhodes, 1997: ch. 3). Here, governance refers to self-organizing, inter organizational networks, with the following characteristics.

    • Interdependence between organizations. Governance is broader than government, covering non-state actors. Changing the boundaries of the state means the boundaries between public, private and voluntary sectors become shifting and opaque.
    • Continuing interactions between network members, caused by the need to exchange resources and negotiate shared purposes.
    • Game-like interactions, rooted in trust and regulated by rules of the game negotiated and agreed by network participants.
    • No sovereign authority, so networks have a significant degree of autonomy from the state and are not accountable to it. They are self-organizing. Although the state does not occupy a sovereign position, it can indirectly and imperfectly steer networks.

    R.A.W. Rhodes is Professor of Politics (Research) at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and Director of the Economic and Social Research Council's Whitehall Research Programme. He is the author or editor of several books including recently (with Patrick Dunleavy, eds), Prime Minister, Cabinet and Core Executive (Macmillan, 1995); (with P. Weller and H. Bakvis, eds), The Hollow Crown (Macmillan, 1997); and Understanding Governance (Open University Press, 1997). He has published chapters in a great number of books and articles in such major journals as British Journal of Political Science, European Journal of Political Research, Parliamentary Affairs, Political Studies, Public Administration, Public Administration Review and West European Politics. He has been editor of Public Administration since 1986.

    Interorganizational linkages are a defining characteristic of service delivery. The term ‘network’ describes the several interdependent actors involved in delivering services. These networks are made up of organizations which need to exchange resources (for example, money, authority, information, expertise) to achieve their objectives, to maximize their influence over outcomes, and to avoid becoming dependent on other players in the game. As British government creates agencies, bypasses local government, uses special-purpose bodies to deliver services, and encourages public–private partnerships, so networks become increasingly prominent among British governing structures. Governance is about managing such networks:

    Instead of relying on the state or the market, socio-political governance is directed at the creation of patterns of interaction in which political and traditional hierarchical governing and social self-organization are complementary, in which responsibility and accountability for interventions is spread over public and private actors. (Kooiman, 1993: 252)

    Crucially, networks are self-organizing. At its simplest, self-organizing means a network is autonomous and self-governing:

    The control capacity of government is limited for a number of reasons: lack of legitimacy, complexity of policy processes, complexity and multitude of institutions concerned etc. Government is only one of many actors that influence the course of events in a societal system. Government does not have enough power to exert its will on other actors. Other social institutions are, to a great extent, autonomous. They are not controlled by any single superordinated actor, not even the government. They largely control themselves. Autonomy not only implies freedom, it also implies self-responsibility. Autonomous systems have a much larger degree of freedom of self-governance. Deregulation, government withdrawal and steering at a distance … are all notions of less direct government regulation and control, which lead to more autonomy and self-governance for social institutions. (Kickert, 1993c: 275)

    In short, integrated networks resist government steering, develop their own policies and mould their environments. Central government is no longer supreme. The political system is increasingly differentiated. We don't live in unitary states but in ‘the centreless society’ (Luhmann, 1982: xv); in the poly-centric state characterized by multiple centres. The task of government is to enable socio-political interactions; to encourage many and varied arrangements for coping with problems and to distribute services among the several actors. Such new patterns of interaction abound: for example, self- and co-regulation, public-private partnerships, cooperative management, and joint entrepreneurial ventures.

    Governments can choose between governing structures. To markets and hierarchies, we can now add networks. None of these structures for authoritatively allocating resources and exercising control and co-ordination is intrinsically ‘good’ or ‘bad’. The choice is a matter of practicality; that is, under what conditions does each governing structure work effectively? Bureaucracy remains the prime example of hierarchy or coordination by administrative order and, for all the recent changes, it is still a major way of delivering services. Privatization, marketing testing and the purchaser–provider split are examples of government using markets or quasi-markets to deliver services. Price competition is the key to efficient and better quality services. Competition and markets are now a fixed part of the governmental landscape. It is less widely recognized, especially in Britain, that government now works through networks characterized by trust and mutual adjustment. Governance is one such structure and this book addresses the key issue in governance: ‘How do we manage networks?’

    The governance approach and network management remain a minority interest in Britain and too few are aware of the pioneering work carried out by Walter Kickert, Jan Kooiman and their colleagues at the Erasmus University, Rotterdam. The ‘governance club’ research programme was set up in 1990, building on earlier work on administrative decision making. It focuses on policy making and governance in and of networks. Specifically, the group's theoretical work focuses on: policy instruments for governance, polycentric decision making, managing the policy process, the role of rules and perceptions in games and networks, network management and evaluating networks and their outcomes. Their empirical work covers technology policy, employment policy, agriculture, and intergovernmental relations. In collaboration with the publisher VUGA Uitgeverij BV in The Hague, the group edits a series on ‘Networks, complexity and dynamics’. Unfortunately, few of these works are available for the English reader. This volume is invaluable, because it provides the first conspectus of their work in English (see also Kickert, 1993b; Kooiman, 1993; Klijn, Koppenjan and Termeer, 1995).

    Normally, the literature on socio-cybernetics and governance contents itself with redescribing government and policy making. It provides insights, not tools. This book takes the argument a stage further by showing how governments can manage networks. It itemizes and illustrates a toolkit for managing networks. Table 10.1 summarizes the available tools and Chapters 68 explain the several strategies of intervention. Recently, I discussed the work of the Erasmus school at a conference. I was told their work was too abstract; ‘they live in the clouds’. In this book, they come down to earth with a bang. They would be the first to admit that a lot remains to be done to expand and refine the toolkit of network management, but they have taken important early steps.

    There is one important gap in their work. They focus on steering networks, adopting a managerial perspective, and discuss only briefly the topic of the accountability of networks in representative democracies. There is even less discussion of how to open networks to citizens. There is a need to adopt a political perspective on policy networks; to explore ways of democratizing functional domains.

    Markets and capitalism may have triumphed but we have some new ideologies voiced by the new tribes: vocal minorities with a taste for direct action over representation in ‘normal politics’. The new tribes include the environmentalists, the anti-roads lobby, the anti-smoking campaign, the campaign against blood sports, and the claims of religious and racial minorities. There are many new ideologies; outside ‘normal politics’, possibly from choice but definitely by exclusion. Governments will have to cope with them and this challenge raises the problem of how to sustain the legitimacy of government. The answer does not lie with managerial fixes.

    There is also an accountability deficit. Hirst (1990: 2) comments that representative democracy delivers ‘low levels of governmental accountability and public influence on decision making’. He notes that ‘big government is now so big’ that it defeats effective coordination by the centre and grows ‘undirected’ and by ‘accretion’ (1990: 31–2). So, both the new tribes and the accountability deficit mean we need to reinvent representative democracy; to experiment with new forms of democracy.

    There is no shortage of proposals for new forms of democracy. Hirst (1990: 8) argues for a pluralist state ‘in which distinct functionally and territorially specific domains of authority enjoy the autonomy necessary to perform their tasks’. Such ‘pluralizing of the state’ reduces ‘the scope of central state power’. The ways of so containing the central state vary. Hirst favours both functional representation in the guise of corporatism (1990: 12–15) and ‘associational democracy’ based on ‘voluntary self-governing associations’ (1994). Both schemes take domains of functional authority as the basic building block and are, therefore, consistent with a policy network interpretation of government.

    The conventional account of policy networks treats them as an instance of private government, arguing that networks are political oligarchies that shut out the public (Marsh and Rhodes, 1992: 265). Fox and Miller (1995: 118–27) suggest a way of challenging this world of private governments and developing accountability in policy networks by arguing for a pluralism of discourse. They stipulate four ‘warrants for discourse’ which are necessary conditions for authentic communication: sincerity, situation-regarding intentionality, willing attention, and substantive contribution. They argue that: ‘insincerity destroys trust’ which is essential to authentic discourse; situation-regarding intentionality ensures that discourse is about something and considers the context of the problem; willing attention will bring about passionate engagement; and participants should offer a distinct view or specific expertise. These norms ‘police the discourse’ and Fox and Miller (1995: 149) argue that citizens could be regaining control of government through their participation in networks as users and governors, creating a ‘post-modern public administration’. Policy networks are ‘nascent forms’ of ‘publicly interested discourse’ in which all the affected parties participate ‘together to work out possibilities for what to do next’.

    Representative democracy in differentiated polities requires, therefore, explicit accountability; in multiple forms and in many forums; with openness of information and access to sustain warrants of discourse; and flexible institutions willing to encourage experiments with multiple and new forms of accountability. The task has scarcely begun, in either theory or practice.

    Perhaps the most common criticism of the governance approach stems from its roots in socio-cybernetic theory with its baffling neologisms. The specialized language gets in the way of the message, which seems arcane and unrelated to the everyday problems of government. A book is doomed among practitioners when written in social science-ese, extensively using jargon. Also, it is folk wisdom that the social sciences restate the obvious in an abstruse way. All too often academics make maps of complexity, insisting that complex problems require complex solutions. This stance contrasts sharply with the snappy ‘ten commandments’ of the latest management bestseller. The study of governance needs its bestseller with snappy aphorisms and vivid stories.

    The task should not be beyond us. There are two aphorisms for which this book provides plenty of illustrations. ‘For every complex problem there is a simple solution, and it is always wrong’; and, ‘Messy problems demand messy solutions.’ And if resorting to vernacular language upsets our academic colleagues we can always rephrase these insights more formally as ‘reducing complexity through institutional differentiation’ (Luhmann, 1982).

    Equally, the vivid story should not escape our attention. I live in North Yorkshire, where one of my master's students did his thesis on the local-level implementation structure for AIDS in one district. It is a quiet rural area with a few small towns; it is not the cosmopolitan capital of the western world. There is night-life, but it shuts at 11 p.m. The government requires health and local authorities to provide for AIDS sufferers. To plan the service, 19 organizations have come together to form the planning team. An unbelievable 39 organizations are involved in delivering the service. There is no hierarchy among the organizations: no one organization can plan and command the others. And yet there are only 24 people who are HIV positive in the area. A tinge of black humour is unavoidable: there is only one clear policy choice – find a patient for each organization! Or if we forswear irony, we can always return to the safe haven of our jargon; we have here a clear case of ‘multi-organizational sub-optimization’. But ironic humour, or at least telling a good story, must become part of the social scientist's toolkit, if we are to be accessible. We must do so to persuade governments to change their operating codes; to choose between governing structures and recognize governance and the skills of network management.

    Managing institutional differentiation and pluralization is a task confronting all advanced industrial democracies because they all reduce complexity by differentiation; that is, fracturing problems into their component parts and designing legal-institutional ‘solutions’ for each part. This book provides some telling lessons on how to manage such organizational complexity and introduces a toolkit for managing the networks of differentiated polities.


    In public administration the concept ‘policy network’ has become quite popular. It refers to the relatively stable relations between (different) governmental and (semi-) private organizations, in which processes of policy making take place. Until recently the concept ‘policy network’ had often been negatively evaluated. It was seen as one of the main reasons for policy failure: non-transparent and impenetrable forms of interest representations which prevent policy innovations and threaten the effectiveness, efficiency and democratic legitimacy of the public sector.

    We do not support this view. Networks are a fundamental characteristic of modern societies and it should be the task of policy scientists to explore the potentials of public policy making and governance in networks. With this in mind, the idea of network management is elaborated and examined in this book.

    Many of the ideas expressed in this book are inspired by the work of members of a group of researchers in the Departments of Public Administration of Erasmus University Rotterdam and Leiden University and the Faculty of Systems Engineering, Policy Analysis and Management of the Delft University of Technology. Since 1989, this group has met regularly in order to discuss theoretical issues, research designs and findings. Among their publications are a series of PhD theses in which the consequences of policy networks for public policy and governance in specific policy areas have been empirically analysed. Although there is diversity in the work of the researchers, a more or less coherent body of theoretical knowledge has been developed which forms the basis of this book.

    This book makes two major contributions to the field, in addition to the ideas developed in the research group. First, although within the group the concept of policy networks has guided much of the research and analysis, the idea of network management has never before been elaborated as systematically and profoundly as it is here. Second, although members of the group have published in international journals, our ideas are presented here for the first time in a comprehensive way for an international audience. We hope this will contribute to the international debate on topics such as governance and new public management and we look forward to the discussions we hope it will encourage.

    It was the ambition of the editors to make the book more than just a compilation of contributions of several individuals. We did this not only by investing our time, energy and knowledge in several ‘editorial chapters’ (Chapters 1, 2, 3, and 10), but also by inviting the authors to read and comment on each other's contributions. So this book is the joint product of all the authors, and we would like to thank them for their efforts.

    We would also like to thank the other members of the research group ‘Policy and governance in complex networks’, who were likewise involved in reading and commenting on the concept texts. Our special thanks go to Kathy Owen, who, with the help of Vicky Wightman, transformed our Dutch and – probably worse – our attempts to write in English into readable text. We also wish to express our gratitude to Ankie Assink, Edith Aalbers, Steven de Waal, and Karin Feteris, who assisted us on various occasions with the processing of the manuscript.

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