As public problems have become more complex, individual government agencies working alone can no longer solve these so called “wicked problems.” Instead, there has been a growing emphasis on complementing hierarchical structures with network arrangements. A rapidly growing body of research has centered on the concept of “networks” and its implications for a wide range of management and policy issues in both developing and developed countries. In the field of public administration, networks are defined as interorganizational arrangements working together to achieve common goals, a way of reviving active citizenship and enabling community development, or a distinctive form of governance that relies more on horizontal relationships than on hierarchical authorities (Agranoff and McGuire, 2001; Isett, Mergel, LeRoux, and Mischen, 2011).

November, 09 2020   |   Naim Kapucu & Qian Hu

Compared with other forms of organizing such as formal hierarchies, networks can provide more flexible venues for information sharing and resources coordination. Varied and frequent interactions among organizations can foster the development of social capital, facilitate knowledge sharing, and encourage organizational learning and innovation (Isett et al., 2011).

Networks, however, are not a panacea to complex public management issues. Networks do not always achieve intended collaborative outcomes. Furthermore, the formation, development, and sustainability of networks demand careful facilitation and management. Therefore, network governance is important. Network governance focuses on “the use of formal and informal institutions to allocate resources and coordinate joint action in a network of organizations” (Kapucu and Hu, 2020, p. 5). In our book Network Governance: Concepts, Theories, and Applications, we address network types, structures, and their applications, and we further discuss the design and development of networks, network management and leadership, network legitimacy and accountability, and performance issues. Below we highlight several key elements of governing interorganizational networks.


Dynamics and Evolution of Networks

Networks consist of nodes and ties that connect the nodes. Nodes can range from individuals to groups and organizations, and even countries. The relationships can be interactions, co-occurrence (such as affiliation with the same association), or flow of information and resources, and these relationships can be directional or non-directional (Borgatti, Everett, and Johnson, 2013). A network can be formal or informal, goal-oriented, or emergent. The composition, size, and configuration of a network often change constantly. Organizations can join or leave networks and they can build, strengthen, or dissolve network ties. A network can evolve from an emergent loosely connected network to a dense and well-structured one and vice versa (Kapucu and Hu, 2020).

A network has its life cycle. At the stage of network formation, it is important to analyze the drivers and motives of network participation and examine institutional and environmental factors. At this stage, networks identify core network participations and develop shared goals, and define their mission and formality. At the development stage, networks build capacity to pursue common goals by adding new members, developing trust and commitment, and defining leadership roles. Facing external shocks or interruptions, networks become resilient by adjusting their form, memberships, structure, and functionality. Network sustainability is often achieved by the continuous mobilization of resources, capacity building, and the development of trust and legitimacy. Network managers need to seek a balance between stability and flexibility to allow for network resilience, adaptation, and sustainability (Kapucu and Hu, 2020).


Network Leadership and Management

Managers in a networked environment often interact with a wide range of stakeholders and coordinate efforts across sector, jurisdictional, and geographic boundaries. The cross-sector environment poses distinct opportunities and challenges to public administrators. Member organizations join the network with different goals, missions, cultures, and processes of operation (Agranoff and McGuire, 2001). Therefore, network managers need to develop and sustain relationships with all members and help connect individual organizational goals with network-level goals. Decision-making in networks often requires a deliberative approach rather than a top-down approach, to establish rules, and build trust and consensus. To facilitate the process of collaboration, managers in networks engage in unique sets of activities, such as identifying members, mobilizing resources, establishing rules, addressing differences, and managing tension and conflicts (Agranoff and McGuire, 2001). Network leadership is a process of power sharing, relationship building, and facilitative decision-making (Ansell and Gash, 2012). Boundary-spanning activities are crucial, as leaders in a network often need to bridge connections and leverage underused resources. A network can have formal leaders such as a lead organization and informal leaders. Informal leadership can be taken by organizations that stake out a central position, which enables them to easily access information and resources, as well as earn reputation (Kapucu and Hu, 2020).


Network Performance

Although networks continue to find more applications in management and policy domains, a growing concern is whether such arrangements have been effective in producing collaborative outcomes. Stakeholder groups in network performance include public, nonprofit, and private sector organizations that engage in service delivery or policy implementation, as well as community representatives and citizens who are on the recipient’s side of service delivery (Provan and Milward, 2001). Therefore, network performance needs to be measured at organization, community, and network levels. Organizational-level assessment examines the impacts of network arrangements on organizations’ service quality, legitimacy, access to resources, and program improvement. Network-level performance examines the fulfillment of network goals, and the stability and functioning of the network. Community-level assessment examines the impacts of networks on communities, clients served, and the development of social capital (Provan and Milward, 2001; Kapucu and Hu, 2020). Network analysis measures have been used to assess the quality of relations among actors and evaluate the robustness of network structures.


Network Accountability

The characteristics and nature of network accountability systems need to be well understood by network leaders and managers to ensure that network members take responsibility in pursuing collaborative goals. A network accountability system also helps increase commitment, foster trust among network members, and strengthen network legitimacy. Network arrangements coexist with bureaucratic structures. Discussion on the traditional types of accountability, which include legal, bureaucratic, political, and professional accountability, is still relevant (Kapucu and Hu, 2020). The functioning of networks often relies on hybrid accountability systems. Networks can build formal accountability systems through the implementation of contracts and memoranda of understanding, and by establishing clear decision-making procedures. Informal accountability systems built upon trust, relationships, and reciprocity are also critical for the functioning of networks (Romzek, LeRoux, and Blackmar, 2012).



After briefly introducing networks, this article stresses the key elements of network governance that influence the functioning and effectiveness of networks. Their size, composition, and relational patterns evolve due to internal dynamics and external influence. A networked environment demands unique sets of network management and leadership behaviors to build accountability systems, balance power differences among member organizations, align organizational and network goals, and achieve effectiveness across organization, network, and community levels.


Naim Kapucu is Pegasus Professor of Public Administration and Policy and Director of the School of Public Administration at the University of Central Florida. His main research interests are emergency and crisis management, decision-making in complex environments, network governance, leadership, and social inquiry and public policy. He has published 10 books and more than 100 journal articles. Network Governance: Concepts, Theories, and Applications, co-authored with Qian Hu, is the most recent book.

Qian Hu is an Associate Professor in the School of Public Administration at the University of Central Florida. Her current research interests include emergency management, collaborative governance, organizational networks, and scholarship of teaching and learning. Her work has been published in academic journals such as Public Administration Review, the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, Public Management Review, American Review of Public Administration, and Administration & Society



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Agranoff, R., & McGuire, M. (2001). Big questions in public network management research. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 11(3), 295-326.

Ansell, C. & Gash, A. (2012). Stewards, mediators, and catalysts: Toward a model of collaborative leadership. The Innovation Journal: The Public Sector Innovation Journal, 17(1), article 7.

Borgatti, S. P., Everett, M. G., & Johnson, J. C. (2013). Analyzing social networks. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Isett, K.R., Mergel, I.A., LeRoux, K., & Mischen, P.A. (2011). Networks in public administration scholarship: Understanding where we are and where we need to go. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 21(s1), i157–i173.

Kapucu, N. & Hu, Q. (2020). Network governance: Concepts, theories, and applications. New York, NY: Routledge.

Provan, K. & Milward, H.B. (2001). Do networks really work? A framework for evaluating public sector organizational networks. Public Administration Review, 61(4), 414-23.

Romzek, B. LeRoux, K., Johnston, J., Kempf, R., J., & Piatak, J. C. (2014). Informal Accountability in Multisector Service Delivery Collaborations. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 24(4), 813-842.

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