Network governance

Network governance

Network governance (also called “network organization”,[1] “networks forms of organization”,[2] “interfirm networks”, “organization networks”,[3]” flexible specialization”,[4]network-centric organisation” and “quasi-firms” [5]) is "interfirm coordination that is characterized by organic or informal social system, in contrast to bureaucratic structures within firms and formal contractual relationships between them.[6] The concepts of privatization, public private partnership, and contracting are defined in this context.

Network governance constitutes a “distinct form of coordinating economic activity” [2] (p. 301) which contrasts and competes with markets and hierarchies.[6] As such, governance networks distinguish themselves from the hierarchical control of the state and the competitive regulation of the market in at least three ways:[7]

  1. In terms of the relationship between the actors, governance networks can be described as a "pluricentric governance system" as opposed to the "unicentric system of state rule and the multicentric system of market competition" [8](p. 151). In contrast to state rule and competitive market regulation, governance networks involve a large number of interdependent actors who interact in order to produce public purpose.[7]
  2. In terms of decision making, governance networks are based on negotiation rationality as opposed to the substantial rationality that governs state rule and the procedural rationality that governs market competition [9] (p. 46)
  3. Compliance is ensured through trust and political obligation which, over time, becomes sustained by self-constituted rules and norms.[10]

As a concept, Network Governance explains increased efficiency and reduced agency problems for organizations existing in highly turbulent environments. On the one hand, the efficiency is enhanced through distributed knowledge acquisition and decentralised problem solving; on the other, the effectiveness is improved through the emergence of collective solutions to global problems in different self-regulated sectors of activity.[11] Due to the rapid pace of modern society and competitive pressures from globalization, network governance has gained prominence and development among sociological theorists.

Network governance first depends on the comprehension of the short and long term global business risks. It’s based on the definition of the IT key objectives and their influence on the network. It includes the negotiation of the satisfaction criteria for the business lines and integrates processes for the measurement and improvement of the global efficiency and end user satisfaction. Beyond that, it allows the constitution and piloting of internal teams and external partners as well as the setting up of a control system enabling to validate the performance of the whole. Finally, it ensures permanent communication at all the various management levels.

In the public sector, network governance is not universally accepted as a positive development by all public administration scholars. Some doubt its ability to adequately perform as a democratic governance structure while others view it as phenomenon that promotes efficient and effective delivery of public goods and services.


Definition and theories

Governance networks have been defined by Sorensen and Torfing [7] as:

  • "a relatively stable horizontal articulation of interdependent, but operationally autonomous actors
  • who interact through negotiations that involve bargaining, deliberation and intense power struggles
  • which take place within a relatively institutionalized framework of contingently articulated rules, norms, knowledge and social imaginations
  • that is self-regulating within limits set by external agencies and
  • which contribute to the production of public purpose in the broad sense of visions, ideas, plans and regulations."(p. 3)

With this definition in mind, Sorenson and Torfing identify four points of democratic anchorage for use in assessing the democratic performance of a governance network. These points are the extent to which the network:

  1. "is controlled by democratically elected politicians;
  2. represents the membership basis of the participating groups and organizations;
  3. is accountable to the territorially defined citizenry; and
  4. follows the democratic rules specified by a particular grammar of conduct."

Role in environmental governance

In the wake of apparent failures to govern complex environmental problems by the central state, “new” modes of governance have been proposed in recent years.[12] Network governance is the mode most commonly associated with the concept of governance, in which autonomous stakeholders work together to achieve common goals.

The emergence of network governance can be characterised by an attempt to take into account the increasing importance of NGOs, the private sector, scientific networks and international institutions in the performance of various functions of governance.[13] Prominent examples of such networks that have been instrumental in forming successful working arrangements are the World Commission on Dams, the Global Environmental Facility and the flexible mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol.[14] Another ongoing effort is the United Nations Global Compact which combines multiple stakeholders in a trilateral construction including representatives from governments, private sector and the NGO community.[15] (p. 6)

One main reason for the proliferation of network approaches in environmental governance is their potential to integrate and make available different sources of knowledge and competences and to encourage individual and collective learning.[11][15] Currently, environmental governance faces various challenges that are characterised by complexities and uncertainties inherent to environmental and sustainable problems.[16] Network governance can provide a means to address these governance problems by institutionalising learning on facts and deliberation on value judgements.[17] For example, in the realm of global chemical safety, transnational networks have formed around initiatives by international organisations and successfully developed rules for addressing global chemical issues many of which have been implemented by national legislations. Most notably, these transnational networks made it possible to avoid the institutional apathy that is typically found in political settings with many actors of conflicting interests, especially on a global level.[18]

Through integration of actors from different sectors, governance networks are able to provide an innovative environment of learning, laying the way for adaptive and effective governance.[11] One particular form of networks important to governance problems is ‘epistemic communities’ in which actors share the same basic casual beliefs and normative values.[19] (p. 3) Although participation in these epistemic communities requires an interest in the problem at stake, the actors involved do not necessarily share the same interest. In general, the interests are interdependent but can also be different or sometimes contesting, stressing the need for consensus building and the development of cognitive commodities.[12] (p. 26)

The main argument in the literature for the advantage of network governance over traditional command and control regulation or, alternatively, recourse to market regulation, is its capacity to deal with situations of intrinsic uncertainty and decision making under bounded rationality.[15] This is typically the case in the field of global environmental governance where one has to deal with complex and interrelated problems. In these situations, network institutions can create a synergy between different competences and sources of knowledge allowing dealing with complex and interlined problems.[11]

Enhancement of Corporate Social Responsibility

As increasing amounts of scientific data validate concerns about the deterioration of our environment, the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in network governance is being utilized in ever-increasing ways to halt or at least slow this deterioration. One of the ways they are accomplishing this is by directing their activities to focus on improving Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). As a concept, CSR has existed since the first business was formed in civilization. The French philosopher Rousseau described it as the “social contract” between business and society[20]. As theories about CSR have evolved in keeping with their times, today it is increasingly associated with sustainable practices and development, meaning that businesses have a “moral responsibility” to conduct their operations in an ecologically sustainable manner[21]. It is no longer acceptable for corporations just to grow “the bottom line” and increase profits for their shareholders. Businesses remain free to pursue profits but are increasingly obligated to minimize their negative impact on the environment[22].

Network governance, in the form of NGOs, is effectively bringing to light “bad practices” by corporations, as well as highlighting those actively working to reduce their carbon footprints. Private governance networks such as CSRHUB and the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) are entities that hold corporations accountable for their amount of corporate social responsibility. Founded to accelerate solutions to climate change and water management, the CDP discloses information and data on water management, greenhouse gas emissions, and climate change strategies on over 3,000 companies worldwide[23]. It is the only global climate change reporting system and encourages corporations to engage in “best practices” regarding environmental impact by making their formerly private or unknown environmental impact information available to anyone, including the general public. This information can be used (by a variety of entities) to make consumer purchase and investment decisions, formulate governmental as well as corporate policy, educate people, develop less harmful business methods for corporations and formulate action plans by environmental advocacy groups, to name a few. "The first step towards managing carbon emissions is to measure them because in business what gets measured gets managed. The Carbon Disclosure Project has played a crucial role in encouraging companies to take the first steps in that measurement and management path"[24].This quote by Lord Adair Turner, Chairman of the UK Financial Services Authority, illustrates how network governance is enhancing CSR.

Leading European business schools joined with more than sixty multinationals to launch the European Academy of Business in Society, the mission of which is to push CSR to the forefront of business practice. Their main activities in pursuing this goal are: 1)developing ‘best-in-class’ training practices and learning resources for businesses and corporate academies, 2) including the changing role of business in society in business education and 3)creating a global research bank on the role of business in society and delivering interdisciplinary research on CSR[25]. This is an example of network governance using education to improve Corporate Social Responsibility. Use of organization of networks in today’s society is a valid means of moving forward in preserving our environment.


  1. ^ Miles, R. E. & Snow, C. C. 1986. Organizations: New concepts for new forms. California Management Review. 28(3): 62-73
  2. ^ a b Powell, W.W. 1990. Neither market nor hierarchy: Network forms of organizing. in B. Staw & L.L. Cummings (Eds.), Research in organizational behavior: pp. 295-336. Greenwich, CT: JAI.
  3. ^ Uzzi, B. 1996. The sources and consequences of embeddedness for the economic performance of organizations: The network effect. American Sociological Review, 61(4): 674-698.
  4. ^ Piore, M.J. & Sabel, C.F. 1984. The second industrial divide. New York: Basic Books.
  5. ^ Eccles, R.G. 1981. The quasifirm in the construction industry. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 2(4): 335-357
  6. ^ a b Jones,C., Hesterly, W.S., and Borgatti, S.P. 1997. A general theory of network governance: exchange conditions and social mechanisms. Academy of Management Journal 22(4): 911-945. [online] URL:
  7. ^ a b c Sorensen, E. and Torfing, J. 2005. "The Democratic Anchorage of Governance Networks", Scandinavian Political Studies. 28(3): 195-218.
  8. ^ Kersbergen, K. van & Waarden, F. van 2004.Governance as a Bridge between Disciplines: Cross-disciplinary Inspiration Regarding Shifts in Governance and Problems of Governability, Accountability and Legitimacy. European Journal of Political Research, 43(2): 143–71.
  9. ^ Scharpf, F. W. 1997. Games Real Actors Play: Actor-centered Institutionalism in Policy Research.Oxford: West View Point.
  10. ^ Nielsen, K. & Pedersen, O. K. 1988. ‘The Negotiated Economy: Ideal and History’, Scandinavian Political Studies, 11(2): 79–101.
  11. ^ a b c d Dedeurwaerdere, T. 2007. The contribution of network governance to sustainability impact assessment. pp. 209–228 in S. Thoyer and B. Martimort-Asso, editors. Participation for sustainability in trade. Ashgate, Surrey, UK.
  12. ^ a b Newig, J., D. Günther, and C. Pahl-Wostl. 2010. Synapses in the network: learning in governance networks in the context of environmental management. Ecology and Society 15(4): 24. [online] URL:
  13. ^ Dedeurwaerdere, T. 2005. The contribution of network governance to sustainable development. [online] URL:
  14. ^ Streck, C. 2002. “Global Public Policy Networks as Coalitions for Change” in D.C. Esty and M.H. Ivanova (eds), Global Environmental Governance, Options and Opportunitites, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, New Haven pp. 121-140.
  15. ^ a b c Haas, P. M. 2004. Addressing the global governance deficit. Global Environmental Politics 4(4): 1–15.
  16. ^ Newig, J., J.-P. Voß, and J. Monstadt, editors. 2008. Governance for sustainable development: steering in contexts of ambivalence, uncertainty and distributed power. Routledge, London, UK.
  17. ^ Head, B. W. 2008. Assessing network-based collaborations: effectiveness for whom? Public Management Review 10(6): 733–749.
  18. ^ Warning, M. 2006. Transnational bureaucracy networks: a resource of global environmental governance? pp. 305–329 in G. Winter, (eds) Multilevel governance of global environmental change: perspectives from science, sociology and the law. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. [e-book] URL:
  19. ^ Haas, P. M. 1992. Introduction: epistemic communities and international policy coordination. Pages 1–35 in P. M. Haas, editor. Knowledge, power, and international policy coordination. University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, South Carolina, USA.
  20. ^ Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Chicago, Vol 26, pp938-942.
  21. ^ Bichta, C. (2003). Corporate Social Responsibility: A Role in Government Policy and Regulation? Bath: University of Bath, School of Management. [accessed 08 November 2011]
  22. ^ Bichta, C. (2003). Corporate Social Responsibility: A Role in Government Policy and Regulation? Bath: University of Bath, School of Management. [accessed 08 November 2011]
  23. ^ Carbon Disclosure Project, CDP What We Do Online, [Not dated] <> [accessed 09 November 2011]
  24. ^ Synergy Carbon, Carbon Strategy Services Online, [2006] <> [accessed 10 November 2011]
  25. ^ Bichta, C. (2003). Corporate Social Responsibility: A Role in Government Policy and Regulation? Bath: University of Bath, School of Management. [accessed 08 November 2011]

Other literature

Van Alstyne, M. 1997. The State of Network Organization: A Survey in Three Frameworks. Journal of Organizational Computing 7(3) pp 88–151. [online] URL:

IFCS Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety. 2011. [online] URL:

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Governance — relates to decisions that define expectations, grant power, or verify performance.It consists either of a separate process or of a specific part of management or leadership processes. Sometimes people set up a government to administer these… …   Wikipedia

  • Network-centric organization — A network centric organization is a network governance pattern emerging in many progressive 21st century enterprises. This implies new ways of working, with consequences for the enterprise’s infrastructure, processes, people and culture. Contents …   Wikipedia

  • Network Solutions — Type Limited Liability Company Industry domain name registration Founded 1979 Headquarters Herndon …   Wikipedia

  • Network Agility — is an architectural discipline for computer networking. It can be defined as: The ability of network software and hardware to automatically control and configure itself and other network assets across any number of devices on a network. With… …   Wikipedia

  • Network Rail — Not to be confused with National Rail. Network Rail Type Company limited by guarantee / State owned company Industry Railway infrastructure provision …   Wikipedia

  • Network Analysis and Ethnographic Problems — 3 D Graphic of Relinking Marriages among Nomad Kin, color coded by generations. Nodes are couples not individuals, so where downward lines meet it is a relative that is married. This is called relinking. The relinking structure and dynamic is a… …   Wikipedia

  • Network Economy — One term used to describe the emerging economic order within the information society is the Network economy. This stems from a key attribute products and services are created and value is added through social networks operating on large or global …   Wikipedia

  • Network economy — The network economy is the emerging economic order within the information society. The name stems from a key attribute products and services are created and value is added through social networks operating on large or global scales. This is in… …   Wikipedia

  • Network of African National Human Rights Institutions — The Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI) is one of four regional groupings within the global network, the International Co ordinating Committee of NHRIs (ICC). NANHRI promotes the establishment of national human rights… …   Wikipedia

  • Network of Bay Area Worker Cooperatives — The Network of Bay Area Worker Cooperatives (NoBAWC pronounced No Boss ) is a network of worker cooperatives dedicated to building workplace democracy in the San Francisco Bay Area.[1] NoBAWC was founded in September 1994 when workers… …   Wikipedia