Networking around table

Network governance has been defined as “ a stable articulation of mutually dependent, but operationally autonomous factors (...), who interact through conflict-ridden negotiations that take place within an institutionalized framework of rules, norms, shared knowledge and social imaginaries (...) and contribute to the production of public values” (Sørensen and Torfing 2005, p.197[1]; 2009, p. 236[2])

Governance in organisations is focused on monitoring and controlling management. But the network context is different. Networks are comprised of autonomous agents, and rely on cooperation. Networks are sustained where there is impact for members in relation to purpose – where they create value.

Governance in networks relates to the utilisation and optimisation of network resources (primarily the members, but also any grants or income generated) in generating value (for the members themselves and to achieve the common purpose of the network). There are governance issues in networks in relation to member participation, and managing difference and conflict.

Governance in networks is enacted through either:

  • Shared participant governance
  • Lead organisation governance
  • Network Administrative Organisation (separately mandated network broker/facilitator)

Provan, K.G; Kenis, P.N (2008)[3]


key predictors of effectiveness

Provan and Kenis (2008) p237

The choice of network governance model depends on the starting conditions in relation to:

  1. Trust (connectedness)
  2. Size (complexity/ connections)
  3. Goal consensus, joint action and motivation, (agreements)
  4. Leadership and commitment (bringing members together)
  5. Embeddedness (in it together)
  6. Diversity (or participants, interests and goals)

Networks where there is clear trust, consensus, motivation, commitment, embeddedness and diversity will benefit from shared participant governance if the network is small enough to do that realistically and where the function of the network is primarily learning or advocacy. Delivery networks which are working at scale may well opt for governance through a lead organisation or sub-contract goverance (if very large). In reality shared governance is the optimal form for networks as it best serves the relationships that are needed for the network to adapt and thrive. Taking goveranance as a task into one lead organisation may be practical but it could lead the network back into a hierarchical set of relationships.

governance model2

The governance model adopted must support the network in demonstrating public value (Public value describes the value that an organisation contributes to society Moore 1995[4]). Moore describes a strategic triangle that has to be aligned in order for value to be created:

 As the network develops its strategic goals in relation to its core purpose it needs to answer two questions:

  1. Strategic Goals - Are these strategic goals publically valuable –are they worth it?
  2. Authorising environment – Who can say yes or no to this work, and how will we relate to them? Is this work politically and legally possible and is it sustainable?
  3. Operational Capacity- Do we have the resources needed to achieve these goals? Is this work feasible?

An example governance report would include:

Governance Report
Network Purpose and Strategic Goals
Network Impact – What have we achieved? How have we demonstrated public value?
Network Guiding Principles– The rules that determine how we organise
Network Membership – Who is in the network
Network Participation – How and the extent to which members are contributing
Network Resources – what are they and what are they used for and why
Network Sustainability – Does the network need to continue and if so how is it being sustained?

Article Footnotes

[1] Sørensen, E., & Torfing, J. (2005). The democratic anchorage of governance networks. Scandinavian Political Science, 28(3), 195–218.
[2] Sørensen, E., & Torfing, J. (2009). Making governance networks effective and democratic through meta-governance. Public Administration, 87(2), 234–258.
[3] Provan, K.G; Kenis, P.N (2008) Modes of network governance: Structure, management, and effectiveness. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 2008, Volume 18, Issue 2.
[4] Moore, M H. (1995). Creating Public Value – strategic management in government. Harvard University Press, Cambridge Massachusetts.