Wikis > Understanding contemporary policy mixes > Effects of networks on policy design: ‘government to governance’

The need to shift toward the greater use of network management tools and activities put forward by adherents of the argument that states have moved ‘from government to governance’ as a result of changes in society and the way in which government interacts with it, is also lacking a great deal of empirical evidence (Howlett, Rayner and Tollefson 2009; Schout, Jordan and Twena 2010). While it is clear that the development of modern information and communications technologies have had a serious impact on the way in which individuals and organizations interact and organize themselves in contemporary societies, it is not clear that these developments have had an equally direct effect in altering traditional governance practices or policy designs (Hood 2006; Hood and Margetts 2007b).

Governing involves the establishment of a basic set of relationships between governments and their citizens which can vary from highly structured and controlled to arrangements that are monitored only loosely and informally, if at all. In its broadest sense, ‘governance’ is a term used to describe the mode of coordination exercised by state actors in their interactions with societal actors and organizations (de Bruijn and ten Heuvelhof 1995; Kooiman 1993 and 2000; Rhodes 1996; Klijn and Koppenjan 2000). ‘Governance’ is thus about establishing, promoting and supporting a specific type of relationship between governmental and non-governmental actors in the governing process.

Changes in governance modes entail both alterations in the abilities of various state and non-state actors to prevail in policy formulation disputes and decisions, as well as shifts in the choices of policy instruments used to implement public policy (Scharpf 1991; Weaver and Rockman 1993; March and Olson 1996; Offe 2006). But much is unclear about the application of the concept of governance to considerations of policy design.

Typical management activities related to network modes of governance are those which affect network creation, recognition, capacity-building, and content creation or alteration. Robert Agranoff (Agranoff and McGuire 1999), for example, has observed that in a typical ‘network management’ situation ‘the primary activities of . . . [a] manager involve selecting appropriate actors and resources, shaping the operating context of the network and developing ways to cope with strategic and operational complexity’ (21). Such definitions of network management activities, however, are very vague and their design implications unclear.

Many early proponents of the idea of increased ‘networkization’ simply expected governance arrangements to shift evenly away from sets of formal institutions, coercive power relations and substantive regulatory tools found in hierarchical systems towards more informal institutions, non-coercive relationships of power and a marked preference for procedural instruments and soft law in more plurilateral systems (Dunsire 1993; Kooiman 1993). However, the possible variations in governance types and outcomes are a good deal more complicated once the possibility of sectoral variations is taken into account (van Kersbergen and van Waarden, 2004; Meuleman 2009). Mark Considine and his colleagues, for example, have investigated these arrangements and linkages and identified four common governance arrangements found in modern liberal-democratic states which they relate to specific policy foci, forms of state-society interactions and overall governance aims.

While a change in governance mode involving a shift from hierarchical, imperative state-led coordination to ‘steering’ through reflexive self-organization (‘plurilateralism’) is basic to the idea of a shift from ‘governing’ to ‘governance’, such a shift may be present in only some sectors and also represents only one axis along which different modes of governance can be located (Harrop 1992; Cerny 1993; Pontusson 1995; Daugbjerg 1998; Haas 2004; Zielonka 2007). As observers such as Knill and Lehmkuhl have noted, governance arrangements feature different relative strengths of the public and private actors involved (Knill and Lehmkuhl 2002; Jordan et al. 2005) and vary according to whether these relationships are expressed in formal or informal terms (Treib et al. 2007; Kritzinger and Pulzl 2008).

These dual dimensions of governance arrangements cover the four modes of governance Considine identified and suggested that ‘network governance’ is only one such possible arrangement in any given governing circumstance (Heidbreder 2010). The existence of several possible alternative types or ‘modes’ of governance existing simultaneously at the sectoral level suggests a more complex picture of governance arrangements, instrument choices and policy designs than the one-to-one national level, multi-sectoral shift towards the use of more participatory and less ‘command and control’ tools often proposed by adherents of the ‘government to governance’ thesis (Koppenjan and Klijn 2004; Barnett et al. 2009; Esmark 2009; Hysing 2009; Edelenbos et al. 2010; Hardiman and Scott 2010; Schout et al. 2010).

Moving beyond globalization and networks

The recognition of the continued vitality of the state in a globalized environment along with the existence of multiple modern sectoral modes of governance suggests a more subtle and nuanced account of policy design trends and influences is required than is typically found in the discussions about instrument use and policy design which have flowed from many current studies of globalization and network governance. However, many existing debates about policy design often continue to fixate on the impact of these two processes and, as a result, much of the existing discussion of policy tools and policy design is characterized by misinformation, ideological predilection, and unnecessarily polarized position taking.

Fortunately, other scholarship on policy design and policy instrument choice has offered pathways to a better understanding of instrument selection and policy design by grounding it more carefully in empirical studies and in more nuanced and sophisticated analyses of policy-making practices and activities (Bressers and O’Toole 1998; de Bruijn and Hufen 1998; Van Nispen and Ringeling 1998). Embedding the discussion of policy design in the Procrustean bed of globalization and network theory is not a useful way to advance thinking on the subject. Understanding contemporary policy design requires an effort to develop a more nuanced understanding of the policy formulation and implementation activities of governments than is provided by adhering to either or both of the ‘globalization’ and ‘government to governance’ hypotheses. A more detailed and systematic understanding of the kinds of policy choice open to governments and of their ability to choose specific combinations of policy tools in their efforts to create and manage public policy-making is needed to advance our understanding of policy design (Ingraham 1987).