Policy Networks as a Form of Governance

  • Olga V. MikhaylovaEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-31816-5_288-1


Nonprofit Organization Public Administration Private Actor Foreign Agent Policy Network 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Governance. The activities of a range of public and private actors which are included as coparticipants and partners in policy-making process.

Policy network. A cluster of mutually dependent but operationally autonomous public and private actors each with an interest in a given policy sector and a capacity to influence the achievement of policy goals.


Public governance practice has changed greatly since the last decade of the twentieth century. The state gives up its dominant positions in policy-making process, expanding participation in this process, creating conditions for public policy-making by private actors, and choosing model of flat hierarchy. The state shifts away from hierarchy towards interactive models which blur the distinction between public and private sectors. In this trend policy networks are becoming an effective hybrid arrangement involving a range of actors representing public, private, and nongovernmental institutions.

Rise of Governance Concept

The “governance” concept is not a new term in social science but since the end on XX century it has undergone serious changes. In particular it became multidimensional and more popular in the world due to the promotion activity of international organizations (WB, OECD, etc.). In its broad meaning “governance” assumes the space of multiple stakeholders’ interaction where public problems can no longer be solved by isolated public authorities but require the cooperation of other players (citizens, NGO, business, media, community organizations) and increasing their participation in public policy-making process. In its narrow meaning “governance” reduces to the community level on which self-organized units manage common recourses without government based of mutual trust, informal rules, and practices such as mediation and self-regulation which may be even more effective than public authorities’ actions (Ostrom 1990).

International organizations have supplied a new vision of “governance” underlining the necessity of democracy for economic prosperity in developing countries. Principals of “good governance” (participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive) are widely promoted in nondemocratic countries to contribute the transfer toward the democracy-oriented world (Woods 2000).

Governance as a theoretical concept in public administration practice implies the view of reality in which the state is no longer a dominant actor in public policy. Kooiman wrote that governance is “the pattern or structure that emerges in a sociopolitical system as a common result or outcome of the interacting intervention efforts to all involved actors” (Kooiman 1993, p. 258). It is so because modern societies are becoming highly fragmented, and recourses are distributed among wide range of private actors. Besides, the state itself is no longer regarded as a unified and integrated actor capable of enforcing public policy. It involves myriad of different groups within a hierarchy, the members of which are linked by horizontal, informal cooperation (Kooiman 2003).

“Governance” is closely related to the reviewing public policy from the network framework perspective which became popular in 1960s. Authors of “iron triangles” (Lowi 1962, 1969) and “issue network” (Heclo 1978) concepts have claimed that the process of public policy-making is based on complex constellations of actors and resource dependencies, and decisions are made in decentralized and informal environment, in the shadow of official institutions and procedures.

The new, network morphology of the state has reveled in the works of British scientists in 1990s (Rhodes 1997; Jordan and Schubert 1992; Jordan 1990). In particular, their research introduced both the idea of the existence of informal contacts within the state hierarchy, and emphasized their priority to the effective enforcement of the key functions of the state. In other words, the state institutions are not isolated from each other by the formal separation of powers; they often find themselves in a situation of resource interdependencies for solving problems within their functional specialization, which creates conditions for horizontal interactions, negotiations, mutual accommodation, the search of compromise, reconciliation of contradictions (Bevir 2011). Modification of public administration strategy and turning to network governance became possible due to the assessment of the outcomes and consequences of administrative reforms implemented using New Public Management approaches (Pollitt and Talbot 2004). Those resulted in breaking numerous informal ties between state departments within the hierarchy which had an adverse effect on the quality of public services. However, it has become even clearer that the state operates through networks of mutually dependent organizations and not through independent organizations that are focused solely on achieving their own goals.

In the public administration framework the governance concept is developing in the Dutch scientific school as ideas of network management (Kliin and Koppenjan 2002, 2012; Koppenjan and Klijn 2004; Klijn and Skelcher 2007). From this point of view, to maintain stability, ensure effective performance of its functions, and to meet evolving demands of the society the state has to change its role. It now needs to establish partnerships with NGOs and businesses, interact through negotiations and bargaining. In other words, in order to adapt, the state changes its strategy in dealing with nongovernmental actors – it forms and enters policy networks in various spheres.

In this context the basic principles of network management are formulated. Among them:
  1. 1.

    The state institutions should not have a greater impact on public policy and administration than the nongovernmental institutions.

  2. 2.

    The state, business, and NGOs are equal partners in policy networks which are created in order to develop and implement public policy effectively, efficiently, and democratically.

  3. 3.

    The participation of state institutions in governance networks excludes coercion and pressure mechanisms, in contrast they are aimed at creating favorable environment for the network functioning, improving the quality of relations between network’s participants, overcoming communicational barriers between them, and promoting intensive interaction between them.

  4. 4.

    In some cases state institutions may intervene in the network to modify it using “second generation” management tools (motivating desirable actors’ behavior).

  5. 5.

    The main goal is searching for consensus between network participants who could have competing interests.

  6. 6.

    Not only state institution could act as a network manager but also nongovernmental.


As a result network governance allows the state, first of all, to achieve its public administration goals to a higher level of quality than it could on its own. Secondly, network participants realize benefits from joining efforts to meet their goals, running thereby self-reproducing mechanism of long-term cooperation, eliminating the need for further strategic interference of the state.

The extension of nonhierarchical interdependencies between state and nonstate participants is a huge challenge for the state, which assumes the rise of public administration complexity. On the one hand, policy networks weaken the influence of bureaucracy, increase the transparency of decision-making process for all interest groups, and successfully mobilize resources to implement decisions. On the other hand, building communication flows, resource exchanges based on the development of informal interaction channels cannot be ultimately legitimized in public domain where it is critical to ensure that lines of accountability of each decision-making process are transparent and justifiable to citizens. Thus, a modern state based on policy networks as a form of governance has to seek balance between formal rules and informal practices. Depending on the extent of shift towards reducing influence of established rules the semantic content of informal practices will change too (from positive to negative), as well as types of networks (from informal contacts in order to achieve goals in a formalized environment to “state takeover” – discreet privatization of public institutions).

The success of policy networks as a form of governance depends on two key factors. First, there must be trust between the state and nongovernmental actors. It ensures willingness of both parties to invest resources in joint projects and confidence that none of the participants will act destructively towards each other. Second, the state, business, and NGOs alike must have high-level management capabilities. It means that the state institutional framework must be strong enough to hold back the opportunistic partner strategies, and business and nonprofit organizations must possess internal resources enabling self-organization and pursuance of an independent policy in dealings with the state.

The Impact of Political Regime on Network Governance

Policy networks as a form of governance are different in various types of political systems. Democratic traditions are beneficial for developing cooperation and partnerships, forming networks where participants jointly address current problems of great social importance (social security, environment, etc.). Due to this the state is able to raise additional funds, reduce budget spending, increase the quality of public services, to widen expertise in dealing with poor structured, complex problems (Sorensen and Torfing 2007). Network strategy is very successful in crisis situations, when business and NGOs are supporting the state, providing stability by coordination of horizontal efforts. The reliable network cooperation is possible if the state provides clear, transparent, and unchangeable (fixes) rules of relationships for all participants. Only in such conditions business and NGOs can work out long-term strategies, be open for partnership, and be sure that risks of opportunistic behavior are minimized.

In nondemocratic political systems governance networks are very rare practice. It is explained by several reasons. First of all, nondemocracies belong to the rigid type of the state. They are aimed at ensuring the high level of stability and predictability with flexibility deficit in dynamic environment. Secondly, they are statist states, which are dominated by nongovernmental actors and are not ready to weaken their positions in hierarchical relationships. Thirdly, nondemocratic states are more focused on keeping power and not on the public interests, that is why new public management models penetrate into their political practice very slowly.

Summing up it would be true to say that in nondemocratic political systems governance does not exist in the sense that this model is adopted in democratic political systems. But nevertheless it is reasonable to say that they have networking public management practices. In order not to stretch the concept “governance” it would be acceptable to put it this way.

So, the experience of nondemocratic political systems demonstrates that authoritarian ruling elite also has opportunity to mobilize resources which are spread in the society by networking to fulfill strategic goals. Compared to democratic network governance nondemocratic one is based not on the truly horizontal state-business-public partnership, but on compulsory cooperation initiated by the state. It means that in nondemocratic political systems ruling elite applies mainly power management strategies, forcing business and NGOs to behave in desirable way. It results in decreasing of trust and strengthening atomization in the society, which together are a huge barrier to partnership. The state promotes the idea that its agenda is the most important and is not always, but it does not always match the public agenda. So, business and NGOs have to follow state agenda and contribute to its implementation otherwise they will meet serious difficulties in their day-to-day activity. In other words, without coercion networking is impossible, because both business and NGOs realize clearly that synergy will not bring them benefits. Voluntarily entering in the network, where the state protects its dominant positions and keeps partners at a safe distance, ensures a possibility to do business safely, but not to fulfill mutual goals in a partnership.

Besides, commonly in nondemocratic political systems private actors have extremely low managerial capacity resulting from the suppression of private initiative and very narrow strategic planning horizon due to highly unpredictable rules for interaction with the state. The state purposefully creates different restrictions for businesses and NGOs. Its key goal is, on the one hand, to support these actors, because without them the state would have unattractive image in the world. But on the other hand, the state cannot allow them to become too strong in order to maintain dominant position in relationships. As a result, businesses and NGOs depend greatly on the political will and it leads to the great deficit of private initiative.

To weaken the private initiative, especially in the third sector (NGOs) and to strengthen democratic façade, nondemocratic systems imitate public nongovernmental activity by establishing civic associations which are fully controlled by the state. Such associations are focused on the state interests only, they fully depend on state financing, but their output is very poor. These associations in cooperation with dependable businesses are the best partners of the state in the networks which are based predominantly on informal, but coercive relationships.

Policy Networks in Russia

Russian politics and public administration have their particular features which make it impossible to implement the idea of governance as it has been done in European countries. The hybrid nature of Russian political regime restrains the development of trends leading to the changing role of the state in the relationships between business and nonprofit organizations. Moreover, the contemporary orientations of the society toward the state don’t contribute to the development of stable partnership. Despite officially democratic trajectory in public policy-making process is declared, actual policy practice demonstrates that a great distance between public and state interests exists, and there is a lack of democratic mechanisms of their convergence. They limit the participation of nonstate actors in decision-making process, and the state is not ready to become a partner for business and NGOs, to change its public administration model from hierarchical to governance, and to abandon pressure management methods.

There are a number of reasons explaining such state of affairs. Among them, first of all, not long history of independent business and NGO existence, they are not strong and stable enough to assist the state to fulfill its functions. Secondly, privileged positions were and still are occupied by huge companies – natural monopolies (“Russian Railways,” etc.), oil and gas companies (“Lukoil,” “Gazprom,” etc.) which are the main taxpayers and they control strategies for Russian budget resources. In this sense large business in Russia is closely affiliated with the state and highly dependent on it due to the opacity of capital accumulation in the early 1990s. Such conditions encourage the state to use their organizational and financial opportunities to implement different expensive projects with the lowest costs for the budget. In contrast, other businesses have no motives for development, also they are weak because Russian economy had import-oriented strategy, which affected negatively the rise of business initiatives in different spheres.

Third, nonprofit organizations activity is relatively new for Russia. If in European countries the rise of NGOs is closely connected to the strong civic society, in Russia for a long time this sphere was poorly developed because of the trust deficit within the society, weak incentives to self-organization, a number of socioeconomic difficulties which Russian society have faced during the 1990s. In the 2000s the socioeconomic situation has demonstrated positive dynamics, but the state has changed the trajectory of political development toward strengthening its dominance in public policy and that trend had a negative impact on civic society and NGOs. In the 2010s the political trajectory has changed one more time in relation to the NGOs, when in the Federal Law on Public associations new notions, “foreign agent” and “unwanted organization,” have emerged. It was a crucial moment in Russian public policy, the ruling elite has taken a course on patriotic policy as opposition to the influence of Western political values. It was a reaction on color revolutions events in nondemocratic countries.

The notion “foreign agent” is covered organizations which receive financing support from foreign funds and governments and conduct political activity in Russia. Such a status doesn’t lead to the closure of the NGO, but creates its negative image, and state organizations are forbidden to implement joint projects with them. For many NGOs the requirement to raise only Russian funds is putting them on the brink of survival, because the size of grant support and private denotations is very small. Besides, the state decides which NGOs to give grants and which NGOs conduct projects against its policy priorities; the role of society in this process is reduced to the minimum. Nowadays, more than 70 NGOs are qualified as “foreign agents” (“Memorial” Human Rights Centre, Movement “For Human Rights,” “Golos,” “Soldiers’ Mothers of Saint-Petersburg,” etc.).

The notion “unwanted organization” covers foreign or international nongovernmental organizations whose activities threaten the foundation of constitutional system, defense, or national security. These organizations are forbidden to work in Russia, they couldn’t have offices, distribute their informational materials, and their staff is subject to the administrative and criminal liability in Russia. In the first edition of the so-called patriotic stop-list the following organizations are included: Soros Foundation, National Endowment for Democracy, MacArthur Foundations, etc.

Evidently, there is a very special environment in which Russian nongovernmental organizations have to perform, it encourages civic society to narrow the scope of its activity, limit it by the state’s interests, because in a result just the state decides which NGOs are helpful and which are harmful. Nowadays, the state is ready to support socially oriented NGOs, as far as ruling elite has a clear understanding of all advantages such policy gives. It gives a green light for fund-raising initiatives to help different categories of people in need, volunteer movement. However, these NGOs and initiatives don’t cooperate with the state, they compensate social policy failures.

Thus, in contemporary Russia there are little incentives for networking and the rise of governance. The main reason for this is the dominant position of the state which is, on the one hand, more resourceful and powerful than business or NGOs, more attractive for Russian citizens who trust it more than business and NGOs. On the other hand, the ruling elite is not going to weaken its dominant political positions; it is no more democratically oriented, that is why it is continuing to provide policy which will restrain business and NGOs strengthening, produce negative image of unwilling organizations in society.

Meanwhile in Russian public policy extra nonprofit organizations and initiatives exit. They perceive their mission not as providers and suppliers of services for the society, but as inspectors who control the bureaucracy on different managerial levels and contribute public policy implementation announced by the head of the state. The largest one is “Obsherossiskiy narodnyi front” (“All-Russian people’s front”). It is not a single organization but coalition of NGOs, they have united under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, in order to control the execution of decreases and orders of the head of the state as well as to fight with the corruption. In fact it is an umbrella structure which was established by the president, includes leaders of some NGOs and State Duma deputies. This coalition has no official controlling powers but at the same time its day-to-day activity affects day-to-day work of bureaucrats in the most sensitive spheres of Russian society (social policy, housing, etc.).

It is difficult to characterize such a cooperation as governance network, because except for the state there are no autonomous participants in this structure – they follow the president’s policy course, do not give alternative perspective on the public policy problems, and their relationships are based on full agreement on all the issues. At the same time it is possible to qualify this cooperation as “ego-network” in which the state occupies central position and other participants are pushed to political periphery. Moreover, peripheral participants are not interlinked at all or have unstable interactions not based on any sustainable interdependencies. So, all network participants depend on the state and don’t depend heavily on each other.

Although the vast Russian “ego-network” is not similar to governance networks in European countries, it sometimes demonstrates its effectiveness as a mediator between political and administrative levels of the state in the context of sluggish and lacking in client-oriented approach bureaucracy. “All-Russian people’s front” activists respond to a myriad of citizens’ messages concerning problems they face. However, even if the problem is solved due to the magic effect of the president’s public battering of officials, public administration system doesn’t become more client-oriented; problems are solved due to the bureaucrats’ fear of losing their jobs because their activity became public. In general, highly centralized administrative system is impenetrable for external independent organizations, but is very sensitive to the artificially created associations inside the system. So, inside the administrative system ruling elite allows some nonprofit originations to act only if they perform their functions being fully aligned with the state and never opposing it.

In spite of the fact the Russian public administration system has still not evolved towards network governance and gives preferences to the acute hierarchical model rather than the flat hierarchy model, some researchers claim that modern Russia as a “network state,” underlining negative semantic content of the notion “network.” This position is focused on the idea that Russian political space is a symbiosis of informal groups and formal state institutions, in which “the elite groups foster their own special interests by infiltrating institutions, in effect merging with the state, while at the same time maintaining their own position as unaccountable to those institutions. The state is thus chronically weak and subordinate to the networks, yet it is kept afloat as a sort of institutional carcass that the networks need” (Kononenko and Moshes 2011, p. 5). Researchers agree that modern network nature of Russian political system has its roots in the Soviet system. The collapse of the USSR has led to the destruction of highly centralized elite network, whose stability has been supported by the closed recruitment system and in which influential patron depended on the loyalty of network members. In the 2000s this network restored its positions by closing up the recruitment system and exclusion or cooptation of opposition by establishing the “party of power” which plays an integral role for the network participants (Kryshtanovskaya and White 2011).

Russian society also widely uses network practices. According to the R. Rose’s classification in the Russian society “premodern” or particularistic networks are proliferated (Rose 2000). They tend to be common in transitional societies with weak institutions and trust deficit in social relations. The impact for networking is state’s unresponsiveness to the citizens’ needs or inability to meet their demands, and also underdevelopment of other forms of social relations. In other words, these networks are becoming an effective way to solve urgent problems in conditions of high level of distrust in the state’s ability to do this. Thus, citizens develop informal contacts outside formal state institutions. Such negative trend is relevant for contemporary society and leads to a great gap between state and society, and doesn’t contribute to network governance development based on partnership between public and private actors.


Policy networks as a form of governance are a common practice in modern democratic states. They are purposefully created by the state in partnership with the civil and business sectors to solve current complex semistructured tasks which makes it possible for the state to materially reduce public spending and at the same time improve the quality of services.

Russian governance experience demonstrates that there are some influential factors preventing partnership development. Business and NGOs are not independent enough, and ruling elite is not going to weaken hierarchical links in public administration and dominant positions in public policy. Still it practices networking, mixing voluntary and compulsory incentives to create cooperative alliances in order to fulfill state’s functions and goals, but interests of nonstate participants remain peripheral.



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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Public AdministrationLomonosov Moscow State UniversityMoscowRussia