All that glitters is not gold: Disaggregating networks and the impact on performance Chapter uri icon


  • © Cambridge University Press 2006 and 2009. Introduction Networks of actors rather than merely individual administrative agencies are significant in shaping the production and delivery of public policy. A burgeoning research literature proclaims as much, practical discussions on multiple continents treat the theme as important, and the academic research on networked arrays has become ever more convincing and detailed. A dominant emphasis in this coverage has been on the value added by networked arrays over the ‘lonely organizations’ (Hjern and Porter 1982) that were highlighted in the traditional work of public administration and public management. Networks, the literature contends, enhance the avenues for dealing with wicked and complex problems that require partnerships and cooperation among public, private, and/or non-profit actors. They offer flexibility, adaptability, potential economies of scale, and greater possibilities for coproduction. They provide sensible fits for the demands of multilevel governance. Indeed, they would seem to be the institutional form of choice in an era of ‘governance, not governments’. As recent movements such as the New Public Management sputter on, networks could become an imperative of the new century's public administration. While these points may have considerable merit, particularly under carefully stipulated conditions, they overgeneralize and overreach. In this chapter, we argue that the glittering promise of networking may not be so golden after all. Some forms of networked interaction – with particular kinds of actors under particular conditions – might well produce little or nothing, while others are simultaneously advantageous for outcomes. In the auric world of networks, all that glitters is not gold.

author list (cited authors)

  • Meier, K. J., O’Toole, L. J., & Lu, Y.

citation count

  • 3

Book Title

  • Public Service Performance

publication date

  • January 2006