Network Types, Function, and Structures

Network research has gained momentum and network applications cover an increasingly wide array of policy domains and management issues, ranging from social services to environmental protection, to emergency management, and to regional economic and community development (Berry et al., 2004; Kapucu, Hu, & Khosa, 2014; Provan & Lemaire, 2012). Notwithstanding these advancements, it remains a relatively new field of inquiry that continues to face many challenges (Isett, Mergel, LeRoux, Mischen. & Rethemeyer, 2011). This chapter introduces the diverse types of networks and their function in public policy and public administration. This chapter addresses also informal and formal networks. Furthermore, it covers three types of networks— collaborative networks, policy networks, and governance networks, which are based on the foci of network research. This chapter then discusses the concept of network structures as it relates to network types, functions, and effectiveness. It concludes with a discussion of the challenges of network governance within an interorganizational context. In this chapter, we examine the following questions:

  • • How do we group networks into different categories?
  • • How do networks function in public policy and administration?
  • • How are formal networks different from informal networks?
  • • What are collaborative networks, policy networks, and governance networks?
  • • What are common network structures?
  • • What challenges does network governance face?

Types of Networks and Their Function in Public Policy and Administration

Interorganizational networks can be categorized into a variety of types based on different dimensions: purpose, function, formality, and domain.

Different Types of Interorganizational Networks

Networks can be grouped into four types based on their purpose: informational networks, developmental networks, outreach networks, and action networks (Agranoff, 2007). Within informational networks, organizations exchange information about policy issues, technologies, and potential solutions. Developmental networks go beyond information exchange and provide opportunities for member organizations to develop capacities to solve the issue. Outreach networks allow organizations to strategically make interorganizational adjustments, program activities, and design new programming solutions. Action networks involve joint action or service delivery.

Network Function

What a network can accomplish to fulfill its purpose.

Although the terms “network type” and "network function” are often used interchangeably, network function refers to what networks can accomplish, and network type refers to the form of networks (Popp, MacKean, Casebeer, Milward, & Lindstrom, 2014). Networks allow organizations share information, leverage and exchange resources, learn and distribute new knowledge, build capacity, facilitate collective action, solve problems, and provide services (Bingham & O'Leary, 2008; Koliba, Meek, & Zia, 2010; McGuire, 2006; Milward & Provan, 2006; Popp et al., 2014). Therefore, networks can function as information sharing networks, knowledge sharing networks, resource exchange networks, capacity building networks, and service provision networks (Milward & Provan, 2006; Popp et ah, 2014). These types are discussed in the following paragraphs.

Information Sharing Networks

Information sharing is a crucial function that interorganizational networks can serve. Organizations utilize existing ties or build new connections to have access to useful information or distribute information in networks. For instance, an organization can reach out to central actors that are the source of key information or may contact an intermediate organization to get information from a disconnected organization. From a network perspective, a well-connected network fosters smooth communication processes and allows timely information exchange (Milward & Provan, 2006; Koliba et ah, 2010).

Knowledge Sharing Networks

Knowledge sharing, distinct from information sharing, is another important function that networks serve. Knowledge is different from information as knowledge is informed by evidence and experience and applied in solving problems. Ties among organizations, whether at the interpersonal or interorganizational level, provide channels for organizations to exchange both tangible and tacit knowledge with one other (Huang, 2014). Knowledge sharing is a social process that requires the source’s willingness to share, the knowledge recipient’s willingness to learn, and the trust between the two parties (Huang, 2014; Rogers, 2003). Trust and strong ties encourage organizations to exchange knowledge. Furthermore, the relational context can also contribute to or accelerate the diffusion of knowledge in a network through different types of connections (Binz-Scharf, Lazer, & Mergel, 2012; Popp et al., 2014).

Resource Exchange Networks

Members in a network may leverage and exchange resources, such as human capital and financial resources. Organizations join the network with different assets and cultures. Resources are rarely shared or contributed equally among member organizations. Those organizations offering sufficient financial resources and staffing usually take on lead roles (Gazley, 2008; Koliba et al., 2010). Individual organizations may partner with others or make best use of resources through comiections. Furthermore, interorganizational networks may mobilize different kinds of resources from individual organizations to accomplish network goals (Koliba et al., 2010).

Capacity Building Networks

Capacity building networks, both emergent or designed, focus on the development of social capital among member organizations and within communities (Milward & Provan, 2006). Mapping the relations among member organizations in a network can help communities to identify untapped or underused assets in the community. More importantly, the interactions among organizations promotes trust-building, strengthens community partnerships, and increases capacity to address community needs (Milward & Provan, 2006).

Service Provision Networks

Member organizations may form networks to act and solve specific management or policy problems. Sendee provision is one of the primary reasons that many networks are built (Huang, 2014). Interorganizational networks exist in a wide range of service domains, such as human and social services (Milward & Provan, 2003) and emergency management (Kapucu, 2006), to produce or deliver services.

Table 3.1 lists different types of networks. The ensuing sections will discuss other types of networks based on formality and research foci. The application chapters of the book will discuss different sets of networks based on their application domains.

40 Networks

Table 3.1 Types of Networks


Network types

Network purpose: What is the network’s mission?

Informational networks, developmental networks, outreach networks, and action networks (Agranoff, 2007).

Network function: How does a network fulfill its purpose?

Information diffusion networks, resource exchange networks, capacity building networks, and sendee provision networks (Milward & Provan, 2006; Popp et al., 2014).

Network formality: How much structure does a network have built in?

Informal and formal networks (Isett et ah, 2011;)

Network research foci: what is the central theme of the network research?

Public management networks collaborative networks, pohey networks, and governance networks (Berry et ah, 2004; Isett et ah, 2011; Kapucu et ah, 2014; Lecy, Mergel, & Schmitz, 2014; Lewis, 2005)

Network application domains: In what domains are these networks applied?

Emergency management networks, economic development networks, social sendee networks, and so on (Kapucu et ah, 2014)

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