Creating Linking and Governing Institutions (Strategies for Building Network Capacity)

An equally important network activation strategy is to create “linking institutions" These are formal or informal structures that bring together actors representing different networks in order to concentrate the resources and technologies available to each and to use these to achieve a common goal.[1] In nodal governance theory, these linking institutions are the “command centers of networked governance.” As Burris et al. (2005, 38) explain, “tying together networks is one very important way in which nodes [i.e., network members] gain the capacity to govern a course of events. This tying together creates a node with increased resources at the same time as it creates a structure that enables the mobilization of those resources to produce action by other nodes in the network.”

Health GAP is an example of a linking institution in a transnational health governance network.[2] Health GAP links AIDS and human rights activists, public health experts, fair trade advocates, and concerned individuals, allowing them to concentrate their diverse resources for the purpose of increasing poor people’s access to essential medicines around the world. Burris (2004, 343-344) notes that despite its limited economic resources and lack of formal authority, Health GAP governs by using “information gathered by its constituent members, demonstrations, and its access to media networks to influence governments, drug companies and other powerful [organizations] influencing pharmaceutical access.”

National and local linking institutions play important roles in phases 1 and 2, respectively. In phase 2, for example, local linking institutions connect organizations operating at multiple scales for the purpose of steering local communities toward particular policy goals. Local watershed management committees, for example, connect local groups like farmers, water utilities, local governments, hydroelectric companies, and others, as well as foreign donor agencies, international NGOs, IGOs, and outside experts. These linking institutions provide a space for identifying and framing problems, sharing experiences for tackling these problems, learning, and planning projects. They also provide a focal point for mobilizing the material, informational, technical, and social resources available to watershed stakeholders through their respective networks. Most important, they provide a structure for directing these resources toward the implementation of local IWM programs. In this way, linking institutions build the capacity of transnational governance networks to apply global ideas like IWM locally.

Finally, governance networks build capacity by creating new governing institutions (i.e., new nodes in the governance network) at the local, national, and international levels. These organizations focus the resources, knowledge, and capacities available to network members and direct them toward pressuring and persuading individuals and organizations “to act or refrain from action” (Burris 2004, 344). A good example is the environmental management units IWM advocates helped create within local governments across the developing world during the 1990s. These environmental management units provide an institutional platform for newly trained, local IWM experts (members of local knowledge communities) to pursue their policy agenda full-time. Some become municipal bureaucrats, giving IWM networks access to local government resources and the ability to influence policies and procedures from within local governments.

  • [1] Nodal governance scholars refer to these institutions as “superstructural nodes.” For the sakeof simplicity and clarity, I use the more descriptive term “linking institution.” For the role of superstructural nodes in nodal governance theory, see Burris (2004); Burris et al. (2005); Drahos (2004);Hein et al. (2009).
  • [2] “GAP” stands for “Global Access Project.” See (accessed January 28, 2016).
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