How Does Governance Network Administration Differ across Social Sectors?

The challenges associated with serving two (or more) masters are not to be resolved within the traditional hierarchical arrangement. The “unity of command” in hierarchies allows for a subordinate to be accountable to one supervisor. As we contemplate the role that network managers play within governance networks, we must consider the relationship between the network manager’s sectoral allegiances and his or her participation with a governance network. Our consideration of network management, most particularly as referenced in the discussion of participatory governance, has been grounded in a basic assumption: Network managers managing within governance networks are, by definition, public administrators. In this section we discuss the relationship between network management and some of the basic, core tenants that have distinguished public administration from other managerial practices and professions. We begin the discussion by laying out the traditional view of the public administrator as an agent of government. We proceed to discuss how trends such as privatization, contracting out, and devolution have forced the field of public administration to integrate nonprofit management into its sphere of influence. Given the recognition that governance networks are managed to greater or lesser degrees by actors situated across the social sector, we ask the question of whether, under certain conditions, agents of for-profit businesses and corporations can or should be considered public administrators. As Bogason and Musso note, “network governance introduces ambiguity into the role of the public administrator” (2006, p. 6). We tackle this ambiguity in this section.

Public administrators as agents of the government. The definition of the public administrator as an agent of governments at whatever geographic level has been the classical view of the field. At the “street level” governments are represented within governance networks by those public administrators who represent their interests as a result of either being elected, politically appointed, or a member of the civil service and government workforce. Although we have noted how this representation can get complicated (Kootnz et al., 2004), the roles that public administrators who are agents of governments play within governance networks are of critical importance to effective network governance and operations. Government agents bring a measure of “democratic anchorage” to the network, a point that we will turn to in Chapter 9. They may be mandated to ensure that network actors comply with regulations or contractual agreements. They may be stewards of the government resources, coming in all forms of capital resources.

Public administrators as agents of nonprofit organization. In recent decades, it has been increasingly recognized that nonprofit managers are public administrators. The differences between government and nonprofit operations are noted, not the least of which is differing governance structures (a topic we turn to in Chapter 9). Nonprofit organizations exist as a legally discrete social sector actor, an argument that we made in the opening chapter. They play different roles in grant and contract agreements (where they are almost always the recipients of government funds) and public-private partnerships than their government and business counterparts.

However, many of the obligations that nonprofit organizations have to their interest groups or “publics” provide them with some measure of democratic anchorage. As voluntary associations, nonprofit organizations help to form the basis of civil society. The importance of civil society to the health and vibrancy of democratic societies has been widely noted (Couto, 1999). From its early origins in the chart- able associations of the 1800s, the nonprofit sector has been an instrumental actor in identifying and meeting public needs. To some degree, nonprofits have carried out similar functions as governments. Given this, the leap to consider nonprofit managers as public administrators of a certain type (much like we may distinguish city and town managers from federal level bureaucrats)[1] is a relatively simple one.

Public administrators as agents of for-profit organization. The leap to consider the manager of a for-profit organization participating in a governance network as a public administrator may be harder to make. In order to determine whether we could consider a corporate or business manager a public administrator, we must ask questions relating to the characteristics of the private sector. On one hand, corporations are at liberty to pursue their self-interests as long as they remain within the law. As for-profit entities, they will most likely seek to maximize their profit. In order to accomplish this, they will likely seek the role that places them in the most advantageous positions leading to achieving their goals. This profit motive very likely filters down most directly into the role of the business or corporate manager. These managers owe their allegiances to their supervisors, owners, and shareholders, a fact that leads to a fundamental distinction between public managers and private managers. It is difficult to think that an agent of a for-profit organization will bring democratic anchorage to the governance network of his or her own volition.

We have noted how corporations possess the rights provided to all legal citizens of the nation. In the United States, these rights have been won through a series of Supreme Court rulings. We must ask, however, with these rights, are corporations and other forms of for-profit organizations asked to carry out the responsibilities that are often ascribed to citizenship? Is it possible for corporations to sense an obligation to interests that lie beyond their self-interests? More importantly, is it possible for these more altruistic interests to actually shape behavior? Viewed from the lens of voluntary compliance, in which compliance is forged through the sharing of common norms, it is very unlikely that a case for considering business managers as public administrators can be made.

A more solid case for considering agents of for-profit organizations as public administrators can be made when coercive or remunerative forms of compliance are considered. Contract agreements are most often based on terms negotiated between government principles and for-profits agents. The structure for resource exchanges is crafted as a series of remunerative agreements. A measure of codependence is achieved as a result. In theory, when compliance with remunerative agreements is met, a business or corporate manager must share the same accountability structures that guide public administrative actions. The same may be said for instances of compliance with regulations and mandates. Thus, we may argue that a for-profit firm’s participation within a governance network renders the business managers representing their firm’s interests accountable to serving the public interest in much the same way as public administrators working out of governments and nonprofits do.

We do not suggest that we have resolved this matter here. We conclude, however, that more consideration must be given to the relationship between the sectoral characteristics of a governance network manager’s organizational “home” and his or her identify as a public administrator. In the next chapter, we now know “sector blurring” may be leading to the blurring of public administrative principles and practices. This concern has been raised within the substantial critiques of NPM (see Denhardt and Denhardt, 2003). These same critiques hold true within a network context. What is different here is distinguishing governance networks from other forms of interorganizational networks (such as supply chains or other types of strategic alliances forged to pursue private gain). By grounding network structures and functions within a framework of democratic governance, we assert that governance network management rightly belongs among the other public administration paradigms.

  • [1] The proliferation of nonprofit concentrations within MPA programs across the United Statesspeaks to the inherent acceptance of nonprofit managers as public administrators within thefield.
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