Network Structure, Strength of Relationships, and Communities’ Success in Project Implementation

Published date01 March 2018
Date01 March 2018
284 Public Administration Review • March | April 2018
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 78, Iss. 2, pp. 284–294. © 2017 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12787.
Manoj K. Shrestha is associate
professor in the Department of Politics
and Philosophy at the University of
Idaho. His research focuses on network
governance and network effectiveness in
the management of local public goods and
water resources.
Abstract : Studies of network effectiveness in the collaborative public program setting commonly have found that actors
with more organizational partners, more indirect (bridging) ties to other partners, and more cohesive relationships
among partners have greater success in implementing projects. This article contributes to this literature by develop-
ing and testing hypotheses about how strength of relationships, measured by frequency of contacts, moderates these
results. In the context of community water supply projects in Nepal, the article shows that greater frequency of contacts
between communities and organizational partners enhances the impact of having more partners and more cohesive
relationships among partners but decreases the impact of having more indirect connections. For practitioners and
network theorists, these findings highlight the importance of strength of relationships in the link between networks and
Evidence for Practice
More frequent contacts with a greater number of partner organizations enhance communities’ success in
mobilizing project funding.
More frequent contacts with bridging partners increase information sharing among the communities that the
partners serve, thereby diminishing the comparative advantage of the information to any one community in
the competition for funding.
More frequent contacts between a community and a cohesive group of partners tend to encourage bilateral
(interpersonal) coordination at the expense of cohesion among the group of partners.
More frequent contacts not only improve the value of having more partners but also increase the sacrifice
of bridging advantage for partner cohesion, suggesting that communities face complex choices in striking a
balance between adding more partners and maintaining frequent contacts with existing partners.
Manoj K. Shrestha
University of Idaho
Network Structure, Strength of Relationships, and
Communities’ Success in Project Implementation
S ince Provan and Milward s ( 1995 ) early work on
service delivery networks in mental health, public
administration has experienced a significant shift
from the study of hierarchies to network management of
public programs (O ’ Toole 1997 , 2015 ). Subsequently,
scholars began to study collaborative networks and
their effect on outcomes in various program settings,
including local economic development (Agranoff and
McGuire 2003 ; Feiock, Steinacker, and Park 2009 ),
watershed partnerships (Lubell et al. 2002 ), and
collaborative public programs (Berardo 2009 ; Shrestha
2013 ). O ’ Toole defined networks as “structures of
interdependence involving multiple organizations
or parts thereof, where one unit is not merely the
formal subordinate of the others in some larger
hierarchical arrangement” (1997, 45). Networks enable
interdependent actors to mobilize resources, share
information, build trust, and prevent defection, all of
which are essential to achieving goals (e.g., Agranoff
and McGuire 2003 ; Ansell and Gash 2007 ; Lubell et al.
2002 ; McGuire 2006 ; Thomson and Perry 2006 ).
Much progress has been made in understanding the
independent effects of network structures and strength
of relationships, or frequency of contacts between
pairs of actors, on program outcomes. For example,
Provan, Milward, and colleagues have studied the
impact of network structure (e.g., network centrality)
on the effectiveness of mental health service delivery
(e.g., Provan, Huang, and Milward 2009 ; Provan
and Milward 1995 ). Others have focused on the link
between frequency of contacts and outcomes such
as improved trust or performance (e.g., Lubell and
Fulton 2007 ; O ’ Toole and Meier 2004 ). However,
little is known about how frequency of contacts
moderates the effect of network structures on
outcomes, especially when building networks and
maintaining contacts with partners are integral aspects
of the networking behavior of actors.
Actors, whether they be communities (villages) or
organizations, are hardly self-sufficient. They depend
on external resources and support such as information

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