Working Toward Network Governance: Local Actors’ Strategies for Navigating Tensions in Localized Health Care Governance

AuthorSierk Ybema,Sarah van Duijn,Duco Bannink
Published date01 April 2022
Date01 April 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Administration & Society
2022, Vol. 54(4) 660 –689
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00953997211033818
Working Toward
Network Governance:
Local Actors’ Strategies
for Navigating Tensions
in Localized Health
Care Governance
Sarah van Duijn1, Duco Bannink1,
and Sierk Ybema1,2
Although network governance has become increasingly popular in both
research and practice, its anticipated benefits do not always materialize.
Although literature on network governance acknowledges the challenges
that result from its introduction, scholars tend to assume these challenges
can be managed and rarely analyze how the different participating actors
(strategically) react to the tensions surrounding its establishment. As such,
the process of how “networking” actors establish, maintain, and negotiate
a network remains understudied. In light of these shortcomings, this article
zooms in on how actors, in their collaboration efforts with network
partners, navigate the tensions between (a) their discretionary space and
the parameters set by a central policymaker, and (b) their pursuit of both
integration and differentiation. This ethnographic case analysis contributes
by, first, revealing how local actors demonstrate agency in maneuvering
between these tensions in everyday practice by adopting three strategies—
that is, overwhelmed deflection, situational segmentation, and strategic
1Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands
2Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK
Corresponding Author:
Sarah van Duijn, Department of Organization Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam,
De Boelelaan 1105, Amsterdam 1081 HV, The Netherlands.
1033818AAS0010.1177/00953997211033818Administration & Societyvan Duijn et al.
van Duijn et al. 661
reappropriation—and, second, by revealing how these tensions interact and
subsequently affect the implementation of policies in networks.
network governance, tensions, decentered approach, decentralization,
Network governance, celebrated as a counterpoint to the shortcomings of New
Public Management (Bevir, 2011; Lewis, 2011; Sørensen & Torfing, 2007a),
is built on the assumption that public problems, such as an aging population,
both cut across sectoral boundaries and need to be collectively addressed by
multiple societal actors (Klijn & Koppenjan, 2016). Network-based forms of
governance also presume that local actors are better positioned to devise solu-
tions “on the ground” (De Vries, 2000; Saito, 2011; van der Veer et al., 2011).
According to network governance theory, central actors should therefore offer
discretionary space to local actors and promote the development of interorga-
nizational networks to stimulate communication between them (Head &
Alford, 2013; Jessop, 2011; Klijn & Koppenjan, 2016; Sørensen, 2006). As
such, network governance scholars build on the assumption that local actors
will eventually be able to establish and maintain strong collaborative ties
(Ansell & Gash, 2007; Bryson et al., 2015; Emerson et al., 2012; Thomson &
Perry, 2006). Although they acknowledge network governance formation as a
complicated process, network governance scholars tend to take successful net-
works as their point of departure and view its emergence and existence as
something that can be managed. The intricacies of establishing, maintaining,
and adjusting a network as a complex process tend to be reduced to problems
that can be overcome by interventions, such as is the case with “network man-
agement” (Agranoff & Mcguire, 2001; Klijn et al., 2010; Provan & Kenis,
2007). This alluring assertion has turned network governance into an impera-
tive for public policymakers (Ansell & Gash, 2007; Bryson et al., 2015;
Emerson et al., 2012; Thomson & Perry, 2006). At the same time, this has left
the process of how networking actors navigate and negotiate the challenges
inherent to the establishment of network governance neglected.
Critical scholars have pointed out that the alleged benefits of network
governance are often hard, if not impossible, to achieve in practice (Rhodes,
2000b; Vangen, 2017; Vangen & Huxham, 2012). These scholars are wary
of both research and policies that target networks as a whole, arguing that
conceptualizations of a network as fixed and uniform are unrealistic (Bevir
& Rhodes, 2016). Instead, they argue that we should zoom in on the

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