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Policy Networks and Institutional Collective Action: A Research Agenda

John T. Scholz, Florida State University
Richard C. Feiock, Florida State University
T. K. Ahn, Florida State University


Working paper


Policy fragmentation in the American federalist system leads to inefficiencies as decisions by one authority impose positive and negative externalities on other authorities and their constituencies. We focus on the role of policy networks in shaping coordinated decisions that enhance the joint outcomes among governmental authorities. We advance two competing perspectives relating networks to collective action, one emphasizing the role of tightly-clustered "strong-tie" relationships capable of enhancing the credibility of commitments among network members, and the other emphasizing the role of extensive, "weak-tie" relationships linking diverse stakeholders in enhancing the shared information required to coordinate collective decisions.

Our previous projects established the importance of local policy networks in enhancing compliance with federal regulations and developing coordinated policy agreements in local watersheds. The research provides initial evidence that extensive weak-tie networks play the most critical role in establishing joint projects, at least among specialized authorities managing an estuary's natural resources. Our research agenda focuses on two critical settings, one emphasizing horizontal fragmentation (the joint provision of local services by municipalities), and the other emphasizing vertical fragmentation (the development of joint projects among federal, state, and local resource management agencies). In each setting, we will develop relevant formal models about the capabilities of different network structures and test them using an array of archival and survey data.