Governance Networks in City-regions: In the Spirit of Democratic Accountability?

Published date01 October 2011
AuthorAnn Karin Tennaas Holmen
Date01 October 2011
Subject MatterArticles
ßThe Author(s), 2010.
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201000 26(4) 399–418 Governance Networks in
City-regions: In the Spirit of
Democratic Accountability?
Ann Karin Tennaas Holmen
International Research Institute of Stavanger, Norway
Abstract Public policy making through networks raises democratic accountability
concerns related to lack of control, transparency and predictability. There is a
question of how democratic accountability can increase in governance
networks. This article utilises an extended notion of democratic accountability
to additionally include democratic dialogue and the wider accountability
environment. Through three case studies, the article argues that governance
networks involved in public policy processes have to take their role as
democratically accountable actors seriously. In order to inspire confidence
between governance networks and the regional society (political, administrative,
private sector and civil society), inclusion of elected representatives (meta-
governance) at different stages of the process is not alone a sufficient solution.
Transparency through process openness, predictability and clarity in who is to
be held responsible for their actions, in addition to control through open arenas
and responsiveness, is essential for a governance network to be perceived as
democratically accountable. These accountability elements can enhance trust
relations between network and surroundings, and by this shape the basis for the
crucial balance between network benefits and democratic ideals.
Keywords case study, city-regional cooperation, democratic accountability, governance
network, meta-governance, transparency
DOI: 10.1177/0952076710375773
Ann Karin Tennaas Holmen, International Research Institute of Stavanger, Box 8046, Stavanger
4068, Norway
[email:] 399
The concept of ‘account-ability’ includes an implication of the potential ‘ability’
to be called to ‘account’ and be held responsible for consequences (Mulgan,
2000). Democratic accountability refers to ways citizens hold this ability and
are able to control their governing bodies. When public policy is made by and
through a network of non-elected actors, this understanding of accountability is
challenged. It raises concerns related to lack of control, transparency and predict-
ability that can be observed in governance networks (Dryzek, 2000; Pierre, 2000;
Kooiman, 2003; Mayntz, 2003; Sørensen and Torfing, 2005, 2009; Klijn and
Skelcher, 2007). The question posed in this article is how can governance
networks increase their democratic accountability? These diverse, dynamic and
often borderline network arrangements, referred to as governance networks, are
based on interdependencies, trust and negotiations between actors. They are
involved in public policy processes, but are more flexible, unanticipated and
diverse than the traditional corporative arrangements. Governance networks are
considered to be beneficial when it comes to the articulation, resolution and
realization of public value in society, but challenge the representative idea of
democratic public polity processes (Sørensen and Torfing, 2005, 2009; Healey,
2007; Klijn and Skelcher, 2007).
In Norway we have witnessed governance networks as especially prominent in
policy processes related to problems exceeding fixed boundaries. Policy processes
related to economic development are increasingly carried out on a city-regional
level involving a diverse combination of several municipalities, other public
decision makers, and private stakeholders. City-regions are in this context under-
stood as functional regions where centre and surrounding municipalities share the
labour and social markets. The result is a mixture of strategies for structuring
policy processes which often lead to an ‘over-complex’ situation, where the under-
standing of democratic accountability is not adjusted to the decentralised gover-
nance reality (Aars and Fimreite, 2005; Farsund and Leknes, 2010).
The question of democratic accountability in decentralised governance and
governance networks has been broadly discussed in the European governance
network literature (Pierre, 2000; Kersbergen and Waarden, 2001; Scmitter, 2001;
Aars and Fimreite, 2005; Klijn and Skelcher, 2007; Esmark, 2007; Sørensen and
Torfing, 2005, 2009; Hanberger, 2009). According to this literature, there is a
need to reconsider the notion of democratic accountability. Rethinking democratic
accountability includes a multi-dimensional character, and also a more flexible
exchange between the governors and the governed (Stoker, 2006). With no single
authority as there is in governance networks, everyone has some responsibility for
outcomes (Agranoff and McGuire, 2003). This implies that citizens participating
and sharing responsibility with other policy makers can hold and be held account-
able. Consequently, democratic dialogue is necessary to include in the notion of
democratic accountability (Mulgan, 2000; Behn, 2001).
The purpose of this article is to take this argument further, discuss and illus-
trate through case studies essential key mechanisms that can function as means to
Public Policy and Administration 26(4)

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