How to support the endurance of long‐term networks: The pivotal role of the network manager

AuthorLaura Macciò,Daniela Cristofoli
Published date01 December 2017
Date01 December 2017
How to support the endurance of long-term
networks: The pivotal role of the network
Laura Macciò
| Daniela Cristofoli
Department of Political Economy, University
of Lugano, Lugano, Switzerland
Department of Business and Law, Università
degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca, Milan, Italy
Daniela Cristofoli, Department of Business
and Law, Università degli Studi di Milano-
Bicocca, Via Bicocca degli Arcimboldi,
8, Milano 20126, Italy.
Funding information
Swiss National Science Foundation, Grant/
Award number: 127512/1.
This article focuses on interorganizational networks in an attempt
to contribute to the research on network endurance. Specifically,
we will focus on service delivery networks created to endure, and
explore the impact on network endurance of some key variables,
such as the configuration of the modes of network governance,
the formalization of coordination mechanisms and the concentra-
tion of managerial skills in the network manager. Our results show
that a Network Administrative Organization alone is not sufficient
to enable network endurance. Having skilful network managers
who can activate formalized coordination mechanisms is also
important. Hence, skilful network managers seem to be pivotal for
long-term public networks, thanks to their ability to link network
structures to network mechanisms and bring about network
Public networks are established with different purposes. Some are temporary organizations, created to pursue
short-term objectives. Those networks often dissolve once those objectives have been successfully achieved.
Belonging to this category, for example, are networks among universities established to develop a common research
project, networks involving public, private and non-profit organizations created to address a disaster, or networks
between public and private actors to organize a special event. Other networks are long-term organizations. Service
delivery networks are typically, but not exclusively, this kind of network. These networks are often set up to provide
services in a more efficient and effective manner than hierarchical and market-style organizational arrangements. In
this perspective, they are created to last.
In this article, we focus on service delivery networks created to provide public services over time and explore
what determines their endurance. Despite the great attention that scholars have devoted to service delivery net-
works and their success, only occasionally have they deemed network endurance an issue worth addressing,
whereas the ability of a network to become a viable interorganizational entity and to survive is paramount to com-
munity benefit (Provan and Milward 2001).
DOI: 10.1111/padm.12349
1060 © 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd Public Administration. 2017;95:10601076.
Based on these premises, this article will try to explore the impact of some key variables, which have
emerged from the exist ing literature, and t heir joint effects on ne twork endurance (Tur rini et al. 2010). Speci fi-
cally, the existing studies permitted us to identify three different pre dictors of network endurance. These are,
first, the configuration of forms of network governance (Provan and Milward 2001; Kenis and Provan 2009), then
the coordination mechanisms facilitating partner interaction (Klijn 1996; Kickert et al. 1997; Agranoff and
McGuire 2003) and, last, the concentration of managerial skills in the network manager (Agranoff and McGuire
2001, 2003; Vangen and Huxham 2003; O'Toole and Meier 2004; Kort and Klijn 2011; Ysa et al. 2014; Klijn
et al. 2016).
For this purpose, a survey was sent to the Directors of 523 Spitex networks in Switzerland, with a response
rate of about 50 per cent. The data collected were analysed using structural equation modelling techniques.
The results of that analysis show that network endurance seems to be related to the existence of a Network
Administrative Organization (NAO), as the literature argues (Provan and Milward 2001; Isett and Provan 2005).
However, despite what existing studies show (Provan and Milward 2001; Isett and Provan 2005; Huang and Provan
2007), our results demonstrate that a Network Administrative Organization alone is not able to guarantee network
endurance. We found that skilful network managers who can activate formalized coordination mechanisms are also
Our article aims to offe r input to existing theo ries and current manag ement practices. Fr om a theoretical
point of view, our resea rch makes several contributions. Firs t, it represents one of the few attempts to emp irically
test the existence of a r elationship betwe en network governanc e and network perform ance, here apprecia ted at
a network level in terms of network endurance (Isett and Provan 2005; Provan and Kenis 2008; Herranz 2010;
Nolte and Boeing 2011).
Second, it confirms t he importance of moving away from the asse ssment of the impact
of single variables on network endurance to the assessment of their joint effects (Edelenbos et al. 2010; Kort and
Klijn 2011; Verweij et al. 2013; Raab et al. 2015; Cristofoli and Markovic 2016; Wang 2016). Third, the article
sheds additional lig ht on the need to introduce st able and formalized or ganizational arra ngements in public net-
works, thus raising ad ditional question s about the specific features of this organ izational form co mpared to the
more traditional hierarchical and market-based systems (Brown et al. 1998; Kettl 2003; Agranoff 2006; Morris
et al. 2007). From a managerial point of view, our article provides some suggestions about how to ensure public
network endurance: the more the governance mode is built around an ad hoc agency (NAO in Kenis and Provan
2009 parlance), the more skilful the network manager and the more formalized the coordination mechanisms
should be.
The article is divided into three sections. The first reviews the existing literature on network endurance, pre-
sents the conceptual model and formulates the study hypotheses. The second section describes the study method
and the third presents and discusses the results of the study. A description of the limitations of the study and some
suggestions for future research in the field are examined at the end of the article.
Provan and Milward, in their seminal 2001 article, for the first time suggested that network endurance was an
issue that needed to be addressed. Taking a multi-stakeholder approach, they showed that the network itself is
an important factor in evaluations of network success, arguing that, it (the network) must become a viable interor-
ganizational entity if it is to survive(Provan and Milward 2001, p. 417). As a result, the growth and maintenance
of networks and their ability to survive as viable forms of social organization became crucial aspects to explore
As better explained below, Provan and Milward (2001) proposed the network level as one level needed to appreciate network
effectiveness. According to them, at the network level, public networks are effective when they are able to become a viable organi-
zational form and survive. In fact, only in this way can public networks better satisfy community needs. In this sense, we interpret
network effectiveness at the network level in terms of network endurance.

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