Policy network analysis as a strategic tool for the voluntary sector1
Policy network analysis attempts to explain policy development by examining networks of actors concerned with a given policy problem, across the public and private sectors and throughout different levels of governance. Network scholars use the network as the unit of analysis, but differ on several aspects including nomenclature, characteristics of network relations, the importance of structure versus agency, whether actors are individuals or organisations, and whether policy networks can be treated as independent or dependent variables. The existence of these myriad differences, this ‘hodge-podge' of created confusion, is a primary reason for much of the criticism of contemporary policy network analysis. Nonetheless, it is argued in this article that policy network analysis does merit further study for conceptual clarification and the development of stronger theories. Moreover, it is further argued that the voluntary sector, in particular, could use network analysis as a strategic tool. A non-profit organisation's understanding of its context, resources, weaknesses, and strategic options can be significantly improved through the application of policy network analysis. To be effective network participants, non-profits with policy interests need to have an understanding of the policy context in which they operate. Hence, mapping the relationships of staff and volunteers with people with political clout within the policy network can help when planning lobbying campaigns. The article uses the example of a large UK charity to demonstrate how policy network analysis can help an organisation better understand its opportunities for improving relationships and its status within a network.
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