Front-Line Participatory Behavior in the Era of Networks


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Virginia Tech


In recent years, the network concept has become a central component of administrative scholarship. One cannot ignore the increased use of networks as both an explicit policy choice and a condition of public funding. This trend suggests that the network concept now represents an approach to governance. Regardless, active participation in these multi-organizational, multi-governmental, and multi-sectoral relationships has outpaced empirical description and theoretical explanation. Making the important case that network management has become a critical activity in public administration, researchers have neglected the relationship between front-line participatory behavior and the use of the network approach. As a result, the vocabulary and the imagery needed to describe and theorize about the specific front-line participatory behaviors that accompany the use of the network approach does not exist. Due to the limitations of past research, there is little understanding of the front-line participatory behaviors that could help make this happen. This study refers to these types of behaviors as network behaviors. Relying on surveys and elite interviews with participants from thirteen social welfare networks throughout the state of Virginia, this study addresses two primary research questions: What are the front-line participatory behaviors that accompany the use of the network approach? And, how do these behaviors differ along with variations in the network approach? Through examining 14 hypotheses, the study relates a framework of four degrees (variations) of the network approach (cooperation, coordination, consolidation, and collaboration) to three categories of behavior (knowledge management, communicative behavior, and commitment/identity). The findings support the underlying rationale for this study that variations in the network approach may shape front-line participatory behavior differently, and vice versa. Ultimately, by exploring this relationship and integrating the literature on networks with the literature on front-line work, this study may serve as the foundation for future efforts to establish a theory or rationale for developing and choosing among variations in the network approach.



network, governance, front-line participatory behavior, network behavior, network behavior mechanisms, social welfare networks