Navigation Menu+

Network Governance

Posted on Sep 22, 2018 by in issue #09 |

By Anna Steinkamp
Independent consultant for international cultural cooperation


Network Governance


Governance Models of International Networks of Cultural Cooperation

Networks are not a new phenomenon but are at the core of societal constitution. However, the notion appears more adequate nowadays than ever. Social networks – networks of people or organisations that join forces for a same cause – are considered to be an appropriate organisational form for the 21st century given their flexible, adaptable, non-hierarchical and open character. At the same time, these characteristics make networks especially vulnerable and fragile, in terms of continuity, funding, accountability or legitimacy. In a world of disorder and uncertainty, what do networks need to be able to combine efforts, quickly connect people and knowledge or provide orientation? What is needed to sustain their efficiency?

This article presents an approach for making international networks of cultural cooperation more effective and sustainable – as tools for international cooperation, actors of global governance and thus, as platforms to drive social and political changes in answer to current global challenges.

Governance and Networks

When I first did research about networks of international culture cooperation and their governance in summer 2013, the world seemed to be “lifted off its hinges”: People in Turkey, Egypt, Brazil, Bulgaria, Mexico, USA, Chile or China gathered on the streets to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the ruling authorities. The uprisings, even though extremely different in their origin, shared one commonality: authoritative and hierarchical structures, which governed over the head of the citizens, do not hold. Sooner or later, people will stand up and fight to make their voices heard. The then-assumption was that hierarchy and authority were about to fail and new forms of governance, such as social networks that work beyond political, geographical or cultural borders, would rise taking into account the diversity and particularities of people. Today, in spring 2018, in some parts of the world, even more authoritarian regimes have emerged, warrior dictatorships keep the world in suspense and populist governments penetrate the democratically firm believed “West”. And the need for strong and coherent alternatives is even bigger.

Yúdice considers networks necessary in order to bring social and political change to societies, where more traditional forms of organisation fail (2003). Networks as an organisational form, because of their characteristics, have vast potential to be effective tools for change and collaboration. Beyond institutional boundaries, networks are more flexible, adaptive, non-hierarchic, and quicker at making decisions and thus more effective. In their organisational appearance, networks have proved especially suitable for international collaboration and for the resolution of complex problems inter alia, because their main resource is knowledge. However, networks often are like a phoenix – they suddenly appear and often disappear just as quickly, sometimes without having had a significant impact. Their success and failure are both a result of their characteristics. Their effectiveness, thus, depends mostly on their governance.

Since civil society is often mentioned as a stakeholder when it comes to paradigmatic change in governance, this article limits itself to networks driven by civil society actors.

International Networks of Cultural Cooperation

International networks of cultural cooperation are actors that collaborate towards the promotion of culture. Culture is understood in its broader sense: it encompasses not only the arts but also mentalities, lifestyles and “value systems” (UNESCO: 1982). Hence, at their core, networks of cultural cooperation spread knowledge to showcase and promote cultural diversity and/or to safeguard cultural heritage. This happens based on the assumption that cultural exchange enhances peace, solidarity and mutual understanding among different cultural groups and/or communities.

Networks of cultural cooperation are most often part of civil society that act in the public sector. Van Paaschen adds that international cultural networks are also social change networks that “undertake actions that have a (potential) impact in society by bringing people into an action-oriented framework. These actions could be directed to governments, the private sector or to the public at large” (2011: 160). Brun et al. argue that networks are especially convenient to artists, cultural experts and activists since “the cultural field has been categorized for a while by its aversion against frontiers of all kind, the network channels this energy” (2008: 83).

International networks of cultural cooperation can take various forms. They are constituted as informal working groups, forums, associations, federations or alliances and often do not use the term ‘network’ in their name. Moreover, they are built upon diversity – diversity of members, of cultures and of approaches. Consequently and in accordance with their dynamic structure, they assure their own potential for innovation. Due to their international scope, these networks build their work internally and externally largely on ICT. Moreover, the quality of the relationships within the network and its external relationships depend on the information and knowledge that “circulates” among the involved parties, as well as their capacity to “capture and redistribute” this information and knowledge.

Last but not least, networks of cultural cooperation are all about communication. This is the reason why their most important resources are their social capital, e.g. the relationships established among and of the members or participants. Those, on the other hand and at the same time, are the carrier of the other key resource, which is relevant knowledge.

To summarise, international networks of cultural cooperation

  • group around a joint interest and/or shared objective in the field of cultural promotion;
  • take various forms from informal to more formalised, legalised or institutionalised ones;
  • are as dynamic, flexible and adaptive as other types of networks;
  • have the best conditions to be culturally sensitive, interculturally competent and promote intercultural dialogue, as well as to overcome cultural barriers;
  • are horizontally organised, either in a centralised or decentralised manner;
  • build upon diversity, knowledge and social capital as their key resources;
  • are hence necessarily linked to ICT;
  • present as many tangible as intangible results, whereas the benefit is mostly intangible.


Biggest Challenges of Managing Networks

Complexity: Even though networks are especially suitable to address complex issues, according to Provan and Kenis, international networks are particularly challenged by their internal complexity: “The problem of network complexity is especially acute when participants are spread out geographically, making frequent meetings of all participants difficult or impossible” (Provan, Kenis 2008: 238). This complexity is especially visible when it comes to the mass of information and knowledge available and thus to make an effective use of it.

Financing networks: The call for networks, especially cross-stakeholder networks (e.g. partnerships between civil society, politics and the private sector) is on everyone’s lips and “the entire field of international relations involves the activities of transnational and trans-cultural networks” (Cvjetičanin 2011: 262). If this is to be taken seriously, funding institutions and donors will need to continue adapting their funding guidelines to meet the increasing presence of international networks and their needs. Most funding programmes focus on bilateral or bi-regional cooperation where clear national benefits can be retrieved. But international and especially global networks have global benefits. Often they even aim at overcoming the obstacles that are created by separating the world into nations. The available funding is often earmarked for the so-called “developing countries”. Further, networks are not economically expensive, compared to other forms of organisation. The biggest part of their financial needs consists of in remunerating the coordinators, as well as promoting the social capital of the network through regular meetings. First funding schemes are put in place to fill the lack of funding opportunities for international networks at European level: The European Commission’s programme “Creative Europe” offers support for “advocacy networks” since 2014. Parallel, it is also about networks themselves to find alternative ways to fund and finance their activities.

Human resources: Due to high demands for communication, often in various languages, the centralisation of all internal and external requests in one place, as well as the steady flow of information, coordinating networks is complex and time intensive. However, due to lack of funding, this task is often assumed on a voluntary basis or “on the top” of an already full portfolio. Voluntary work can of course have positive effects for the network and the member commitment. However, it is not a long-term solution due to the intensity of network coordination. Moreover, rotation can provide a remedy. But with regard to effectiveness and sustainability, rotation may also interrupt the flow of building capacities and capabilities. With a lack of funding or only project-based funding, it is hard to employ a person on a full-time basis and assure continuity.

Dynamic and Continuity: Continuity is again linked to the sustainability of a network, to its credibility and legitimacy. Yet continuity does not only depend on the coordinator, but also on the social dynamics within the network: “Continuity (sustainability) is a key success factor in networks. Without repeated human contact with the same colleagues, the individual network member does not start to gain the understanding, depth of knowledge, realisation of mutual positioning, exchange of pertinent information or any other of a number of learning advantages” (Staines 1996: 7). Networks rely on online- and virtual communication. Such tools can help in solving some of the challenges very cost-efficiently, as for example information sharing, transfer of (explicit) knowledge and good practices over large distances and different time zones. Nevertheless “networks depend on face-to-face human contact. However sophisticated the electronic tools and information dissemination are, people must actually meet in order to lay the foundations of trust required to develop collaborative projects” (Staines 1996: 11). Regular face-to-face meetings also help to keep members motivated beyond these meetings to actively contribute to the network and thus keep it more dynamic.

Skills and Capabilities: Linked to human resources is the challenge of network-specific capabilities – capabilities and skills to apply efficient and professional management tools, especially with regard to knowledge. This requires not only the respective skills, but also the time to apply them until their application has become really useful. Thus, if human resources are scarce, but workload is high, strategic approaches are rather unlikely and work will be effectuated “on-demand” and reactively. However, since knowledge in particular has been identified as one of the main resources, this aspect is vital for networks. Moreover, efficient and modern management tools can especially help networks that operate in complex contexts to work more effectively. Consequently, network coordination skills need to be strengthened and professionalised. Respective training opportunities should be provided – by network coordinators for network coordinators. 

Parameters for Strengthening Network Governance

Mainly based on three different studies from the field of international cultural cooperation, a set of parameters are proposed for the analysis of governance of international networks of cultural cooperation. Here, the governance perspective, namely not only what kind of structures and regulations (what?) but also the processes and mechanisms (how?) are considered.

Parameter Questions
Structure What kind of structure has been chosen? Is it democratic (enough)? What kinds of management tools are applied?
Resources Which human, financial and infrastructural resources are available? How are they generated and managed?
Communication How is communication organised – internally and externally? What kind of information is communicated? To whom and how?
Knowledge How is the flow of knowledge organised – inside out and vice versa? How is knowledge generated and made available? What kind of management systems support the flow, transfer and safeguarding of knowledge?
Social Capital Who are the members? Are they heterogeneous enough? How can people access the network? How often do face-to-face meetings happen? How are relationships strengthened? How are conflicts handled? How is leadership and participation organised? Are members committed (enough)? How to maintain the commitment?
Skills and Capabilities What types of skills are available? Are they used? Is training available to improve skills? What kind of specific capabilities does the network have or has developed? How is a learning environment assured?
Performance What types of activities are realised? Are they of relevance? How are they implemented? By whom? Are results communicated and evaluated?
Diversity Is the network diverse with regard to all parameters?
Innovation How is renewal assured – in terms of input, members, ideas, knowledge?
Legitimacy Is the network (still) legitimate? How is social and political relevance monitored?

None of these parameters is a stand-alone parameter, but they interact and interrelate according to the environment as well as the network-specific settings. What is more, the criteria must be adapted to each network since each one has different characteristics, needs and is located in different environments.


Good Governance

Comparing good governance characteristics with the functioning of networks, it is shown that these characteristics are also valid for effective and sustainable network governance:

  • Participation as well as transparency are especially key when working virtually and over long distances.
  • “Inclusive and equitable” are features to be emphasised in relation to the involvement of all network members as well as to decision-making.
  • Moreover, flat or non-hierarchical structures are also a factor. Placing importance of communication, transparent and strategic, but at the same time to “support” members leads to responsiveness.
  • Being responsive involves also the flexibility and vigilance to adapt and respond to new and upcoming issues, which is relevant for legitimacy and resilience of the network.
  • Accountability is crucial for legitimacy, relevance, credibility and eventually for the sustainability of the network. Due to scarce human and financial resources, it is vital for a network to use the available resources efficiently and creatively.
  • The qualification of “follows the rule of law” is also crucial in the context of a network: This is one of the reasons why networks often have to institutionalise themselves in federations or associations, in order to function within the legal framework of their physical location.


Model of Network Governance

Although several attempts have been undertaken to evaluate and assess networks, this field is still considered to be underdeveloped: “Cultural policy actors so far have not found a way to develop some kind of network self-evaluation methods” (Švob Đokić 2011: 27), even though within the Creative Europe scheme this aspect has been taken up. As a small contribution to fill the gap of network self-evaluation methods, the characteristics of good governance, the 10 network governance parameters, are combined with indicators that qualify the assessment of effectiveness and sustainability, which are connected to the following model:


At the centre stands the network itself, which is defined by the 10 parameters. Using the indicators can further assess the status quo of the parameters. Both parameters and indicators respond to the characteristics that frame the overall approach.

To name a few of the interrelated impacts and effects existing within this model, the following simplified examples should explain the model more clearly: Success is due to strong and professional coordination, committed and motivated members and through funding. The more effectively knowledge resources are managed and distributed, the merrier a group or an organisation is able to adapt and to innovate. Knowledge management is one tool to achieve goals and implement strategies efficiently. Success can raise the visibility of the network, strengthen its credibility and relevance, and thus its legitimacy, which helps find further funding resources. Evaluation and monitoring help learn from failures and successes and strengthen the internal network skills and capabilities.

What is crucial to understand is that this model itself takes the form of a network – a network of parameters, characteristics and indicators that are interlinked through diverse dynamics, which result from the contingencies and the specificities of each network and its environment. It features the same main characteristics of a network: flexible, adaptive, no boundaries, non-hierarchical. Moreover, the model is about the links, nodes and relationships within the network. Accordingly, not all indicators or parameters or characteristics have to be 100% fulfilled. A strong or especially developed aspect can compensate for others.

For now, it remains to be proven at operational and practical level whether the model holds up to the practical needs and diverse realities. Accordingly, with this model I endeavour to offer a first broader approach in order to assess the effectiveness and sustainability of international networks, not only in the cultural field, but also beyond. Furthermore, the model might serve as a resource for anyone setting up or coordinating a network.


Conclusion and Prospects

Networks are a relevant and contemporary form of organising people’s collective action. Social networks, e.g. policy networks or civil society networks, are gaining more and more importance as proper actors of governance. But neither the mere need for networks nor their increasing number will make them a panacea. Their effectiveness and sustainability is more and more decisive. Identifying the factors that make them effective and sustainable has been the guiding question of this work. The presented model of network governance can serve as a resource to assess how to make networks more effective and sustainable. The model was developed with a specific focus on international networks of cultural cooperation. However, the model might also serve as a resource for other civil society networks active at an international level.

Even though the model might seem holistic and comprehensive, it has yet to stand the proof in practice and to be tested on its validity: What kinds of parameters are missing? How can the correlation of the parameters within the model be evaluated more concretely – and through which methodology? How can the benefits of international networks be better assessed at a global level?

Since networks are more about people than about structure, a further research should focus on the aspect of group dynamics within networks, in addition to the aspects of knowledge, governance and internationality. Moreover, financing network has been identified as one of the key challenges for effectiveness and sustainability. Besides re-defining funding guidelines, it would be worth a further research to deepen the specific aspect how networks can be effective and sustainable when they have no or little resources.

Finally, this research aims at being exemplary through providing ideas and incentives in form of a model for future investigation and experience-based learning at network level.


Questions for further discussion

  • Are there parameters missing in the model – and if so, which one(s)?
  • How can the correlation of the parameters within the model be evaluated more concretely – and through which methodology?
  • How can the legitimacy and accountability of networks be assured?
  • How can group dynamics be taken into account more systematically?
  • How can the benefits of international networks be better assessed at a global level?



BOURDIEU, P. (1983) Ökonomisches Kapital, kulturelles Kapital, soziales Kapital. In R. Kreckel (ed.) Soziale Ungleichheiten, soziale Welten (p.183-198). Sonderband 2, Göttingen.

BRUN, J ; TEJERO, J. B.; CANUT LEDO, P. (2008) Redes culturales. Claves para sobrevivir en la globalización. Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo. Madrid.

CASTELLS, M. (2010) The Rise of the Network Society. The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture. Volume I. Second Edition. West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Chichester.

CVJETIČANIN, B. (ed.) (2011) Networks: The Evolving Aspects of Culture in the 21st Century. Zagreb: Institute for International Relations. Culturelink Network.

DEVLIEG, M. A. (2001) Evaluation Criteria for Cultural Networks in Europe. In:

GARDNER, S. (2011) “Network sustainability and institutional change: balancing resources, capabilities and performance”. In: Cvjetičanin, Biserka (Ed.) (2011): Networks: The Evolving Aspects of Culture in the 21st Century. Zagreb: Institute for International Relations. Culturelink Network, p. 205-212.

PROVAN KEITH G.; KENIS, P. (2008) Modes of Network Governance: Structure, Management, and Effectiveness. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory (2008), 18 (2), p. 229-252.

STAINES, J. (1996) Network Solutions for Cultural Cooperation in Europe. A document drafted for The European Forum for the Arts and Heritage. In:

ŠVOB ĐOKIC, N. (2011) “Cultural networks and cultural policies: a missing link”. In: Cvjetičanin, Biserka (Ed.) (2011): Networks: The Evolving Aspects of Culture in the 21st Century. Zagreb: Institute for International Relations. Culturelink Network, p. 25-30.

UNESCAP (2013) “What is Good Governance?”. In:, accessed on 1 May 2018.

UNESCO (1982): “Mexico City Declaration on Cultural Policies”. World Conference on Cultural Policies, Mexico City, 26 July – 6 August 1982. In:, accessed on 1 May 2018.

van Paaschen, P. (2011) “Cultural networks – how to assess?”. In: Cvjetičanin, Biserka (Ed.) (2011): Networks: The Evolving Aspects of Culture in the 21st Century. Zagreb: Institute for International Relations. Culturelink Network, p. 159-166.

YÚDICE, G. (2003) Sistemas y redes culturales: ¿cómo y para qué?. Speech presented during the international symposium: “Políticas culturales urbanas: Experiencias europeas y americanas”, Bogotá, 5-9 May 2003. In:, accessed on 29 June 2013.

Anna Steinkamp is an independent consultant for international cultural cooperation, specialized on governance of international networks. She offers strategic trainings, moderation or consultancies for culture networks. She also designs and facilitates impact-oriented projects and programmes, specifically in the public sector. Before then, she has been working for the German Commission for UNESCO for over ten years within the Division of Culture. During that time she was co-founder and executive coordinator of the global U40 Network “Cultural Diversity 2030” of young experts. She holds Master degrees in Public Policy (HUMBOLDT-VIADRINA School of Governance Berlin) and in Cultural Sciences (Europa Universität Viadrina Frankfurt/Oder, Georg-August Universität Göttingen, Universidad de Xalapa/Mexico, Universidad de Deusto, San Sebastián). Further info about Anna Steinkamp at