Panel Paper: Towards an Understanding of Hybrid Governance: Tensions between Hierarchy and Network in Crisis Response Networks

Thursday, November 7, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Plaza Court 6 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Minyoung Ku, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York

As the problems facing governments become more complex, many scholars question the effectiveness of the traditional bureaucratic hierarchy in government and called for bringing networks into the public governance to ensure seamless cross-boundary collaboration (e.g., Koppenjan & Klijn, 2004; O’Toole, 1997). Crisis management is one of the public administration domains in which network approaches have been encouraged and popularly adopted (e.g., Comfort, 2005; McGuire & Schneck, 2010). However, the adoption of network elements into crisis management poses another challenge to governments: integrating two different organizing mechanisms, hierarchy and network, into one basket and making them interoperable in extreme conditions during a crisis.

Crisis management scholars argue that a hybrid governance of crisis management in which rapid switching between hierarchy and network takes place is a promising solution to the challenge by allowing flexibility in responding to a crisis without losing control. However, previous research on public networks suggests that the logic of bureaucratic hierarchy deeply embedded in public administration may hinder flexible and adaptive governance in times of crisis. Drawing on theories of crisis management and network governance, which are enriched by the network inertia perspective, this paper examines the structural inflexibility of crisis response networks induced by hierarchy in a bureaucratic system of government. We conduct our investigation by applying four social network analysis methods—Krackhardt’s Graph Theoretical Dimensions (GTD) Measures, the Quadratic Assignment Procedures (QAP) Correlation Test, Network Visualization, and Descriptive Statistics—to data on a response network of 1,411 organizations that emerged during the 2015 Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak in South Korea.

The findings of the study reveal that the nodes (i.e., organizations) and ties (i.e., relations among the organizations) in the MERS response, which was naturally emerging in response to the epidemic outbreak, were hierarchically arranged; the scores of Krackhardt’s GTD measures are close to 1. This means that despite the government’s efforts to include network elements in the country’s public health crisis management system in the planning stage, switching modes of governance from hierarchy to network was not very evident during response operations. More importantly, the empirical evidence from the QAP correlation test between the epidemic’s response network and the government hierarchy (r = 0.9433, p < 0.01), combined with network visualization and descriptive statistics, affirms that a government hierarchy can cause rigidity in a crisis response network not only by preventing government organizations from dissolving hierarchical, formal relations and creating horizontal, collaborative ties with one another, but also by extending the hierarchy to include non-governmental organizations into crisis response operations. This study contributes to understanding the tensions between traditional vertical and emerging horizontal forces in public networks and the structural rigidity of crisis response networks that these tensions can cause by preventing government entities from dissolving hierarchical, formal relations and creating horizontal, collaborative ties with network participants. More generally, the study empirically proves that not all emergent networks can be free from the institutional environments in which the participants reside and that network inertia can contribute to the perpetuation of the institutions.