Analyzing Social Policy from a Network Perspective

  • Jill M. Manit Sacred Heart University
  • Aleksey Kolpakov University of Nevada Reno
  • William Eubank University of Nevada Reno
Keywords: Networked governance, network analysis, policy implementation, policy process


Governance models influence the approach that public service organizations take when implementing programs, policies, and practices. The networked model of governance supports the involvement of multiple actors who span organizational boundaries and roles to implement solutions to address complex social problems. This paper presents the utility of network analysis for the study of policy implementation from a network perspective. The paper describes networks within the context of social work policy implementation, basic network components, common structural variables, and sources of data for the study of policy implementation. A study of a statewide policy implementation is partially presented as an illustration of the use of network analysis in social policy research. The illustration uses primary and secondary data with network analysis techniques to identify and describe the patterns of interactions that comprise the structure of the implementation network. The illustration will present examples of the study findings to demonstrate the utility of network analysis in identifying central network actors and describing the density of the network according to different network variables. The paper concludes with a summary of the utility of network analysis in the study of policy implementation with recommendations for future research.


Agranoff, R. (2014). Local governments in multilevel systems” Emergent public administration challenges. American Review of Public Administration, 44(4S), 48S-62S. doi:

Agranoff, R. (2017). Crossing boundaries for intergovernmental management. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.

Agranoff, R., & McGuire, M. (2001). After the network is formed: Process, power, and performance. In M. Mandell (Ed.), Getting results through collaboration: Networks and network structures for public policy and management (pp. 11-29). Westport, CT: Quorum Books.

Bevir, M. (2012). Governance: A very short introduction. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. doi:

Birkland, T. (2001). An introduction to the policy process: Theories, concepts, and models of public policy making. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, Inc.

Borgatti, S. P. (2018, February 24). mgt 780 centrality 1 [video file]. Retrieved from

Borgatti, S. P., Everett, M. G., & Johnson, J. (2013). Analyzing social networks. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Borgatti, S. P., & Halgin, D. (2011). Analyzing affiliation networks. In J. Scott & P. Carrington (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of social network analysis (pp. 417-433). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Burt, R. (1992). Structural holes: The social structure of competition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Contractor, N., Wasserman, S., & Faust, K. (2006). Testing multitheoretical, multilevel hypotheses about organizational networks: An analytical framework and empirical example. Academy of Management Review, 31(3), 681-701.


Goggin, M. (1986). The “too few cases/too many variables” problem in implementation research. The Western Political Quarterly, 39(2), 328-347.


Granovetter, M. (1973). The strength of weak ties. American Journal of Sociology, 78(6), 1360-1380. doi:

Hall, T., & O’Toole, L. (2000). Structures for policy implementation: An analysis of national legislation, 1965-1966 and 1993-1994. Administration & Society, 31(6), 667-686. doi:

Kapucu, N., Hu, Q., & Khosa, S. (2017). The state of network research in public administration. Administration & Society, 49(8), 1087-1120.


Klaster, E., Wilderom, C., & Muntslag, D. (2017). Balancing relations and results in regional networks of public-policy implementation. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory: J-PART, 27(4), 676-691.


Klign, E., & Koppenjan, J. (2012). Governance network theory: Past, present and future. Policy & Politics, 40(4), 587-606. doi:

Knoke, D. (2011). Policy networks. In Scott, J., & Carrington, P. (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of social network analysis (p. 210-222). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Kolpakov, A., Agranoff, R., & McGuire, M. (2016). Understanding interoperability in collaborative network management: The case of Metro High School. Journal of Health Science, 4, 318-332.

Lane, S., & Pritzker, S. (2018). Political social work: Using power to create social change. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing AG.


Lecy, J., Mergel, I., & Schmitz, H. (2014). Networks in public administration. Public Management Review, 16(5), 643-665.


Marsden, P. (2011). Survey methods for network data. In J. Scott & P. Carrington (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of social network analysis (pp. 340-369). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Milward, H., Provan, K., Fish, A., Isett, K., & Huang, K. (2010). Governance and collaboration: An evolutionary study of two mental health networks. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory: J-PART, 20(supp. 1), i125-i141.


Mischen, P., & Jackson, S. (2008). Connecting the dots: Applying complexity theory, knowledge management and social network analysis to policy implementation. Public Administration Quarterly, 32(3), 314-338.

Monge, P. R., & Contractor, N. S. (2003). Theories of communication networks. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Mulvaney, K. K., Lee, S., Hook, T. O., & Prokopy, L. S. (2015). Casting a net to better understand fisheries management: An affiliation network analysis of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. Marine Policy, 57, 120-131.


Nooy, W., Mrvar, A., & Batagelj, V. (2011). Exploratory social network analysis with Pajek. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.


Or, N., & Aranda-Jan, A. (2017). The dynamic role of state and nonstate actors: Governance after global financial crisis. Policy Studies Journal, 45(S1), S67-S81. doi:

O’Toole, L. (1997). Treating networks seriously: Practical and research-based agendas in public administration. Public Administration Review, 57(1), 45-52.


O’Toole, L. (2014). Networks and networking: The public administrative agendas. Public Administration Review, 75(3), 361-371.


Peters, G. (2011). Governance, Administration, Policies. In D. Berg-Schlosser, B. Badie, & L. Morlino (Eds.), International encyclopedia of political science, Volume 1-8. Los Angeles, CA: Sage [EBook, EBSCO Publishing. Retrieved via University of Nevada Reno]. doi:

Pierre, J. (2011). Governance. In D. Berg-Schlosser, B. Badie, & L. Morlino (Eds.), International encyclopedia of political science, Volume 1-8. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.


Provan, K., Huang, K., & Milward, B. (2009). The evolution of structural embeddedness and organizational social outcomes in a centrally governed health and human services network. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory: J-PART, 19(4), 873-893. doi:

Provan, K., Veazie, M., Staten, L., & Teufel-Shone, N. (2005). The use of network analysis to strengthen community partnerships. Public Administration Review, 65(5), 603-613. doi:

Rhodes, R. A. W. (1996). The new governance: Governing without government. Policy Studies, XLIV, 652-667. doi:

The New York Times. (1933, April 3). Emotions mapped by new geography. Retrieved January 2, 2018, from

Ward, M., Stovel, K., & Sacks, A. (2011). Network analysis and political science. Annual Review of Political Science, 14, 245-264.


Wasserman, S., & Faust, K. (1994). Social network analysis: Methods and applications. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press.


Weber, E., & Khademian, A. (2008). Wicked problems, knowledge challenges, and collaborative capacity builders in network settings. Public Administration Review, 68(2), 334-349. doi:

Weible, C., & Sabatier, P. (Eds.). (2018). Theories of the policy process (4th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge. doi:

Yang, S., Keller, F., & Zheng, L. (2017). Social network analysis: Methods and examples. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.