Beyond Structure: Informal Accountability within Networks
36 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 25 Aug 2011
Date Written: 2011
Networks have become commonplace in the landscape of public service delivery, and are especially visible in the arena of social service delivery. The challenges of providing services through networks are multiple and inter-related including goal conflict, incompatible organizational cultures, competition for scarce resources, the need to maneuver both laterally and vertically, and staff instability. This paper summarizes research on how managers within social service delivery networks meet these challenges. In particular, we explore whether and how individuals and organizations informally hold one another accountable for network operations and objectives. Using a grounded theory approach, we examine three cases of county-level networks providing children’s social services in three different states. The data that inform our analysis come from semi-structured interviews with 35 executive, mid-level, and street-level personnel of 28 public and nonprofit organizations represented by our three cases. Our data confirm and refine an earlier model of informal accountability among network actors, comprised of norms and facilitative behaviors, rewards and sanctions, and challenges to informal accountability (Romzek et al. forthcoming). In addition, the data collected for this study point to differences in informal accountability dynamics based on hierarchical position, a gap between rhetoric and reality of collaboration, and tensions between formal and informal accountability systems.
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