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Research has reported at length on how interorganizational networks can be effectively governed in public service delivery. In contrast, the way such networks specifically organize for reliability is strikingly absent from the literature. We substantiate the idea of High-Reliability Networks (or HRNs) by drawing from the literature on network governance and exploring networked emergency management in a large German city. Herein, we analyze an unprecedented dataset on a network’s development, covering two years of interviews and direct observations. The paper offers three contributions: first, we theorize ‘high reliability’ at the network level and thereby extend the discussion on the governance and effectiveness of interorganizational networks. Second, we show that network governance in HRNs is of a hybrid nature and oscillates between assertive and supportive modes of governance, thereby contributing to a dynamic perspective on the governance of networks. Third, the paper demonstrates how HRNs develop a capacity to prepare better for the unexpected by managing latent ties.
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Forthcoming in:
Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory
Olivier Berthod
Freie Universität Berlin
Michael Grothe-Hammer
Freie Universität Berlin
Gordon Müller-Seitz
Technische Universität Kaiserslautern
Jörg Raab
Tilburg University
Jörg Sydow
Freie Universität Berlin
Research has reported at length on how interorganizational networks can be effectively
governed in public service delivery. In contrast, the way such networks specifically organize
for reliability is strikingly absent from the literature. We substantiate the idea of High-
Reliability Networks (or HRNs) by drawing from the literature on network governance and
exploring networked emergency management in a large German city. Herein, we analyze an
unprecedented dataset on a network’s development, covering two years of interviews and
direct observations. The paper offers three contributions: first, we theorize ‘high reliability’ at
the network level and thereby extend the discussion on the governance and effectiveness of
interorganizational networks. Second, we show that network governance in HRNs is of a
hybrid nature and oscillates between assertive and supportive modes of governance, thereby
contributing to a dynamic perspective on the governance of networks. Third, the paper
demonstrates how HRNs develop a capacity to prepare better for the unexpected by managing
latent ties.
Keywords. High-reliability organization; whole network; high-reliability network;
firefighters; emergency management
The role of interorganizational networks in the outcomes of public service delivery has been
the object of much research over the past decades, mainly along three axes: performance
evaluation (Provan and Milward 2001), network effectiveness (Turrini et al. 2010), and
accountability (Agranoff and McGuire 2001). In contrast, research on whether and how public
networks organize for reliability in service delivery is strikingly absent from the literature.
Reliability is defined as the ability of an organization both to anticipate and contain incidents
in the course of its operations, thereby maintaining its effectiveness even during crises and
times of peak demand (LaPorte and Consolini 1991; Roberts 1990; Weick et al. 1999).
Research on so-called high-reliability organizations (HROs) has stressed the role of tightly
coupled, interdependent units (Roberts 1990: 161), decentralized authority (Frederickson and
LaPorte 2002), and intraorganizational networks of knowledge (Rochlin 1989) as drivers of
At the interorganizational network level, however, research on reliability is scarce despite
early calls by Roberts and colleagues for it to be investigated further (Bigley and Roberts
2001; Grabowski and Roberts 1999). Extant studies have produced valuable insight into the
management of networked infrastructures (de Bruijne and van Eeten 2007; Roe et al. 2005;
Schulman et al. 2004), but we still know little about the management of more heterogeneous,
interorganizational networks with regard to reliability issues in the face not only of routine
events but also of unexpected incidents. Considering the challenges inherent to such networks
as an organizational form in the public sector (Isett et al. 2011), and relating this discussion to
the many options at hand for network governance (Moynihan 2009; Provan and Kenis 2008;
Raab and Kenis 2009), it remains unclear how such High-Reliability Networks (HRNs) are
structured, managed, and controlled. This paper explores and theorizes the relationship
between network governance and reliability with respect to the following research question:
How do HROs and other organizations collectively govern their activities to cope reliably
with both routine and unexpected events?
To explore this question we draw upon real-time data, collected over the course of two
years, from the emergency management system in Düsseldorf, Germany, where a complex
constellation of public agencies, voluntary organizations, and private firms collectively work
towards high reliability around the local fire and emergency department. Drawing on this
unprecedented dataset, our findings contribute to the literature in at least three respects. First,
we theorize ‘high reliability’ at the interorganizational network level and thereby extend the
discussion on the governance and effectiveness of networks. Second, we show that contrary to
most research studies on HROs and their focus on decentralized and simplified lines of
authority, the governance of HRNs is hybrid in nature and oscillates between assertive and
supportive modes. This hybridization occurs via two specific processes: the smooth ‘layering’
of governance forms on the one hand, and abrupt ‘switching’ among them during critical
situations on the other. These findings further contribute to a more nuanced and dynamic
perspective on the governance of interorganizational networks. Third, the paper demonstrates
how HRNs develop a capacity to prepare better for the unexpected by managing latent ties
with important implications for the theory and practice of public administration.
Reliability and Interorganizational Relations
Research on HROs has stressed the relevance of norms, culture, resource redundancies, and
decentralized patterns of control, decision and authority to achieve reliability (Klein, Bigley,
and Roberts 1995; LaPorte 1996; LaPorte and Consolini 1991, 1998; Roberts 1990).
Reliability, at the organizational level, relates to the capacity of an organization both to
anticipate and contain potential incidents (Rochlin 1999). This capacity is often
conceptualized on the basis of five dimensions: (1) constant preoccupation with failure, (2)
reluctance to simplify interpretations, (3) general sensitivity to operations, (4) commitment to
resilience, and (5) deference to expertise via underspecified structures (Weick et al. 1999;
Weick and Sutcliffe 2007).
HRO research acknowledges the interorganizational nature of many services and
operations that typically qualify as high-reliability systems (see e.g., Bigley and Roberts
2001; Grabowski and Roberts 1999; Leveson et al. 2009; Moynihan 2009; Weick et al. 1999).
Further inquiries into actual HRNs have remained scant, however (Schulman et al. 2004).
Most studies focus on the implications of network settings for managing critical infrastructure
(Roe and Schulman 2015). This focus has contributed to important insights on inter-
organizational coordination devices, such as specified bandwidths of electricity (Roe et al.
2005), or on the need to shift from planning and design towards more real-time management,
improvisation, and communication (de Bruijne and van Eeten 2007). Building on this body of
research, however, we still need to explore and establish the structural features of networks as
a specific form of organizing in the public sector (Isett et al. 2011; Provan, Fish, and Sydow
2007; Raab and Kenis 2009).
Specifically, we still know too little about how more or less authoritative, formal, and
centralized forms of network organization address and coordinate collective concerns around
reliability. Originally depicted as ‘lighter on their feet’ (Powell 1990: 303) than organizations,
interorganizational networks seem to address intuitively the need for the decentralized
patterns of control and authority commonly brought to the fore by HRO research
(Frederickson and LaPorte 2002; Rochlin, LaPorte, and Roberts 1987). Networks can also
become inert over time, however (Kim, Oh, and Swaminathan 2006). And too much
flexibility can challenge the legitimacy of the network and its operations and may lead to a
dilution of accountability (Berthod, Müller-Seitz, and Sydow 2014). Consequently, different
networks can be governed differently (Provan and Kenis 2008). This diversity has to be
considered in order to expand our understanding of how networks are organized for reliable
public service delivery.
Interorganizational Networks and their Governance
Drawing upon Provan et al. (2007: 482), we understand interorganizational networks “as a
group of three or more organizations connected in ways that facilitate achievement of a
common goal” (see also Borgatti and Foster 2003; Brass et al. 2004). Usually, this common
goal is created and sustained reflexively. At the level of whole networks, Provan and Kenis
(2008) distinguish between three modes of governance: shared governance, lead-organization
governance, and network administrative organization (NAO). The authors make clear that
these are modes of governance, implying a certain amount of variation between all three.
Nonetheless, in their framework, networks give preference to one of these modes, depending
on: (i) the level of trust, (ii) the number of participants, (iii) the extent of goal consensus, and
(iv) the need for network-level capabilities.
Shared governance in this conception implies an absence of central governance structure
among participating organizations. The control and reflexive coordination of activities take
place via direct collaboration in participatory decision-making. In contrast, governance via a
lead organization implies the coordination of the network by one participant. This
coordination and control is often powered by resource dependencies or obligations of various
sorts. Finally, NAO-based governance implies a separate, neutral administrative body, set up
to function as a central broker to coordinate the activities of the whole network (Human and
Provan 2000).
Each mode of governance contributes to the managing of specific tensions inherent to
interorganizational networks: efficiency in collective operations (i.e., via well-coordinated,
mature interorganizational relationships) versus inclusiveness in decision-making (i.e., among
heterogeneous actors in an expanding network); the need for internal legitimacy (i.e., the
appropriateness of building relationships with others) versus external legitimacy (i.e., the
necessity for a network to build a legitimate appeal to potential participants), and the quest for
flexibility (i.e., via the capacity to terminate and reactivate relationships) versus stability (i.e.,
via relationships that extend beyond mutual, short-term interests).
Research on the governance of networks has made significant steps forward by applying
this typology. For example, Raab, Manak, and Cambré (2015) show how effectiveness is a
product of governance mode, network structure, and network context, demonstrating the
superiority of stable and centrally integrated networks. Similarly, Saz-Carranza and Ospina
(2011) show how NAOs manage goals in spite of internal competing demands, thereby
addressing an additional tension: unity versus variety (for a critique, see Raab 2014). By
contrast, however, we still know very little about the dynamics among those governance
modes, and especially in non-mandated interorganizational networks that are structured
informally (Isett et al. 2011). In fact, the three aforementioned governance modes are likely to
overlap, co-exist, and change over time. Knight and Pye (2005) document how a health
network changed from participant-based to NAO-based governance. Provan and colleagues
(2004) show how a similar network was governed by an NAO, while various lead
organizations took care of smaller constellations within the network. Finally, Moynihan
(2009) demonstrates how responders’ networks during large fires in the US shift between
NAO (via ICS structures during fires) and loose, participant-based governance until the next
crisis, which diminishes the capacity and effectiveness of the responders (see also Moynihan
Enactment of Governance Modes for Reliability
Provan and Kenis (2008) show that interorganizational networks tend to move from a non-
brokered (i.e., participant) governance mode, to a brokered (i.e., lead organization or NAO)
governance mode as they mature and/or increase in size. HRNs, we propose, are less linear in
their enactment and evolution of governance modes. To qualify as an HRN,
interorganizational networks need to function with dual, uninterrupted attention to both the
anticipation and the containment of incidents and peaks in activities. This characteristic
implies ever-changing goals and relational contexts, depending on the nature of the event to
be contained (Weick et al. 1999). These sometimes highly unstable conditions make it
necessary for HRNs to introduce more variance in terms of decision-making and
centralization, implying more nuanced applications of governance modes.
We foresee five reasons for these more nuanced applications and dynamics among
governance modes in HRNs. Specifically, the dual goal of containment and anticipation
challenges the predictions of Provan and Kenis (2008) about how specific governance modes
address tensions inherent to networks. First, according to these authors, NAOs and lead
organizations tend to favor efficiency over inclusion, while shared governance among
participants favors inclusion over efficiency. Favoring one or the other, however, is
particularly difficult in an HRN. A focus on efficiency can be incompatible with a network’s
constant preoccupation with failure and reluctance to simplify. And being exclusively
inclusive in decision-making seems unrealistic in situations of containment, which usually
take place under great time pressure and public scrutiny (Boin and t’Hart 2003; Moynihan
Second, Provan and Kenis (2008) propose that participant-governed networks favor
internal legitimacy, while lead organizations favor external legitimacy and NAOs address
both sequentially. However, both internal and external legitimacies need to be addressed
simultaneously in an HRN. Reliability is a relational construct that emerges between the
system and the actors who rely on it (Busby and Iszatt-White 2014). In consequence, an HRN
is viewed externally as legitimate only when it is perceived to be reliable, which, in turn,
implies that all relevant participants choose to commit themselves to the reliability-seeking
activities of the network. Thus, the relationship between internal and external legitimacy,
when applied to HRNs, is more likely to be recursive than dichotomous.
Third, the tension between flexibility and stability in networks raises similar concerns with
respect to the governance of HRNs. Provan and Kenis (2008) predict that shared-governance
networks favor flexibility, while NAO- and lead organization-governed networks favor
stability. Network flexibility implies shorter reaction times to crises (Agranoff and McGuire
1999; Moynihan 2009) but stability is also needed for relationships within the network to
evolve towards interorganizational sensitivity in operations and deference to each other’s
expertise. In point of fact, Moynihan (2009) has shown that unstable ties among network
members between crises lead to a weaker response capacity.
Fourth, Saz-Carranza and Ospina (2011) suggest a tension between unity and diversity
when they observe that the role of NAOs is to create unity in the network without harming its
diversity. Their findings point to the necessity of encouraging diversity as a means of
providing resources while ensuring that all members have unified access to these resources.
Here also, while NAOs and shared governance structures might support more diversity, these
governance forms can prepare for unity but they cannot enforce it during crises. Similarly,
while lead organizations ensure unity, they can also harm diversity and can end up
centralizing resources.
Finally, a fifth reason for the more nuanced dynamics among governance modes in HRNs
derives from a tension that is particularly relevant to public networks and that has not yet been
linked with governance issues: accountability versus autonomy. The question of
accountability in public networks is an enduring one (Agranoff and McGuire 2001; Bardach
and Lesser 1996; Milward 1996). When multiple officials and administrators address specific
problems, it is difficult to establish clear lines of responsibility – an issue known as the
‘problem of many hands’ (Thompson 2014). Accountability goes beyond reporting (Bardach
and Lesser 1996) and highlights the constant renegotiation of power relationships between
rulers and the ruled (Olsen 2015). From democratic control (Milward and Provan 2000) to
individual responsibility (Thompson 2014), the concept of accountability in research is as
diverse as the profile of its authors (Bovens 2010). Following Mulgan (2000) and Koliba,
Mills and Zia (2011), we understand accountability as the rules and practices that support
external scrutiny, justification, sanctions, and control of democratic, market, and
administrative relations. Based on this definition, we agree with Olsen (2015), who sees
accountability and autonomy as two sides of the same coin. Autonomy is the managerial and
operational discretion that is granted by the legislator to the framework of public agencies and
their career officials. From this perspective, autonomy and accountability are mutually
constitutive and constantly redefined by asking who is accountable for what and to whom.
In an interorganizational network, accountability implies a degree of autonomy among its
organizations, because accountability is only possible if decisions are not completely
determined externally. On the other hand, accountability is needed to ensure that autonomy is
not misused (Olsen 2015). Participants’ autonomy might suffer either from overly strict or
overly blurred lines of accountability, leading to an imbalance (e.g., due either to the
protection or the opportunist promotion of the goals of a single member organization, see
Müller-Seitz 2014) in overall performance (O’Toole 1997). In terms of HRNs, public
tolerance for failures or difficulties in face of crises might vary depending on the nature of the
incident and the number of HROs participating in it. Similarly, the legal context might offer
more or less organizational centralization depending on the country and/or service under
scrutiny. Finally, the network’s efforts towards effective anticipation might require more
flexible accountability regimes than situations of networked crisis resolution, when public
scrutiny calls for clear lines of responsibility. Hence, the question of finding the appropriate
mode of governance with respect to this tension plays a significant role in ensuring that
network participants can become “more sensitive to the array of perspectives involved in
implementation and to a richer set of stakeholders” (O’Toole 1997: 451) without complicating
networked accountability (Agranoff and McGuire 1999). Against this background, the
question of how HRNs enact, and possibly change between, governance modes in order to
create reliability becomes even more salient.
Research Site
Public agencies, private firms, and nonprofit organizations providing services in emergency
management must target high reliability in their operations to serve clients and citizens while
at the same time protecting their own staff, resources, and the physical environment (Colquitt
et al. 2011; Weick and Sutcliffe 2007). These organizations frequently intervene when other
organizations, including other HROs (e.g., airport authorities, transportation companies, etc.),
fail to operate reliably and put their users in danger.
In our case study, a public agency, the Fire and Emergency Department (FED), plays a
central role when it comes to anticipating and containing potential emergencies in the city of
Düsseldorf. The FED is part of the city administration and is accountable to the
administration’s elected leadership for managing all non-criminal incidents, ranging from
rescuing a person trapped on a rooftop to major operations during mass casualty incidents,
natural disasters or chemical leaks. The FED, in face of such diversity in situations, divides
incidents into routine and extraordinary, depending on whether the incident can be managed
by standard operating procedures (SOPs and their respective interorganizational routines) or
whether the situation requires more resources than routinely available in order to develop an
adequate response. In our research, we relied on the department’s interpretation to classify
incidents as either routine or extraordinary.
When a non-criminal incident occurs, the FED is either in charge de facto (because of the
nature of the incident, e.g., a fire in a housing complex) or it can decide to take the lead when
another organization is already in charge on the scene (e.g., when a production facility is on
fire – incident command lies with the firm’s own firefighting units as long as the FED does
not decide otherwise, for example when the incident could have an effect on the
environment). The FED is legally empowered to accompany and support the organization in
charge or even to take over command completely, based on the officers’ assessment of the
situation. In the latter case, the FED coordinates its own operations as well as those of all
other participating organizations and agencies. In cases of criminal emergency (e.g., during a
shooting), the police take the lead along the same line of accountability. The interpretation of
the criminal nature of the situation is made in situ between officers of the FED and the police.
Nevertheless, because we focused on emergency management issues, the police, albeit central
actors for various legal reasons (communications almost always include the police), never
took the lead in the incidents we observed.1 Finally, political and administrative
accountability are tightly related according to a standard bureaucratic chain of command. The
FED is accountable to the political leadership and reports to the Mayor on its activities and
operations. Similarly, the political leadership is accountable to the citizens and public scrutiny
more generally, and particularly so during crisis situations. This is made possible in practice
via extensive reporting and protocolling of the work of the FED in interorganizational
meetings. For example, each incident is entered into an information system, with detailed
1 Technically speaking, police officers would take charge of emergency management only in situations when the FED
itself could be a victim of criminal activities, for example when facing an active gunman. In most cases, the police
begin their work once containment has been achieved.
information on time needed, resource used, etc. Technically, citizens could verify the
legitimate use of blue lights and sirens for every emergency vehicle they see in the streets.
The Düsseldorf FED is staffed by about 1,000 employees and 300 volunteers, carrying out
over 100,000 operations annually (133,761 in 2015), of which only 2% relate to fire (3,190 in
2015). Every delivery of fire and technical assistance (with the exception of single emergency
medical assistance) implies an information exchange with the police, other municipal
agencies (e.g., the transportation office, or the environmental agency) and/or private
organizations (e.g., housing firms). Almost every operation necessitates spontaneous
collaboration to a varying degree, starting with organizations affected at the incident site.
Provided the incident does not fall under the jurisdiction of the police, firefighters enjoy a
broad freedom to respond to an incident as they deem most fitting. This mandate, however,
applies only within the geographic limits of the city. If a catastrophe and its consequences
concern more than one city, state authorities can pick one local FED as a lead organization to
centralize coordination, so that relatively clear lines of accountability prevail.
Beyond crisis containment, the FED in Düsseldorf acts proactively as a network organizer
of emergency operations and planning. This role is bound to a non-mandated strategy to
increase reliability in collective operations and infuse reliability into the work of partnering
organizations more generally, not least in planning (Grothe-Hammer and Berthod 2016).
Various constellations have emerged around the FED, relating both to the management of
emergencies and to the organization of large-scale events (e.g., soccer games or rock
concerts) in the city. This propensity to organize networks in the context of emergency
management is rare in Germany (not least due to legal and jurisdictional variations across
federal states), where no additional agency is tasked with interorganizational emergency
management at state or federal levels. In part, this role as network organizer can be traced
back to the FED’s involvement in a devastating fire at Düsseldorf’s international airport more
than twenty years ago, in which the response was hampered significantly by communication
problems among mandates and jurisdictions.
Data Collection
We employed an explorative as well as interpretative case study approach (Lincoln and Guba
1985; Yin 2013) to capture inductively the way in which an interorganizational network
governs its activities to achieve reliability in public service delivery. We decided to rely on an
in-depth, single case study approach because fieldwork and direct observation are typical of
organizational research on reliability (see e.g., LaPorte and Consolini 1991; Roberts 1990;
Roe et al. 2005). What is more, most research on public networks relies only on secondary
data or one-shot surveys. We go beyond this because our dataset offers unprecedented first-
hand interviews and observations of a network in action over a longer period of time (here, 2
years). This level of quality in terms of data allows us to reveal the processes that explain the
creation and maintenance of reliability longitudinally, at the network level.
Our study draws upon three well established qualitative data sources in case study research
(Yin 2013). First, we conducted 108 interviews with 92 individuals at 30 organizations (of
which 93 interviews were tape-recorded, 55 semi-structured, and 53 more narrative in nature).
We used specific themes and questions geared towards understanding reliability dimensions
and network structures in the initial interviews that we conducted. Over time, we began to rely
more on narrative interviews, focusing on specific instances of cooperation in order to
pinpoint the essence of our interviewee’s point of view. Our questions were built on precise
anecdotes or issues that were very close to our informants to trigger the conversation. We also
conducted interviews with members of FEDs from other German cities that were comparable
in size (Cologne and Munich) and/or under the same federal state regulation (Cologne,
Dortmund, Münster) to compare our findings with other FEDs.
Second, wherever possible we made use of participant and non-participant observation to
comprehend how the FED, as the network organizer, relies on and prepares for collaborative
work. To do this, we adopted various strategies recommended for fieldwork in
interorganizational settings (Berthod, Grothe-Hammer and Sydow 2016). We followed inter-
organizational meetings and specific issues, such as the collective development of maps and
disaster response plans, to apprehend the basic features of the network governance in our
research setting. In addition, we conducted participant observation during routine incidents
and non-participant observation during larger incidents in an attempt to experience the
interaction and decision-making processes during operations. The short duration of the field
visits and the focused nature of these observations (as compared to classic ethnography, for
example) were compensated for by the use of recording devices (videos and photos) and,
when applicable, by intensified observation periods on site, where we frequently stayed for at
least 24 hours at a time. Finally, we also conducted observations in the incident command
center, where representatives from various organizations come together to coordinate
responses during both training simulations and actual events. Often, we relied on triangulation
using two investigators in the field.
Finally, we collected archival material from the organizations leading what we tentatively
considered to be an HRN, including a tabularization of over 30,000 incidents, internal mission
reports, safety concepts, maps developed jointly by the partnering organizations, presentations
for training purposes, email communications and memos comprising a total of 3,425 pages at
the time of writing. Such documents are useful as a means of contrasting interviewees’ stories
about their organizations and, in our case, as a means of gaining a better understanding of the
diversity of incidents and crises these organizations have to face in the course of a year. In
addition, these documents provide important background knowledge about the language and
jargon used by the people we observed and interviewed, the regulations they relate to, and
other formal structures underlying their cooperation.
Data Analysis
We engaged with the data using a mixed-method approach, which is typical for network
ethnography (Berthod et al. 2016) and is based on structural network analysis and fieldwork.
We began our analysis by mapping out the main interorganizational constellations using the
network visualization tool Visone (; Brandes and Wagner 2004) in order to
gain insight into the interorganizational network in question and explore the position of the
FED within that network. We used internal documents on standard operating procedures, in
which collaboration is prescribed for all kinds of potential emergencies, to allow us to identify
three overlapping subnetworks, which combine to make up the HRN under scrutiny (see
Table 1 for details on the subnetworks and Appendix 1 for an impression of their size and
membership structure).
The first two subnetworks are dedicated to unexpected emergencies. One of these
addresses “routine incidents”. In this case, a document called “alarm and march-out order”
(AMOO) determines potential organizational collaboration depending on the incident. When
faced with an incident that cannot be dealt with by single units, a second subnetwork in the
form of a large taskforce gathering representatives from most agencies in the city takes over
the formal coordination of the incident, while the FED commands field operations. A third
subnetwork is formally dedicated to planning for large-scale events such as concerts or soccer
games under the name “Standing working group on large-scale events” (or ‘SWG large-scale
events’ for short). Using this relational data, we built two two-mode data matrices including
every anticipated event and the corresponding organizations.
We then visualized the three subnetworks in two graphs. Figure 1 shows the two
subnetworks with regard to the SWG large-scale events and the emergency task force. It
demonstrates that not all actors who are part of the overall emergency response system are
part of these two subnetworks. In addition, we can see that there are actors who belong to both
subnetworks and function as connectors between them, the FED and the police among them.
Figure 2 depicts the two-mode network of the “alarm and march-out order” (AMOO). Using
data on the incidents handled for the year 2013, we grouped all incidents into ten major
categories including the handling of unexploded ordnance (bombs) from the Second World
War, ambulance and transportation, accidents, fire, and spills. We weighted the results using
the data on incidents to differentiate them according to their frequency, and visualized which
actors jointly participate in dealing with these incidents. The only actor involved in all the
incidents is the FED (18), exceeding by far any other actor in terms of the frequency of
involvement in actual emergency responses in all categories. This fact, together with the
FED’s connecting position between the networks with regard to SWG large-scale events and
the emergency task force, validates the central position it occupies in the overall emergency
response system we identified via qualitative fieldwork (see above). This position is also
explained by compulsory communication flows between the FED and police in almost all
cases, as the police need to be aware of any activity that might interfere with public order. The
three visualizations resonate with the networking strategies in Düsseldorf. The emergency
taskforce and SWG large-scale events highlight a willingness to build and nurture
relationships among all agencies that might be potentially concerned in future events in order
to support information exchanges. In comparison, the AMOO corresponds to a strategy that is
much more functional in nature and directed towards immediate relief, thereby involving
smaller and ever-changing constellations of actors depending on the incident.
In terms of the frequency of responses, routine incidents dominate, i.e., responses to traffic
accidents or other small-scale accidents, medical emergencies or the transportation of patients.
This frequency highlights the polyvalent role and expertise of the FED beyond the handling of
fires. Moreover, the FED is also crucial in responding to low frequency but high impact
incidents such as major spills or large fires. It is this combination of very different incidents
and tasks (also visible in the visualizations) that creates a great challenge for the governance
of the overall emergency response system.
Having explored the position of the most central actors in the network, we started to further
analyze our secondary data. The data were stored in a case study database to heighten
transparency and maintain a structured overview of the material (Yin 2013). We expanded
this database with field notes, interview transcripts, and audiovisual material. Cyclical
rereading and visioning of the material helped us form a basis for comprehending the way
these organizations around the FED organize their activities towards more reliability on an
intra- and interorganizational basis. We started writing condensed descriptions of the
incidents we observed, also using the interviews and focusing on how these organizations
coordinate their activities towards more reliability. The research team discussed the resulting
accounts regularly to allow for new questions to emerge, to challenge the dataset, and to
provoke new data collection.
Eventually, we started identifying and confronting common themes and concepts related to
governance and reliability in our material. Specifically, our empirical approach started with a
focus on how administrations and other organizations from the private and non-profit sectors
operating in Düsseldorf and its suburban area utilize interorganizational collaboration to
promote reliability in joint efforts such as preparing for large-scale events, as well as in the
containment of unforeseen incidents. With the assistance of Atlas.ti, a package used to
analyze qualitative data, we immersed ourselves in our material following two phases of
iterative coding.
In the first phase, we investigated to what extent the empirical data revealed high-
reliability at the network level. Reliability, as such, is difficult to measure (effective
anticipation means that incidents do not occur, but how can this be proven?, see also Weick
2011), we sorted our observations according to the two main generic dimensions of high
reliability: anticipation and containment, and then along the five classical dimensions of
reliability: (1) constant preoccupation with failure, (2) reluctance to simplify interpretations,
(3) general sensitivity to operations, (4) commitment to resilience, and (5) deference to
expertise via underspecified structures (Weick et al. 1999; Weick and Sutcliffe 2007). We
differentiated the subnetworks on the basis of their degree of anticipation and containment
using their goals, as professed by their members. Participants stated that efforts in one
subnetwork contributed to strengthening relationships pertaining to the other two, or to
legitimizing work in the other subnetworks. Similarly, the subnetwork dedicated to
emergency management (i.e., containment) aimed at proactively developing new, optimized
disaster response plans or SOPs; or acquiring new partners, with an eye to potential risks to
come (i.e., anticipation). These preliminary results validated the main reasons for the
existence of reliability-seeking networks: anticipation and containment. Our observations of
the three subnetworks’ activities also brought substantial evidence of their constant
preoccupation with failure, reluctance to simplify interpretations, general sensitivity to
operations, commitment to resilience, and deference to expertise via underspecified structures
(see Table 2 for a list of examples from the case description, which validate the relevance of
the Düsseldorf case for reliability studies at a network level).
In the second phase, we coded a large portion of the data, for the most part beginning with
in vivo codes using words from the interviews, and relying on the documents and field notes
as an informative background. This process was fairly open, as our theoretical discussion had
brought to the fore that the predictions by Provan and Kenis (2008) could not be applied to
HRNs in a straight-forward manner. To structure our interpretative approach on governance,
we looked for instances of either collective or single-handed decision making, and of network
administrative work (including activities such as hosting of collective events). This follows
the approach of Provan and Kenis (2008), who disclosed their three governance modes by
observing decisions and important network activities. NAO-governed networks put the
coordination of the network in the hands of the NAO, while leaving strategic decisions to the
most important organizations or to a representation of the participating organizations. In
contrast, in participant-governed networks, partners make decisions and administrate the
network jointly (2008: 235), and in a lead organization-governed network, a central member
makes decisions and administrates the network activities on its own (2008: 235). To capture
underlying theoretical explanations more accurately, we began collapsing our in vivo codes
into second-order, more abstract categories, which we present in the next section and
document more systematically later in the text in Appendix 2. We related these categories to
our qualitative material in order to induce generalizable dimensions of network governance on
the one hand, and theoretical explanations accounting for their variation on the other.
Exploring Governance in an HRN
As introduced in the methods section, the overall HRN under scrutiny relies on three sub-
networks. Two of these (the AMOO network and the emergency taskforce) are respectively
dedicated to the containment of routine incidents and unexpected crises. The third (SWG
large-scale events) is dedicated to the collective anticipation of safety issues in the planning of
mass events in the city. In spite of such diversity, during our interviews and observations we
found no clear, formal authority in terms of network governance, either via an NAO (or
mandate for central participants such as police or FED to function as one), or in the form of a
lead organization coordinating network activities openly and yet taking decisions on its own.
Instead, our informants highlighted both the importance of participant-governed cooperation,
and the omnipresence of the FED as structural characteristics of these networks.
Paradoxically, accountability for emergency management seems to function as a sensitizing
device for the need to cooperate on an informal basis:
“Here, we really have a tipping point. Exactly here: where do we have original responsibility in terms of
preparation, and when can we speak of emergency management? And there, these networks are
particularly relevant, because communication must start early on.” (Top management officer, FED,
(In the course of a violent thunderstorm causing havoc all over the city): “what they’ve shown us here,
the perfection with which the FED leads things, with, say, their command center, their operation
controllers, together with liaison officers and all that stuff. How they’ve distributed all that. And a
relevant distribution.” (Operative head, Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW), interview)
Despite high levels of informality, however, we observed that the degree of cooperation
was strongly institutionalized, which seemed to address the simultaneous imperative of
accountability and autonomy. There were few, if any, official documents binding the
partnering organizations to these networks besides loose coordination agreements.
Accountability remained defined along the lines of each organization’s mandate and
jurisdiction. Only the emergency taskforce benefited from some hierarchical fiat, even though
decisions in terms of operative work remained, at least during our observations, in the hands
of the FED. The institutionalization of these mainly informal cooperation structures seemed to
be driven by the dual nature of reliability-seeking systems, i.e., their striving for effectiveness
in both containment and anticipation. In particular, our informants stressed the importance of
recurring, collective planning work as a means of sustaining permanent interactions in order
to drive more reliable relationships:
“Maintaining contact is a tough job, it costs you time and energy. But this is a prerequisite for when
something happens. Then there is a bond of trust between the one who is in charge, and the one who is
being controlled.” (A member of a municipal agency, interview)
It has something to do with the fact that we always work together. This is a stable group of people, who
meet for any kind of problem (…). And from the fact that we always get together for meetings, whatever
the issue is, always with the same people, a collective sense of responsibility has emerged.” (Officer,
police, interview)
Hence, the role of the central actors in this almost permanent process of collective work
appeared to be more nuanced than predicted by Provan and Kenis (2008). During routine
emergencies, even during large ones, each partnering organization would dedicate its
resources and knowhow to the fulfillment of its mandate. During operations, centralized
decision-making was straightforwardly inferred from the nature of the incident: by the FED in
almost all cases, unless police work was needed. Thereby, both autonomy and accountability
was granted to the FED, in terms of the freedom to take rapid action as the central agency
accountable to the city’s political leadership for the operation.
During planning work for large-scale events, in turn, lines of accountability remained clear
intraorganizationally but not at the network level. No mandates imposed participation in the
working group. To cope better with this situation, the governance structures were borrowed
from all three modes. The management functions were formally located in the hands of the
office for public order and of the municipal marketing agency but the role of the marketing
agency was that of facilitator only, like an NAO. Additionally, organizational hierarchies
were mirrored in the collective planning structures, with top-level officers taking part in
strategic discussions and officers with lesser ranks taking part in the implementation rounds,
all in a very participatory fashion. Here again, however, the influence of the FED (and
sometimes the police) was felt strongly, similar to the case with a lead organization
governance mode. In particular, even though the FED only functioned as a consultant on
safety issues during planning sessions, our informants were aware of the leading role the FED
would play if something went wrong during the event being planned for, and so respected its
opinion. In the words of our informants, the FED seems to have developed a capacity not only
for ‘layering’ the features of different modes of network governance, but also for ‘switching’
between more participatory and more autocratic decision structures.
One version is when someone declares a particular damage situation. (...) At this moment the FED is the
one for everything that has to do with non-criminal emergencies. So at this moment we would simply
switch (…) we can immediately reverse the switch. So the FED will take over the whole operation
command and we would be just one section of the medical service in the operation under the FED.”
(Commanding Officer of the German Red Cross, interview)
‘Layering’ relates to the informal process by which actors simultaneously combine features
of participant-based, lead organization-based and NAO-based governance to move towards
highly hybridized governance modes that will best fit periods with stable levels of activities.
The participants’ autonomy in planning work makes this layering necessary. NAO-inspired
management, democratic decision-making and loose membership structures make it easier for
participants to engage without letting go of their organizational autonomy in decision-making
and mandates. At the same time, the expectation of accountability in case of problems enjoins
organizations to participate. In return, switching abruptly towards more autocratic decision
structures makes it easier for the central organizations accountable for emergency
management to coordinate collective work. Hence, while the FED would act assertively
during operations of containment, it would step back during planning and strategic work and
act as a supportive force instead, either via offering experience and related knowhow, or by
hosting rounds of discussion or triggering the preparation of shared disaster response plans.
There is the emergency taskforce (and) our FED leadership. (…) The leadership is in the hands of the
taskforce, because at first it is not necessarily a matter of immediate danger. You have an unexploded
bomb in the ground (…). If the thing is dangerous, well if the blaster says ‘Oh, it’s an acid detonator’,
well then, this is immediate danger. Then we’d say ‘From now on, we determine what will happen.’ Then
we would reverse it all, we wouldn’t let the taskforce assign us” (Officer, FED, interview)
Hybrid Governance Modes
Echoing this last observation, the HRN in Düsseldorf enacts two hybrid modes of governance
in its daily work, which we term “supportive” and “assertive”. Table 3 shows the rules of
participation and decision-making in all three subnetworks and how they relate to different
governance modes. Appendix 2 provides additional illustrative evidence that supports our
interpretations of each of these two hybrid governance modes, as well as of the capacity of the
FED to switch from one mode to another. We selected quotes that highlight how elements of
the two hybrid modes correspond to principles of reliability.
Supportive Mode of Governance
The supportive mode of governance revealed by our data relies on three mechanisms: (i)
participative decision structures, (ii) rotating responsibility, and (iii) informal control via the
FED’s experience-based legitimacy in all these processes. In this respect, the SWG on large-
scale events provided strong evidence. During planning rounds, each participant spoke for
her/his organization, contributing to collective decisions on the applicability of the safety
concepts submitted by the hosts of the events. These discussion rounds further embodied a
continuous search for more expertise and ensured that a large diversity of potential risks was
anticipated before entering any deeper into planning. As explained above, hosting and
coordinating is in the hands of the municipal marketing agency, which functions as the
dedicated NAO of the SWG. The agency qualifies as an NAO because it only has
coordinative functions and interferes neither in the decision-making process nor in the
anticipation and containment of incidents. This facilitating process runs independently of the
In the SWG large-scale events, it begins with the moment when someone says ‘this event should at least
appear on the agenda, so that each administration in the SWG gets the opportunity to register the event,
maybe also to ask what is concealed behind it, or why is it taking place here or here. (Civil servant,
undisclosed administration, interview)
So here (i.e., in the SWG large scale events) we exchange business cards. (…) So you don’t have to call
the FED. You can call Max Mustermann [a made up name] (…) The detail-planning group comes later.
Normally, it incorporates the same people. If the people from the sport administration are not concerned,
they don't have to come. But in the SWG, everybody is present.” (Middle officer, FED, interview)
Implementation of these recommendations occurred via smaller and more focused detail-
planning groups, during which time coordination shifted from the marketing agency to the
hands of the municipal office for public order. This rotation in terms of responsibility,
however, is not restricted to planning work. For example, during the actual monitoring of
large-scale events, Emergency Medical Service (EMS) organizations are in charge of the
medical service as long as the FED thinks they can manage on their own. Similarly, during
larger crises, the hosting and congregating of the taskforce is the job of the FED, functioning,
this time, as the NAO, while the mayor or his/her representative is accountable for the work.
In all cases, however, the influence of the FED as lead organization turned out to be much
stronger than its official role, not least because of its exceptional experience.
“And even if you’d think at first ‘Firefighters, what do they have to do with it?’ The firefighters, with
their focus on non-criminal risk prevention, and with a lot of experience in extreme situations, they are
always among the main partners (i.e., in planning for large-scale events).” (Officer, police, interview)
This reliance on participatory decision-making and rotating responsibility was also evident
in the development of common disaster response plans for critical areas, such as the city
center, the harbor, or the airport. In the latter case, although the FED initiated the response
plan, it was the airport management who took care of its development and coordination. Here
again, the experience of the FED allowed it informal control of the process, nonetheless.
“Such integrated planning for operation, (…) and here, at the airport, this is going to be our second
attempt (…). We start at the meta-level (…) We determine what we need to plan, spatially, and move
inwardly towards content (…) This is quite a success as such, because this is not obvious for the
management of an airport to say ‘We lead a working group in which the needs of other organizations
have to be taken into account, even though we’re not concerned.’(Top management officer, FED,
Finally, we noted the flexibility with which participants moved from organized planning
towards highly participant-based, exploratory brainstorming activities. This was the case not
only between large-scale events, but also during them. In the course of our observations, we
saw how the participants of the networks relied on small, interdisciplinary observation teams
to construct shared interpretations about what was going on and improve on safety for future
With the FED, with the police, with the crowd management of the stadium. At least the three of us.
Mostly the event organizer also (...) We would watch what happens over there [i.e., crowd movements
between the stadium and the train station] and what can we improve. And this collective looking at
things, we’ve done it since we first started, and we have kept doing it all the time.(Top management
officer, police, interview)
Assertive Mode of Governance
The assertive mode of governance that we discovered in our data relies on three
corresponding mechanisms: (i) participatory consulting structures, (ii) centralized command
and decision structures, and (iii) formal control via the FED’s operative legitimacy. In
contrast to experience-based legitimacy, operative legitimacy results from the fact that the
FED is the only actor capable of handling the operative side of emergency management on all
In this respect, the taskforce provides an informative illustration of some aspects of this
hybrid governance mode. Although the taskforce contributes significantly to drafting
collective decisions, these decisions are mere suggestions for operative action. The interest of
the taskforce is to enable the FED and other organizations responsible for running operations
to speed up the process of consulting the many administrations and jurisdictions involved. In
this respect, although the FED has no formal leadership in the taskforce, its legitimacy at the
operative level turns out to be a powerful lever for determining the work of the taskforce; a
point that seemed to be absolutely accepted among the participants:
“Yeah, well, obviously, they (i.e., the FED) have the staff to run the operations, and they do excellent
work. I mean, please, they are professionals. This is how they make money. This is how they make a
living.” (Operative head, Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW), interview)
Similar consulting dynamics are made possible via coordination teams during large events.
For example, during the annual carnival (with approx. 500,000 visitors), the hosts of the
event, representatives of the FED, the police, the office for public order, and executives from
private security firms staffed the team. This team helps all participating organizations to carry
out their activities and tasks in the field by allowing the direct exchange of information across
organizations. Furthermore, this team is an instrument that helps the FED to coordinate and
prepare for worst-case scenarios.
In contrast to the supportive mode of governance, the participatory nature of the last two
quotes regarding taskforce and coordination teams addresses questions of consulting and
collective preparation. We experienced similar processes in debriefing meetings. The case is
quite different when decisions have to be made. Here, we saw that the participatory nature of
the work diminished with decisions remaining exclusively in the hands of the FED. This,
however, did not translate to a centralized, hierarchical line of command alone. The network
continued to provide valuable advice, as in the following quote:
The week before last (…) here in (anonymized district), a road tanker had toppled over, with something
not quite safe inside: propene (…) And to define the partnerships we needed, there is this planning board2
and they prepare for questions such as ‘We must now evacuate. What do we need for all that?’ It begins
with sirens, coordinated wording for the press, with the chemical plant, with the national railroad
company. ‘What options do we have for public announcements?’ There is a system that we can use
directly via the situation rooms of the railroad company. They can speak to all the trains in the network.
2 That is, a strategic team of firefighters and liaison officers in the situation room of the FED.
Do we want to use that? Things like that are determined. We prepare drafts for decisions for the officer in
charge, and we do that for all options.” (Top management officer, FED, interview)
In point of fact, when it comes to incidents and their containment, “well, there is no
construct during an emergency where the FED would remain at the margins” (member of an
EMS organization, interview). This assertive way of governing the network can create mis-
understandings with other operative forces. For example, when time pressure and the
necessity to act quickly provoke reactions that could jeopardize one’s accountability (excerpt
from field notes):
“[A police command officer to a firefighter, jokingly]: You always tell me, ‘When it burns, we go first
and you guys have nothing to do in there’. And last Friday, your people got in first during a shooting?!”
This omnipresence via centralized decision-making and operative control, however, should
not be understood as tortious interference. In most cases, the switch from a more supportive
towards a more assertive mode of governance is performed fairly abruptly. Nonetheless,
management of operations, albeit centralized in the hands of the FED, remains constructive to
help the partnering organizations and actors contribute to the containment of incidents. This is
especially the case with organizations and people in charge of the incident grounds (e.g., real
estate companies, cargo captains, etc.), but also with EMS organizations. EMS organizations
provide important support in the form of medical services, not least during large-scale events.
Should it be necessary, the FED not only provide these organizations with resources
(sometimes even fully equipped trucks), they also contribute to easing the reversal in
decision-making, as in the following quote (excerpt from field notes):
During the concert, John, in charge of the medical service for the FED, is present. He has no real
authority, as the medical service is provided by the EMS division of the Red Cross. He is only on
standby, so that he can take over the lead of the operation, just in case. Before the concert begins, he
walks an inspection round. In a first aid area of another partnering EMS organization, he tells the person
in charge one more time that they must ask for help as early as possible if his area gets full.”
In line with the conceptions of Provan and Kenis (2008) and Moynihan (2009), the inter-
organizational network in this case represents an instance of a goal-directed, whole network
(Provan et al. 2007; see again Table 1). The two emergency response subnetworks of the city
(i.e., the one based on the AMOO and the emergency management taskforce) ensure capacity
for the containment of incidents. A third subnetwork is dedicated to anticipation when
planning for large-scale events. These three subnetworks are assembled, controlled, and
managed under the (semi-formal) leadership of the FED to achieve higher reliability in the
form of an HRN. In this final section, we use our empirical observations in order to theorize
the important characteristics of the governance of HRNs in general. We have relied on
emergency management in one city as an extreme case to reveal the governance dynamics
that can be used to ensure high reliability in networked public service delivery. Nevertheless,
the insights gained in this study regarding the capacity to bridge critical phases of
containment with longer phases of anticipation can benefit public networks in other fields,
such as food safety, public health, or domestic violence. Against this background, we propose
a set of general, theoretical propositions that might yield further reflection and research on
reliability in other interorganizational settings.
Governing Networks for Reliability via Layering and Switching
Generally speaking, we propose that high-reliability networks (HRNs) are interorganizational
constellations of three or more organizations that rely on each other to provide error-free
contributions to a collective performance. Not all organizations in an HRN are HROs; yet the
failure of one participant may thwart the reliability of the collective performance. Reliability
is supported via cooperation structures and practices that aim to integrate concerns of
reliability at the network level (Berthod, Grothe-Hammer and Sydow 2015). Specifically,
extant research on the governance of interorganizational networks implies that a rather
functional evolution takes place from participant-governed to NAO-based governance or
governance via lead organizations, as networks increase in size and heterogeneity (Provan and
Kenis 2008). Our findings not only challenge these linear dynamics for HRNs, but also
expand theory on organizational reliability. Problems with strict hierarchical obedience in
HROs have revealed the need to defer to expertise via underspecified structures and informal
intraorganizational networks (Roberts 1990; Frederickson and LaPorte 2002; Weick et al.
1999). By contrast, the FED, as the main coordinator in the interorganizational network,
changes its role depending on the challenges the HRN is facing with respect to the mandates
of the participants, and does not hesitate to act in a (quasi-)hierarchical manner when it could
be held accountable. Switching to this assertive mode is made possible by participatory,
anticipation work, which not only builds but also institutionalizes – formally and informally –
the interorganizational network.
In one of the first studies to apply the Provan and Kenis typology to cooperation in a crisis
situation, Moynihan (2009: 911) showed how emergency response networks switched from
NAO-governed via ICS to participant-governed between crises with little interaction. Our
findings support Moynihan’s theory regarding the switches that take place between different
governance modes in the event of high activity-peaks, such as in crises. We draw on his
theory and our observations to state the following proposition:
Proposition 1: HRNs are likely to combine NAO-, lead organization-, and participant-
based forms of network governance. These combinations evolve along a continuum with
a strictly supportive mode at one end (i.e., mixing features of NAO and participant-
governed networks) and a strictly assertive mode (i.e., drawing exclusively on features
of lead-organization governance and highly-centralized control) at the other.
Second, we propose that these efforts to combine governance modes emerge via two
processes: one of smooth ‘layering’ and one of abrupt ‘switching’ (see Figure 3). Layering
relates to the informal process by which actors simultaneously combine features of
participant-based, lead organization-based and NAO-based governance to move towards
highly hybridized governance modes that will best fit periods with stable levels of activities.
Switching points to the process by which networks temporarily enact a centralized command
structure in a strictly assertive mode akin to a hierarchy to face unusually high levels of
activities or crises, and then switch back to their original, layered form of network
governance. Unlike layering, switching no longer implies a constant recombination of
governance features along the aforementioned continuum. Instead, it means an abrupt switch
to the assertive end of network governance. According to our observations, a switch is a
situation-related decision that, when well prepared for, can happen at any point in time,
depending on the situation or incident. We therefore state:
Proposition 2: The governance of HRNs is inherently dynamic and characterized by
processes of repeated switching between, and layering of participant-based, lead
organization-based, and NAO-based governance to produce highly hybridized
governance modes.
Drawing on the theory of network governance of Provan and Kenis (2008), our findings
further echo the specific conditions under which these propositions may apply. A first
condition seems to be the network’s capacity to nurture stable, trusted relationships, even with
respect to dormant ties that are only seldom activated (Starkey, Barnatt and Tempest 2000;
Windeler and Sydow 2001). When compared with the reliability of critical infrastructure (Roe
et al. 2005; Schulman et al. 2004), the HRN we report on features more heterogeneity in terms
of organizational background, mandates, and goals. Its participants could not, for instance,
rely on shared performance measures to coordinate their activities. This situation explains
both the need to layer features of governance to produce highly supportive modes in planning
(and thereby maximize the amount of heterogeneous expertise in collective work) and to
switch to highly centralized modes of governance during peak times to make sure that this
expertise is coordinated without delaying the response. This switching, however, is made
possible by the mutual trust that emerges from participation in joint planning and
improvement activities during quiet times. Recurrent participation produces stronger mutual
awareness among participants about each other’s mandates, responsibilities, expertise, and
interests. As we have seen, this awareness enables more rapid coordination and sets
expectations when there is an abrupt switch in governance modes.
Finally, the lines of accountability were particularly clear in our case study, which
contributed to an increased consensus in the HRN about the relevance of network
participation. While the majority of network participants were mandated to deliver different
public services, in practice we observed a network that has developed to prevent major crises
in a large city as its overarching goal. Each agency has an interest in participating in the
network to prevent potential failures and problems that could affect the fulfillment of its own
mandate. In addition, not participating could be regarded as a failing, for example in cases
where network participants retaliated against one another by blaming each other’s lack of
commitment. Similarly, the fact that the FED is the organization accountable for emergency
management failures explains its role as orchestrator, both in terms of intrinsic motivation and
in terms of legitimacy. The US, where accountability structures are more distributed and
multilevel, has been home to many debates on whether or not one should centralize the
coordination of response (Moynihan 2013) or how to design new accountability models
(Koliba et al. 2011). In such cases, we predict that hybridization is less likely to occur, since
organizations are less likely to engage in networking between crises, as Moynihan (2009) has
already pointed out. Our logic is summarized in the following two propositions:
Proposition 3: Stable ties characterized by trust between key actors within HRNs, even
if only of a latent nature, are a necessary precondition for enabling the actors to switch
successfully between governance modes.
Proposition 4: The organization (or set of organizations) most likely to be held
accountable for effective management of emergencies is likely to orchestrate the
switching from supportive to assertive mode of governance and back.
The Impact of Hybrid Governance Modes on Network Reliability
Network reliability, depending on the organizational priorities of network members or other
stakeholders, can represent an important facet of public network effectiveness (Provan and
Milward 2001). The layering and switching of governance modes, then, seems to be key to
addressing the two sides of reliability: the anticipation and containment of critical incidents.
Hence, we argue that reliability cannot be adequately supported by one form of network
governance alone; not even, as Moynihan (2009) suggested, by shifting from one form of
network governance to another. It is rather the layering of features of different forms of
governance and the reliance on “switches” to an assertive mode when operations need to be
speeded up that seem to contribute to network effectiveness in the case under scrutiny. This
insight is similar to the argument advanced by van Bueren, Klijn and Koppenjan (2003) in
relation to policy networks. Layering and switching represent options for network governance
and network management that avoid impasses in decision-making and coordination, which
can occur relatively easily in networks; they therefore ensure reliability, even under
conditions of uncertainty and stress (see also Koppenjan and Klijn 2004). We therefore state:
Proposition 5: Combining the layering and switching of governance modes is a
necessary condition to effectively address anticipation and containment in HRNs.
Evidence from this case suggests that these hybrid modes, together with the capacity to
manage their enactment strategically, help the network to deal with its inherent tensions.
Specifically, a supportive mode of governance seemed to be enacted through extensive
coordination and mutual adjustments during inclusive preparation rounds, with the outcome
of an increased efficiency in collective operations. Similarly, the internal legitimacy in
operations and planning took place via an approach based on mandates, regulations, and
capabilities. In turn and as reported, the external legitimacy of the network (see also the
material in Appendix 2), seemed to grow together with its record of successful events and
operations. Against this background, loose, non-binding participation in informal discussions
is a reflection of the autonomy of employees and public servants and is made possible via this
supportive, NAO-informed and participative way of governing the network. Finally, the
network turned out to be highly flexible, activating only the specific ties it needed for
planning or during operations. Nevertheless, this process of selection always began with a
discussion round including all potential participants, in the SWG large-scale events as much
as in the emergency management taskforce. These recurring meetings sustained the
maintenance of relationships and trust between members of the network.
In a similar fashion, the assertive mode of governance addresses network tensions with
respect to organizing for reliability. An assertive mode of governance, in our case study,
seemed to be enacted when decisions needed to be made quickly, or when incidents called for
more rapid coordination. This was made possible via the support of consulting structures and
collective discussion rounds. Such discussions helped the operatives from the FED on the
ground to make better, more informed decisions, even issuing recommendations that had
previously been debated collectively. Similarly to the supportive governance mode, internal
legitimacy was clarified during incidents via mandates and the enactment of expectations in
terms of accountability. However, external legitimacy was driven by the incident and the
imperative to take action. Lastly, stability was increased via direct consultation between
accountable partners at all times while retaining the capacity to correct the course of action
centrally. We summarize the above arguments in the following proposition:
Proposition 6: Combining the supportive and assertive modes of governance supports
HRNs in dealing with the following network tensions: efficiency versus inclusiveness;
internal versus external legitimacy; stability versus flexibility; and accountability versus
Implications for Management and Policy
Governing Networks for Reliable Emergency Management. Our findings echo ICS
structures with respect to the setup of a temporary hierarchy among organizations during
critical and unexpected incidents (Bigley and Roberts 2001; Moynihan 2009), but do not
make ICS-like policies a necessity. When faced with the potential risk of crises or critical
peaks of activity, ‘network orchestrators’ (in the sense of Paquin and Howard-Grenville 2013)
aiming to create reliability are well advised to use a hybrid, more supportive governance
mode at the strategic level, not least during quiet times, in order to prepare for switches to
more assertive governance modes at the operative level in cases where crises occur.
‘Switching’ was the term our informants used and is also a very appropriate term for this
process. Switching as such implies a temporary transformation, because the structures switch
back to the original, layered version of governance as soon as quasi-hierarchical leadership is
no longer needed.
As we have seen, switching occurs without friction thanks to preparatory work during quiet
times. Contrary to extant case studies of networked crisis response (see e.g., Majchrzak,
Jarvenpaa, and Hollingshead 2007; Moynihan 2009; Hu, Knox, and Kapucu 2014), the
network in this study corresponds to a permanent structure that never ceases to function, even
between crises. This permanency (Schulman et al. 2004), we argue, is what qualifies the
system as an HRN. Against this background, we propose that stability, in the case of HRNs,
seems to be a product of the layering of governance to create more inclusiveness and the
continuous enactment of network ties in the context of anticipation. This general stability
obviously does not exclude the fact that some relationships may erode or even terminate.
Nevertheless, these negative relationships are compensated for by the quality of the vast
majority of the others. This approach, typical for reliability and its dual goal of containment
and anticipation, helps to bypass the problem raised by Moynihan (2009) with respect to the
collapse of emergency response networks between crises. The strength of HRNs, as compared
to many other interorganizational networks, liesif run adequately wellin their capacity to
retain a certain level of activity between crises, geared towards anticipating failure. This form
of “network preparedness” enables established ties to be exploited after specific events, for
example via debriefs and feedback meetings on joint operations, the exploration of new ties to
expand the network, more often than not for the creation of redundant resources or knowledge
(Mariotti and Delbridge 2012), and the nurturing of latent ones (Lingo and O’Mahony 2010;
Windeler and Sydow 2001).
Reliable Public Service Delivery. How should networks be organized to deliver a reliable
public service? Our case study suggests both the importance of recurring, anticipation-related
work, and that public service delivery networks should invest considerable efforts into
enabling nuanced governance towards this end. This holds true for coping with peak levels of
activity as well as for times between such crises, so that dormant relationships can be
reactivated easily in future unexpected occurrences. Against the backdrop of this discussion,
we propose that public service delivery networks striving for more reliability should reassess
the amount of anticipation-related activities they engage in between peaks of activity. These
anticipation-related activities contribute to increasing both mutual awareness among network
participants and confidence in the brokering or orchestrating organizations, as well as to
diffusing concerns regarding reliability across the network. When crises occur, this
anticipation work reinforces containment-related activities in the form of a general state of
preparedness that allows for the more rapid reactivation of latent relationships. Containment-
related activities in turn feed debriefing rounds and future anticipation-related activities,
continuously adapting and reinforcing a state of preparedness.
Contributions to Research on High-Reliability and Network Governance
The question of whether to rely on more or less bureaucracy has always been an open one for
scholars of organizations in general (Adler and Borys 1996) and emergency management in
particular (Moynihan 2009). The HRO literature has delivered intriguing insights into
distributed and contextual frames of responsibility and authority in otherwise highly
hierarchical fields, even in the military (e.g., Roberts 1990). However, at the level of whole
networks (Provan et al. 2007), governance issues turn out to be even more elusive. We
observed hybridization by means of layering and switching between different modes of
network governance. It appears, therefore, that centralization in the case of HRNs does not
imperatively result in political control and conflict (Waugh and Streib 2006). Anticipatory
work in HRNs focuses on the development and maintenance of latent ties to preserve the
capacity to work together between crises. This approach implies strong participative work and
decision-making in spite of hierarchically mandated decision-making structures during critical
incidents. These findings suggest that scholars of reliability need different concepts and yield
different insights when seeking to understand reliability at the level of whole networks.
The present study also helps to deepen our knowledge of governance issues at the level of
whole networks in general (Provan et al. 2007). Isett and her coauthors (2011) have warned
that studies of public service delivery networks are too often static. Provan and Kenis (2008)
previously proposed that governance modes might change over time; a point judiciously
revisited by Moynihan (2009). In the current paper, we have shown how governance in an
HRN might change continuously as a result of movements between a smooth process of
‘layering’ and abrupt episodes of ‘switching’. These dynamics, even if related to structural
network tensions such as those between autonomy and accountability, mostly take place
without conflict, not least due to the recurring interaction that takes place in quieter times and
binds these organizations together. During this interaction, the lead organization played either
the role of a participant or of an NAO, supporting the development of new collective
structures without relying on specific mandates or resource dependencies to do so. These
findings imply the necessity to look more precisely at the practices underlying the enactment
of governance (Provan et al. 2007).
What is more, this research sheds light on how networks might address tensions in their
daily work. The two goals of HRNs, anticipation and containment, make it necessary for the
central actors to establish hybrid structures borrowing from all three modes of governance in
order to navigate network tensions. To our knowledge, this study is the first to address these
tensions dynamically. We build on and expand the work of Moynihan (2009) and Saz-
Carranza and Ospina (2011), and introduce the accountability-autonomy tension. Our
dynamic approach opens more possibilities in practice in terms of governance design.
One final contribution, and an obvious opportunity for further inquiry, is that the present
research highlights the relevance and importance of reliability in studying interorganizational
networks. The issue of reliability is strikingly absent in discussions of network efficiency and
effectiveness (Provan and Milward 2001). This is all the more surprising, because reliability,
even under difficult circumstances, can be regarded as a core value of public service delivery
(Hood 1991). Failing to achieve reliability can have catastrophic consequences involving the
loss of human life. As stated above, the capacity to bridge phases of containment with longer
phases of anticipation could well benefit interorganizational networks in settings other than
emergency management, especially in fields where public administration has an immediate
impact on life and death. Anticipation goes further than mere quality control, however. Many
other networks could well improve their contribution to public welfare by learning how to
acquire and maintain the capacity to react more quickly to unexpected crises.
Limitations and Outlook
The present paper takes a first step towards unpacking the (structural) foundations of HRNs.
Despite refining extant research on both reliability and networks, however, this study
highlights the need for additional inquiries. First, contrasting this case with other agencies in
other institutional contexts might help us recognize further critical differences in governance
across interorganizational constellations that aim to deliver highly reliable operations. Second,
any analysis of network governance remains incomplete if the processes by which network
structures are produced, reproduced, and eventually transformed are not unearthed. Process-
oriented research is now needed to identify the respective practices underlying the
coordination of HRNs. Finally, we observed reliability at the network level using the classic
distinction between containment and anticipation in operations that involved organizations
with a fairly high degree of willingness to contribute to reliability at the interorganizational
level. Future research might explore imbalanced contexts, where central actors perform
reliably and in so doing compensate for the lack of commitment of their partners. How much
reliability is needed in network processes to reach network-wide reliability? And how reliable
must the ties among central actors be in order to uphold anticipation and containment
effectively? These and other fundamental questions await scholars of reliability interested in
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TABLE 1. The three subnetworks forming the emergency response HRN in Düsseldorf
Managing emergencies
The AMOO determines
constellations for each
incident (activation of latent
Taskforce coordinates the
work of the agencies and
public companies involved in
a major crisis
Contain routine cases
Contain critical cases
Number of
Approx. 50
34, including 15 core
FED or police, depending
on the nature of the incident
Mayor or deputy mayor and
FED (operations)
TABLE 2. Reliability dimensions at the network level: Case description
Reliability dimensions
Case description: Recurring processes
Preoccupation with
Generation of new insights via open discussion about failures, mistakes, and gut
feelings before, during, and after large-scale events and critical operations.
Transmission of information from observation teams in the field to all
participating organizations via a central coordination group during large-scale
Local emergency taskforce to brainstorm collectively about potential sources of
danger during critical operations.
Command structures in the hands of FED or police for quicker action (and
corrective reactions to potential mistakes) during routine incidents, crises or large-
scale events.
Reluctance to simplify
Assemblage of a plurality of perceptions in the planning for large events, as well
as in large incidents, not least via a constant search for sources of problems and
potential solutions.
Coordination of multiple points of view via interorganizational teams staffed with
liaison officers to discuss the relevance of each new piece of information.
Mutual monitoring of each participating organization's contributions, especially in
the taskforce and the coordination groups during large-scale events.
Sensitivity to
Mutual awareness of each others’ procedures and work processes, in particular in
critical areas (old town) or infrastructures (airport).
Common action plans for rescue forces and other, non-emergency agencies (e.g.,
building authorities, airport management) regulate and coordinate operations
(emergency-related but not only) in and between crises.
FED monitors the medical service of EMS organizations and holds resources
available for them.
Institutionalization of common action plans for emergency management during
operations, even for organizations that have not participated in the planning
Commitment to
Shared backup communication devices between police and firefighters enforcing
mutual assistance in safety concepts.
Central actors (FED and police) remain on standby at all times, ready to respond
to incidents and take over the command in case of staff shortage or activity peak.
Lower levels of stress among partners during peaks in pressure and activities via
centralization of coordination and decision-making.
Deference to expertise
via underspecified
Simplified plans for rescue operations in critical areas help coordinate ad hoc
specialized interventions.
Coordination groups in large-scale events and taskforce during large crises act as
communication hubs to debate and solve problems via richer interaction.
Modular management of incident grounds to ease the assembling of expertise and
resources needed.
Table 3. Hybridization of governance: Table of observations
Rules of participation and
role distribution
Governance feature
inspired by
Alarm and March-out
Order (AMOO)
Centralized tie activation
Centralized coordination
(FED or Police)
Collective preparation of final
decisions (all)
Centralized decision-making
(FED or Police)
Emergency management
Centralized coordination
(municipal executive)
Centralized command in the
field (FED)
Collective preparation of final
decisions (all)
Centralized tie activation via
invitations and meeting
facilitation (FED)
SWG large-scale events
Centralized facilitation
(first round: municipal
marketing agency; detail
planning: office for public
Collective tie
Collective preparation of final
Collective decision-
Collective operation
Centralized coordination for
incidents (FED or Police)
Figure 1: Two mode network of organizations participating in the Standing Working Group Large-Scale Events
and the Emergency Task Force.
Figure 2: Two mode network of organizations and the 10 general incident categories within the Alarm and
March Out Order (AMOO)
FIGURE 3. Governing an HRN via layering and switching
3.a. A process of layering
3.b. A process of switching
APPENDIX 1. Network participants.
Alarm and
march out
SWG large-
scale events
Deutsche Bahn AG
Düsseldorf FED
EMS organizations (cluster of four)
Forestry commission, cemeteries & gardening office
Municipal construction supervision agency
Municipal environment agency
Municipal health authority
Municipal traffic enterprise
Police (state)
Waste management
Cultural office
District government
Federal police
Land surveying and real estate office
Mayor's office
Municipal drainage management
Municipal office for communication
Municipal office of fair trading
Municipal public order office
Municipal traffic management authority
Municipal utilities
Administrative district chimney sweeper
Administrative district environment agency
Airport FED
Control center of the rural district of Mettmann
Control center of the rural district of Neuss
Crane rental
District administration
DLRG (German Lifeguard Association)
Duisburg FED
Düsseldorf Airport
Düsseldorf Congress Sport & Event GmbH
Düsseldorf Marketing & Tourismus GmbH
Emergency pediatrician of the Diakonie
Federal Armed Forces
Hospitals (cluster of 10 organizations)
Krefeld FED
Highway maintenance authorities
Municipal administrative department 03
Municipal administrative department 06
Municipal administrative department 08
Municipal building authority
Municipal central office
Municipal education authority
Municipal facility management office
Municipal housing office
Municipal legal affairs department
Municipal office for promotion of the economy
Municipal residents' office
Municipal social services office
Municipal sports department
Niederrhein forestry commission office
Port authority
Professional adviser for building
Red Cross (mentioned in specific)
Rescue dog services
Rescue helicopter (ordered via central authority)
River police
State Enterprise of roads development
THW (Federal Agency for Technical Relief)
Traffic management authority
Tunnel control center
Waterways and Shipping Office of Cologne
Works fire service of Daimler
Works fire service of Henkel
APPENDIX 2. Concepts and illustrative empirical evidence
Empirical evidence
Enacting reliability
governance mode
We build it (i.e., concert entrance with fences and gates), and the only thing is the building
authority, they come, and the FED, and they say: ‘here, our escape routes, do not obstruct
them with fences. And here, no queuing in front of exits in the concert hall.’ They pay
attention to all that. But nobody comes and tells me ‘you must build the concert entrance
like this or like that’. Because they don’t have the experience. How could they?
(Operations manager, private security firm in charge of large events, interview)
When the infrastructure is in danger, there is this room (i.e. the situation room of the
emergency taskforce hosted by the FED). And everyone from the municipal
administrations sits there (…). And I sit there, if I am from the health agency, and I must
decide whether or not the water is still drinkable. And I can’t say: ‘I have to check with 13
of my employees first’. Here, the decision is made. This is the difficulty.” (Top management
officer, FED, interview)
Preoccupation with
failure; commitment to
Deference to expertise
Commitment to resilience
Deference to expertise
We want to avoid, this was a request from the FED, for example, them receiving phone-
calls from everyone. Instead, it must be centrally coordinated. It means it all runs via the
coordinating positions at the office for public order. And they decide ‘does this information
need to go there, or there, or there’. And the replies are sent to them, too.” (Civil servant,
undisclosed administration, interview)
In general, it functions like this: it begins with a presentation of the situation by the FED,
this information is analyzed and evaluated in the emergency taskforce, then filtered
through all leadership processes in terms of strategy. Then a strategy is proposed, the FED
register it and implement it, operationalize it. (Firefighter, FED, interview)
Deference to expertise
Deference to expertise
Sensitivity to operations
based legitimacy
as control
“Interviewer: “What do you speak about with the FED?”
Interviewee: “Firefighting, not in the sense of fighting fire, but in the sense of preventive
fire safety. Non-criminal hazard control. It is in the FED’s hands. It is also about large
crowd management and getting their opinion and their OKs. (Safety manager, local
stadium, interview)
The FED is an important partner, because it has to take care of other issues within its
mandate for non-criminal hazard control, and it needs to look differently at things.
Deference to expertise
Preoccupation with failure
Preoccupation with
Whether the driveways are wide enough for the rescue vehicles. Whether the crowds
remain manageable (…). So the FED is very valuable and is one of the most important
partners, for sure. Because they are those with the focus on, I’d say, a technical service
perspective.” (Civil servant, undisclosed administration, interview)
commitment to resilience
governance mode
And this, (i.e., a new system for coping with mass casualties) we did with the FED,
together with the participants, we really sat in front of a blank piece of paper and we
simply said: What do we want now? Where do we have problems? And we started from
scratch, all over again.” (Civil servant, undisclosed administration, interview)
You have Mr. (anonymous) from the FED, who is in charge of the large-scale events, who
is always in charge at the arena, at the yearly fun fair, and at the carnival processions.
And all around him, when problems emerge, when he sees some problem, he has his
network and he looks and says: ‘who do I need now from the network?’ (...) And this
network, it is constantly expanding.” (Police officer, interview)
Commitment to
preoccupation with failure
Reluctance to simplify
Commitment to
deference to expertise;
and decision
When the trains stop running, all the commuters are trapped for the next 20 hours in the
train station. What do we do now? (…) There was the firefighter, the one who takes care of
the planning for large-scale events, he drove to the train station and discussed with the
management. The staff of McDonalds, they wouldn’t make it back home either. So why
don’t they keep the deep fryers turned on? We used the infrastructure at hand, kept it
running like an island. With the advantage that we hadn’t much to do with it.(Top
management officer, FED, interview)
It’s not like we keep on talking. There is a problem, here’s a solution, good. Either they
(i.e. FED members) find a solution themselves, or they ask me. Then we find a solution and
we do it. It’s not like ‘well, we could also do this and that’. No. We just said we could do it
like that and we do it. (…) It’s part of their training. That you always have an officer in
charge during an operation and he gives directions. And if you don’t like it, you can
always discuss it afterwards, but not during operations.” (Emergency doctor, interview)
Commitment to resilience
Commitment to
deference to expertise
as control
We are the ones who implement (i.e. collective decisions). And when we don’t want to
implement something, well then, we don’t implement it.” (Top management officer, FED,
We also took many things over [i.e. from the FED]. If you think about the officers’ ranking
Sensitivity to operations
at the FED: A-, B-, C-Level. We adapted it for us, so that the FED knows how we stand.
Because if I go and speak about a Z-Level Commander, the FED has no clue. But if we say
I am the B-Level commander today (…) then they know ‘oh, he’s the one in charge right
now’.” (Member of an EMS organization, interview)
Sensitivity to operations
I start with questions, to get a feeling for the situation. And in the end you see it on their
faces. When the sweat starts running down their cheeks, you get a feeling that something is
wrong. That is when I intervene. I say: now, this is our operation. (Top management
officer, FED, interview)
“So first, this is a formal action. You go to the person who has been in charge so far and
you say ‘OK, we, FED Düsseldorf, will take care of the operations now’. This statement
often comes with an order, what they must do next (…). Something like ‘you run the
medical service with the same structures as before. Everything else will be discussed in the
next briefing.’ So then he knows. Then they send the information to our control room, so
that we can keep track of it, in case someone asks ‘who was responsible for that at this
point in time?’. Primarily, it is about responsibility. (Officer, FED, interview, about the
management of a large-scale event)
“When an EMS organization takes care of an operation on site and asks for additional
resources, these additional resources, as part of the communal rescue service, are sent to
them automatically, so that they keep the operation under their leadership; unless,
obviously, I determine certain levels of danger. Injured people, anything, but then we are
playing a different game. Then we have a different task structure. We have the FED at the
top, as overarching operation manager, and we take care of one specific layer of the
emergency management.” (Red Cross officer, interview)
“In preparation, we had insisted upon the fact, and come to the agreement, that the EMS
organization in charge of medical services should inform us about potential escalation in
capacity thresholds. Especially when they reach 70 percent (…). In my role as a free atom,
if I may say, I paid them a visit in the field and I saw that they were already at 90 percent.
So I thought “actually, there should have been a note from them long ago, 20 percent ago.
(…) So then we met (i.e., with the liaison officer) and tried to clarify the situation, which
led to the sending of more units.” (Officer, FED, interview, about the management of a
large-scale event)
... Much of the early HRO literature was based in organizations where humans interacted with complex, technological systems of their own creation (Rochlin, 1993), for example, nuclear power generators (Bourrier, 1996), aircraft carriers (Roberts et al., 1994) and air traffic control systems (LaPorte & Consolini, 1998). However, recent research using HRO theory has expanded to consider extreme teams and organizations that attempt to manage risks caused by other hazards, for example, disasters (e.g., Berthod et al., 2017;Brown et al., 2017;Jahn & Black, 2017;Steigenberger & Lübcke, 2021). This expansion in scholarship is wellsuited to understanding the demands for more organizations to behave reliably (LaPorte, 1996). ...
... This appears to be an incentive for many non-HROs to strive for reliability as well (Weick & Sutcliffe, 2007). This inclusion has created the opportunity to bring to the fore how reliability is created in response to complex and cascading disasters (Clark-Ginsberg et al., 2021) and through interorganizational relationships (Berthod et al., 2017;Rice, 2021). ...
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High reliability organizations (HROs) are rare organizations that manage established technologies to avoid catastrophic errors. The concept of reliability, however, has become attractive to other organization types. This expansion creates scholarly questions about what reliability is outside of HROs. The COVID‐19 pandemic challenged new organizations to create reliability by also creating alternative meanings and practices of reliability that could adequately address an unknown, evolving health threat. This study draws on semistructured interviews and virtual ethnography during the first year of the COVID‐19 pandemic to examine how organizations communicatively defined reliability. The study finds that organizations engage in datafication of hazards to demonstrate they are performing reliably and proposes the practice of “evidencing reliability” as an important step in constituting reliability. However, datafication of hazards can also lead to skewed understandings of organizational performance and potential success biases.
... Questions A and B are ultimately of both conceptual and practical importance. While some analysts have argued that the reliability and resilience of individual organizations is the key to larger reliability and resilience of the networks (Berthod et al., 2016;Cantu et al., 2021) this essay explores the alternate perspective in question B for the consideration of researchers and, ultimately, policy-makers. The questions and this essay are offered as a prospective speculation, not as an attempt to supply a definitive truth. ...
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Both reliability and resilience have become popular concepts in the study of organizations. They have also been applied as performance standards to the assessment of particular organizations, often retrospectively in relation to their role in crisis situations or major disruptive events. Yet this essay argues that the concepts, reliability and resilience, as generally understood and applied to single organizations, have uncertain application to the ever-growing number of organizational networks. In this essay we will look particularly at: networks of contracted services or technology from private-sector organizations by government agencies or by other private organizations , interconnected critical infrastructure organizations, long-linked production and supply chains of various products and services, and interacting governments and private organizations in emergency management after natural disasters. The analysis of these networks will center around answering two basic and contrasting questions: A. Will the capacities for reliability or resilience of individual organizations within an organizational network create that capacity for the network overall to be reliable and resilient, and therefore, is improving individual organizational reliability and resilience an effective strategy for creating a more reliable and resilient organizational network as a whole? Or: B. Is it instead a paradox of organizational networks that unless reliability and resilience are first achieved as network properties, it is unlikely that the individual organizations in a network can themselves become reliable and resilient? The essay explores both questions in relation to current concepts of reliability (high-lighting high reliability organizations research) and resilience (of various types, including concepts of complex adaptive systems) and with illustrations from supply chains, interconnected infrastructures, contracted services, and emergency management networks. The essay concludes with an argument that current concepts of both reliability and resilience are ambiguous and incompletely specified-not clearly and fully enough developed to allow confident answers either question A or B. This, in itself, is a condition with both conceptual and practical implications, one that should compel further conceptual and case research.
... Gebauer et al. (2012) also made use of an interpretative multiple case study approach for DCs and operational capabilities in SMEs. Berthod et al. (2016) employed an explorative and interpretative case approach also to investigate into inter-organizational networking. Our study also employs a multiple case based approach of seven public enterprises belonging to different sectors/industries in a different contexta smaller developing island nation unlike, "much of the existing empirical research [that] has focused on investigating DCs at the business unit or corporate level of single-business firms" (Wilden et al., 2016(Wilden et al., : 1027. ...
... This is logical given the fact that such networks are made up of a complexity of actors and interactions embedded in an ever-changing and turbulent public policy landscape. Berthod et al. (2017) suggest that networks require a switching between governance modes to deal with such fluctuations, with more assertive and hierarchical governance modes required in times of crisis or network tension. Clearly then this presents further implications for the development, management, and governance of such networks. ...
... Pragmatically, broad inclusiveness helps take account of all relevant viewpoints and information in problem solving (Gray 1985) and promotes the subsequent implementation of decisions made (Gray 1985;Johnston et al. 2011). Efficiency is also necessary since stakeholders care about the efficient use of resources in collaboration (Wood and Gray 1991), and they often ask whether they can receive benefits from collaborations in the form of efficiency (Berthod et al. 2017;Emerson and Nabatchi 2015). ...
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This article aims to move collaborative governance research beyond a fragmented consensus on its enigmatic nature by comprehensively and systematically extricating and codifying different paradoxes and proposing both paradox-handling mechanisms and paradox-based research agendas. We present a framework consisting of paradoxes between normative principles, paradoxes between normative principles and real-life practices, and paradoxes in the real-life practices of collaborative governance. We discuss how to handle these inherent paradoxes and propose research agendas for scholars and practical guidance for administrators based on the paradox perspective, which will enrich collaborative governance research and practices.
... Participant-governed networks are led by members of the network, and have no centralized governing entity. Decision making is done by all, or a significant subset of, participants with authority equally distributed among members although organizations may differ with regards to size, resources, and capabilities (Berthod et al., 2017). The governance of some inter-organizational projects depends on shared governance where participants cooperate in a consensus-based way (Sydow & Braun, 2018). ...
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Multiple organizations working jointly on shared activities in inter‐organizational projects for a defined period of time are used increasingly to coordinate the supply of complex products, subsystems, and services across many industries. Despite the growth in inter‐organizational networks as an organizational form, scholars have only recently begun to identify how lead organizations orchestrate the coordination of multiple parties with disparate goals, responsibilities, and capabilities. Prior work offers limited insights into the choice of network governance forms, and how coordination is undertaken by the network orchestrator to govern these networks. We conducted a longitudinal study of four networks to deliver vital services into a large project. We identified how the choice of network governance form was based on task complexity. A shared governance form was chosen for networks developed to deliver routine services, whereas a lead organization governance form was chosen for networks set up to deliver complex services. However, findings showed that the selection of an appropriate governance form was not sufficient for ensuring high performance. The network orchestrator's mode of coordination (formal or informal), the intensity of coordination (active or passive), and fit with the form of governance form (shared or lead organization governed) was important in driving performance. The performance of project networks depends on both the initial choice of network governance and their ongoing coordination The network orchestrator should select the form of network governance based on the complexity of tasks provided The network orchestrator should align the mode and intensity of coordination with the form of network governance
... Studies of networks in high reliability management of critical infrastructures (e.g. Berthod, Grothe-Hammer, Müller-Seitz, Raab, & Sydow, 2017) have rarely systematically analysed the knowledge dimensions of such relationships (although, see Baker, Day, & Salas, 2006;Carroll & Rudolph, 2006). While high reliability theory has been applied to pastoral settings (e.g. ...
How can reliability be generated and sustained in the face of uncertainty? This question is explored by examining knowledge networks among pastoralists and others in northern Kenya, emerging in response to a highly variable animal disease setting. Using quantitative and qualitative social network analysis, intersecting locally-embedded, development project and political networks are identified. Drawing on high-reliability theory, as applied to critical infrastructures, the paper explores the key characteristics of the knowledge networks in relation to systems, knowledges, relationships, technologies, professionals and politics. Reliability – the ability to provide stable services and respond variability in real-time – is shown to be related to the networked capacity to mobilise knowledge to confront uncertainty and avoid ignorance, with certain high-reliability professionals central. The locally-embedded network in particular has important characteristics of a high reliability knowledge network, but key brokers link to the development project and political network. Development challenges often require addressing uncertainty and even ignorance and lessons from high-reliability approaches can be crucial.
... Amicelle et al. (2017: 166) describes contemporary criminology as having "developed its analysis of how flows of people, information and things have changed policing and how conversely policing intervenes and shapes those flows." Within such a paradigm, the various relationships between regulatory agents, offenders and even third parties can vary greatly in strength of influence and composition, and can change their nature and construction with varying degrees of speed (Berthod et al., 2017). ...
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Criminology has for some time considered the importance of “flows” in the commission of crime. This article argues that the practices of regulatory agents often fail to consider these flows—flows in information, assets, reputation or technology. Despite considering criminological flows as a discrete field of enquiry, scholars have failed to address what regulatory agents might do or impose on the system of flows to achieve their goals and outcomes. We propose an approach (grounded in the domain of cybernetics and systems studies) which fosters a collaborative and normative approach to bridging the gap when it comes to the criminology of flows, particularly in our increasingly interconnected and digitized future.
Our knowledge of how to design innovation ecosystems that effectively deal with grand challenges or wicked problems is currently insufficient due to a lack of understanding of their joint innovation processes. Through the use of an in‐depth case of an innovation ecosystem designed to combat organized crime, this study shows how diverse government authorities manoeuvre innovation and interact to continuously make the challenge amenable and identify and implement provisional and innovative solutions. Drawing on extensive data gathered from observations, documentation, and interviews with multiple stakeholders, we contribute to the innovation ecosystem literature by offering a model of three interdependent and complementary innovation processes: responsive, preventive, and tactical innovation, supporting an ongoing and distributed experimentation among diverse actors. Furthermore, we emphasize the use of a hybrid interorganizational structure that combines hierarchical and horizontal structures, over one that is entirely network‐based, and we highlight the crucial role of a focal collective actor as opposed to a single orchestrator of the ecosystem. Finally, the study suggests attention not only to strengths and complementary attributes but also to vulnerabilities and gaps between involved actors, providing unique innovation opportunities. The paper offers valuable guidance to designers and coordinators of innovation ecosystems addressing grand challenges.
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In general, the paradigm of innovation has undergone, and is undergoing, significant changes from a technological, economic, and positivistic point of view towards collectivist paradigms, oriented to process and dynamism. Many studies have highlighted the need to develop a new type of conceptual ideas and frameworks that more deeply explain the complex and multifaceted nature of innovation structures and processes. New studies drawing attention to practical and collaborative processes in the creation and production of services and in the management of activities.
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Organizations managing disasters face a paradox. They need to build stable, reliable structures that are flexible enough to allow adaptation to such unexpected events. Much planning for concrete disaster response operations involve scenarios. From a Luhmannian perspective, this approach is characteristic of a form of "if-then" conditional programming. Extant research on emergencies and disaster management, however, has remained silent about other than scenario-based planning. In this paper, we draw on sociological decision theory to highlight alternative forms of planning for disasters. We present the possibilities to build stable structures for disaster management by making use of conditional programmes that rely on space instead of scenarios and by making use of what Luhmann calls "programme nesting". We illustrate this argument with a case study of emergency management in a large German city at the origin of this new planning method.
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Alliances and networks formed by two or more organizations are an increasingly common means to cope with environmental uncertainty frequently resulting from incomplete knowledge. At the same time, alliances and networks must address uncertainty caused by the form itself, which unlike risk, is not calculable. Our review and analysis of the literature on the topic first distinguishes between the concepts of risk and uncertainty, and then identifies three gaps in the literature that offer directions for future research. First, dyadic alliances, rather than broader networks, have been the predominant focus of researchers, limiting our understanding of the scope of uncertainty. Second, previous research concentrates on vaguely defined interorganizational relations and not more in-depth collaborations, which are far more meaningful and have a greater impact on addressing uncertainty. Third, a governance perspective has typically been applied to deal with the risks and uncertainties ensuing from alliances and networks, limiting an understanding of the impact of uncertainty on practice. To address these concerns, we call for an emphasis on genuine uncertainties rather than risks, on consideration of alliances and networks of three or more organizations rather than only dyads, and moving beyond a governance perspective, considering also how managers actually ‘practice uncertainties’ in face of their inability to control, reduce or even avoid the lack of knowledge.
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The ad hoc formation of interorganizational relationships and networks remains a black box for management scholars. We address this phenomenon by investigating interorganizational responses to an extreme event. Hence, we explore how interorganizational constellations of previously unconnected actors formed in response to the large-scale outbreak of enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) in Germany in 2011, which killed 53 people and affected over 4,000. We present a preliminary model of interorganizational assemblage and offer propositions that highlight the conditions under which the development of collaborations across organizations is made possible in face of crises.
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A general interest in the study of social practices has been spreading across a diversity of disciplines in organization and management research, relying mostly on rich ethnographic accounts of units or teams. What is often called the practice-turn, however, has not reached research on interorganizational networks. This is mainly due to methodological issues that call, in the end, for a mixed-method approach. This article addresses this issue by proposing a research design that balances well-established social network analysis with a set of techniques of organizational ethnography that fit with the specifics of interorganizational networks. In what we call network ethnography, qualitative and quantitative data are collected and analyzed in a parallel fashion. Ultimately, the design implies convergence during data interpretation, hereby offering platforms of reflection for each method toward new data collection and analysis. We discuss implications for mixed-method literature, research on interorganizational networks, and organizational ethnography.
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As public and private sector organizations work more frequently in partnership, managing uncertainties, problems and controversies becomes increasingly difficult. Despite sophisticated technology and knowledge, the strategic networks and games required to solve uncertainties becomes more complex and more important than ever before. This unique text examines such developments in the area of network strategy. Differentiating itself from other policy network approaches which mainly have a research focus, this text has a managerial orientation, presenting strategies and management recommendations for public and private sector organizations as well as the analytical tools required by practitioners seeking to support their own internal decision-making and strategy formulation. Tapping into the important and ever-growing area of risk and uncertainty management, this is a vital and long awaited staple for the arena, written by two leading authors in the field, and is key reading for students, scholars and policy makers seeking to understand the complexities of the network society. © 2004 Joop Koppenjan and Erik-Hans Klijn. All rights reserved.
High Reliability Organizations (HROs) have been treated as exotic outliers in mainstream organizational theory because of their unique potentials for catastrophic consequences and interactively complex technology. We argue that HROs are more central to the mainstream because they provide a unique window into organizational effectiveness under trying conditions. HROs enact a distinctive though not unique set of cognitive processes directed at proxies for failure, tendencies to simplify, sensitivity to operations, capabilities for resilience, and temptations to overstructure the system. Taken together these processes induce a state of collective mindfulness that creates a rich awareness of discriminatory detail and facilitates the discovery and correction of errors capable of escalation into catastrophe. Though distinctive, these processes are not unique since they are a dormant infrastructure for process improvement in all organizations. Analysis of HROs suggests that inertia is not indigenous to organizing, that routines are effective because of their variation, that learning may be a byproduct of mindfulness, and that garbage cans may be safer than hierarchies.
Accountability is a principle for organizing relations between rulers and ruled, and making public officials accountable is a democratic achievement. There are, however, competing claims about what is involved in demanding, rendering, assessing, and responding to accounts; what are effective accountability institutions; and how accountability regimes emerge and change. This article provides a frame for thinking about institutional aspects of accountability regimes and their cognitive, normative, and power foundations. A distinction is made between accountability within an established regime with stable power relations and role expectations and accountability as (re)structuring processes in less institutionalized contexts and in transformation periods. A huge literature is concerned with the first issue. There is less attention to accountability as (re)structuring processes. The article, therefore, calls attention to how democracies search for, and struggle over, what are legitimate accountability regimes and political orders.