As an environmental science and policy major, my immediate reaction is to see how this applies to government structure. How can we alter the current political systems to account for social networks within their given cultural frameworks? Each nation operates differently, has distinct resources, and has various economic structures that play a part in their decision making, so how do we analyze each culture to decide what systematic changes must be made in order to implement better policymaking strategies?
This brings us to networked governance. It is exactly what I just described, where there is an increased reliance on these social networks to create, implement, and enforce the policy. This places more responsibility in the hands of the individuals and the stakeholders rather than policymakers, making it a bottom-up approach to government. This approach responds to the needs and interests of the public, rather than presenting them with a cookie-cutter plan. Providing a top-down, one-size-fits-all policy can lead to internal conflict between stakeholders because the reliance is on people within the government, not the experts in the field, to fix any issues2. A bottom-up approach allows for a greater range of innovative solutions at the hands of the stakeholders themselves. Utilizing network governance may require more time and effort to create an all-inclusive policy, but there is better identification of risks and loopholes, it provides a more extensive knowledge base, and it increases collaboration among all stakeholders involved3.
So, what now? Looking forward, we should work towards a more integrated form of government, one that blends bottom-up and top-down governance styles. A top-down approach does have its benefits: it leads to a faster implementation of policy, and it can step in to decide a middle ground amidst a controversy. The networked governance system built off of communication within various levels of a network is overall more effective in the long run, appeals to more facets of an issue, and offers a wider variety of solutions than traditional methods, but used in conjunction with the top-down approach, it could be exponentially more beneficial. In a scenario where policymakers and communities create an agenda together, the government could create space and provide funding to allow individual involvement within the decision-making process4. In order to make this plan successful, we would also have to better understand the sociology of a given group within its cultural framework, increase communication, increase education, reinforce the local economies, and create innovative political change that supports all components of a community and its subgroups.
I want to end with a real-world example of this combined governance approach using Carlos F. Gaymer’s research5 where he compared the two systems concerning the waters of Fiji. The nation’s government made a plan to protect 30% of its waters within marine protected areas (MPAs) by 2020.