Democratic Accountability and Network Governance — Problems and Potentials

  • Anders Esmark


This chapter concerns the democratic problems and potentials of network governance. Thus, the article is not about the theoretical elaboration of the concept of network governance, which is dealt with in great detail elsewhere in this volume; rather, the question is whether the use of networks by state and public authorities for purposes of policy formulation, implementation and delivery can be considered an instrument not only of governance, but also of democratic governance. Democratic theory offers an abundance of democratic values, standards and norms against which actual political decision-making processes can be measured. The democratic standard employed in this article is that of democratic accountability. When assessing network governance from an accountability perspective, one should obviously take note of the fact that the notion of accountability is deeply rooted in the liberal doctrine of representative government. Correspondingly, assessments of network governance from the viewpoint of democratic accountability have often yielded negative results, or, at the very least, considerable concern as to the democratic value of network governance. The essence of such concerns is captured nicely by March & Olsen:

Policies are made in complex networks of actors… because many participants contribute in many different ways, it is difficult even in principle to identify who is responsible for political outcomes and thus to establish political accountability. In particular, limiting accountability to officials seems myopic in modern political systems. Political outcomes are the product of ‘many hands’ (1995: 158).


Public Sphere Network Member Direct Democracy Deliberative Democracy Electoral Representation 
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© Anders Esmark 2007

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  • Anders Esmark

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