Our knowledge of networked governance is first acquired through empirical research. Like other empirically derived concepts - Robert Dahl’s ‘democratic pluralism’ or Robert Putman’s ‘social capital’ - its cogence comes from being built on observable facts. Networks occur in government and in governance, they can be described and how they work can be ‘mapped’. What is missing from our lexicon to discuss and, more importantly, evaluate networks is the normative dimension. How ought networks to work? Can we develop an argument that says networked government, or networked service delivery, is in any sense ‘better’ than other organisational forms? To answer these questions and to answer the questions posed more broadly here about the politics of new forms of public governance and leadership, we need to look to more traditional political theory: to evaluate the use of networks in terms of democracy rather than just in terms of empirical description. By bringing our empirical knowledge of the existence of networks into conjunction with the normative values of democracy it is hoped to provide some insights on how public sector managers in regimes who aspire to deliver democratic outcomes might ‘lead’ through the use of ‘networks’. Of course, such a discussion presents something of a methodological nightmare as, rather than supplanting the meta narrative of representative government with a post modern narrative of ‘governance’ and ‘networks’, it brings them together. Any incommensurability, however, can only serve to exemplify and highlight the complexity of ‘leadership’ in the contemporary public sector.
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