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Networks and Public Management: Course Description and Strategy

November 2010

Why teach about networks and public management?

Contemporary public managers must learn to build critical linkages across organizational boundaries while simultaneously managing the internal functions of their agencies. Public policy is often implemented through networks, as structures involving multiple nodes–agencies and organizations–with multiple linkages through which public goods and services are planned, designed, produced, and delivered. These public policy network structures have many dimensions: they can be formal or informal; centralized or decentralized; permanent or temporary; global, inter-sectoral or intergovernmental; and based functionally in a specific policy or policy area. They may require public managers at federal, state, and local levels of government to operate in structures of exchange and production with the profit making and not for profit sectors. At all levels, they require a different and potentially more complex approach to management than the traditional notions of “command and control.”

Although contemporary public management courses usually address some of the considerations related to network management, they have a broader set of objectives and often cannot do justice to its scope and complexity. Moreover, traditional public management or policy classes may overlook the value of pedagogical approaches particularly suited to learning about network management, including problem-based learning and group-based learning.

These were some of the conclusions made by scholars of collaborative public management at a conference hosted by Syracuse University‟s Maxwell School in September 2006. In a special session on the educational needs of present and future public managers, conference attendees emphasized the value in offering management courses that included negotiation and consensus-building skills, creative and critical thinking, experiential learning, and comparative analysis.

This syllabus was a winner in the 2007 Don Kettl/Smith Richardson Foundation “Networks and Public Management” competition. It was written by Mike McGuire and Beth Gazley of Indiana University -Bloomington. It is brought to you by E-PARC, part of the Maxwell School of Syracuse University‟s Collaborative Governance Initiative, a subset of the Program on the Analysis and Resolution of Conflicts. This syllabus may be copied as many times as needed as long as the authors are given full credit for their work.