Extra-Network Organizational Reputation and Blame Avoidance in Networks: The Hurricane Katrina Example



Research on public service networks has identified a variety of mechanisms to foster coordination, including trust and reciprocity norms. This article argues that network actors are also driven by a desire to avoid blame. Network membership is often a political responsibility rather than a voluntary act, and members may be at least as attuned to their extra-network organizational reputation as to their intra-network reputation, creating an incentive to utilize blame avoidance strategies when failure occurs. Blame avoidance strategies undermine intra-network trust and coordination, representing a significant threat to the implementation of public policy. To illustrate the potential of the concept for network theory, blame avoidance strategies are identified under the conditions of high political risk and task salience, as represented by the crisis response network in the U.S. disaster of Hurricane Katrina.