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Keywords:

  • policy;
  • networks;
  • governance

Networks are central to both the practice and understanding of contemporary governance. But there is a tendency to conflate and confuse different concepts. Concepts of ‘policy network’ (PN) and ‘governance network’ (GN) are often used interchangeably, with an assumption that the latter has evolved from the former. Such indiscriminate borrowing fails to recognise the different antecedents, and distinctive analytical offer, of specific network theories. The article develops a systematic distinction between PN and GN theories, enabling those engaging with networks to select from, and even combine, alternative perspectives as they confront a new wave of change in policy making and governance. The more sceptical account provided by PN theory provides a valuable counterbalance to the ‘optimistic’ character of the GN literature, which tends to underestimate the continued hold of (albeit multi-sector) elites on policy making, and overstate the extent to which networks represent a new ‘stage’ in the evolution of governance.