Desperately Seeking Selznick: Cooptation and the Dark Side of Public Management in Networks


  • Laurence J. O'Toole Jr.,

    1. Laurence J. O'Toole, Jr., is the Margaret Hughes and Robert T. Golembiewski Professor of Public Administration and head of the Department of Public Administration and Policy in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia. His research interests include public management in networks and other institutionally complex settings, public management's contributions to program performance, interorganizational and intergovernmental relations, and environmental policy and management. E-mail:
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  • Kenneth J. Meier

    1. Kenneth J. Meier is the Charles Puryear Professor of Liberal Arts and professor of political science at Texas A&M University. In addition to his two major research agendas—building and testing an empirical theory of public management and a national study of Latino and African American education policy in 1,800 school districts—Dr. Meier is interested in gender and public management, methodological innovations in public administration, the relationship between democracy and bureaucracy, and countless other things. E-mail:
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Most literature on public-sector networks focuses on how to build and manage systems and ignores the political problems that networks can create for organizations. This article argues that individual network nodes can work to bias the organization's actions in ways that benefit the organization's more advantaged clientele. The argument is supported by an analysis of performance data from 500 organizations over a five-year period. A classic theoretical point is supported in a systematic empirical investigation. While networks can greatly benefit the organization, they have a dark side that managers and scholars need to consider more seriously.