The Promise and Challenge of Global Network Governance: The Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network

By Ansell, Chris; Sondorp, Egbert et al. | Global Governance, July-September 2012 | Go to article overview

The Promise and Challenge of Global Network Governance: The Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network


Ansell, Chris, Sondorp, Egbert, Stevens, Robert Hartley, Global Governance


Networks are often heralded as a promising strategy of global governance. This article examines the challenges encountered in managing one relatively successful network--the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN). Over the past decade, this international network of public and private institutions has played a major role in organizing the global response to infectious disease outbreaks around the world. Despite its successes, GOARN confronts difficult challenges in balancing performance objectives with the goals of maintaining and developing the network. The imperative to integrate closely into World Health Organization (WHO) operations makes it difficult for GOARN to balance its obligations to the WHO with the need to maintain and cultivate its role as an independent network. KEYWORDS: public health, infectious disease, early warning systems, GOARN, network governance, global public policy networks.

NETWORKS, IT HAS BEEN ARGUED, OFFER A PROMISING SOLUTION TO THE challenges of global governance. "Trisectoral" global public policy networks, for example, have been advanced as an important bridge between the public sector, the private sector, and civil society. Through this bridging role, they may facilitate management of knowledge, encourage coordination between institutions, and enhance civic participation. (1) Thorsten Benner, Wolfang Reinicke, and Jan Witte argue that such networks contribute to global governance in at least three ways: (1) they can provide a negotiating forum for standard setting; (2) they can facilitate international coordination; and (3) they can provide a flexible institutional mechanism for treaty implementation. (2)

Perhaps the most elaborated argument for global network governance is advanced by Anne-Marie Slaughter, who argues that "networked threats require a networked response." (3) She champions transgovernmental networks--networks of government officials--as an appropriate networked response to these threats. She argues that intergovernmental networks can expand the reach of regulation, build trust and cooperation among governments, facilitate intergovernmental information sharing, and establish global standards of practice and performance. Networks, she argues, offer "a flexible and relatively fast way to conduct the business of global governance, coordinating and even harmonizing national government action while initiating and monitoring the different solutions to global problems." (4) Not surprisingly, the promise of transgovernmental networks has been widely appreciated in the context of the European Union. (5)

Like many social science concepts, the term global governance network is an elastic one and often interchangeable with related terms like "transnational public-private partnership." (6) For the purposes of this article, a governance network is a more or less formal association whose members retain their independence of action while agreeing to work together on common enterprises that produce collective goods. (7) Networks typically have an independent extragovernmental status, though in some cases they may be incorporated into formal governing frameworks. (8) They typically are not official governing bodies, though they may he associations of government bodies or government officials. A global governance network is a network whose members come from (but do not necessarily represent) different nations or are themselves transnational institutions.

Networks are commonly seen as an attractive approach to governance in situations where problem solving requires coordination among many different stakeholders, but where there are limits on the capacity to centrally direct this coordination. This is, of course, the archetypical situation of international politics. The traditional response to international "anarchy" has been to create multilateral organizations or treaties to manage global problems. Although these institutions may themselves have network-like qualities (e.

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