A Review of Managing Uncertainties in Networks: A Network Approach to Problem Solving and Decision Making

By MacGillivray, Alice | Emergence: Complexity and Organization, April 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

A Review of Managing Uncertainties in Networks: A Network Approach to Problem Solving and Decision Making


MacGillivray, Alice, Emergence: Complexity and Organization


A Review of Managing Uncertainties in Networks: A Network Approach to Problem Solving and Decision Making written by Joop Koppenjan and ErikHans Klijn reviewed by Alice MacGillivray published by Routledge ISBN 9780415369411 (2004)

In this 2004 book (reprinted in 2006), Joop Koppenjan and Erik-Hans Klijn set out to describe the application of network theory to management. These authors have collaborated before and since. Koppenjan studied, lectured and worked as a research manager at Erasmus University of Rotterdam. He then moved to the Department of Public Administration Policy and Management of the Delft University of Technology. Klijn studied Public Administration at the University of Twente, worked at the Technical University in Delft, and then moved to the department of Public Administration at Erasmus University.

The authors divided the book into two parts. In the first, they explore analysis of uncertainties. They categorize uncertainties as relating to content, process, institutions and governments. In the second part, they address management of uncertainties and complex problems in networks. Here, they present ways of mapping uncertainties (analysis of actors, games and networks) as well as managing content, the game, networks and uncertainties.

Intent of the book

The driver for this book is familiar to anyone who studies the application of complexity theory to management. Koppenjan and Klijn acknowledge the increasing complexity and high degree of intractability or "wickedness" in current problems such as health care restructuring. They understand uncertainty as a characteristic of complex systems. They also state their case in familiar terms: "We will argue that traditional approaches [to management] are no longer adequate..." (2006: 2).

Throughout the book, the authors and publisher state and imply that the book is of value to many audiences including scholars, fellow scientists, practitioners, students, businesses, public sector workers, representatives of civil society, policy makers, advisors, managers and research shops. This makes a book review challenging. However, the book is labelled as a "text" on the back cover, and at one point the authors emphasize students over other audiences.

Koppenjan and Klijn list academic or professional objectives. They have written individually and collectively about policy networks, network management and wicked problems in networks. Over many years of engagement with these topics, they perceive increased complexity in decision making and increased interest horizontal entities such as networks. Network-related research has also deepened. Therefore, they set out to articulate a conceptual framework and tools for work in uncertain environments.

How they approached their research

The consistent voice and flow suggest the authors have developed a sound, reflective relationship. The book is conceptual. They explore the implications of complexity in a networked society, and suggest ways of moving forward using frameworks and tools. Case studies punctuate the text. However, the book leaves the reader guessing whether they used particular research methodologies to generate their conclusions, and whether the case studies are more than interpretations of past events through a chosen lens. In other words, have they used retrospective coherence to support their thesis?

Literature, assumptions and argument

As described above, the authors argue that new approaches are needed for the many wicked problems we face in complex decision-making environments. They describe how organizations cannot independently solve problems. Governments, for example, typically work with groups including citizens, experts and judicial bodies. Because of the increased emphasis on cross-boundary work, hierarchies have become less relevant. In their introductory chapter, they assert that isolated policy formation and the idea of "government at the apex of the social pyramid" are obsolete (p. …

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