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Welcome to EISON!

Published: 01st June 2023 Last updated: 05th June 2023

Welcome to the EISON research project ‘’External and Internal Supervision Methods and Modalities for Organizational Networks Addressing Complex Societal Issues’’. The project is one of three research projects that are funded by the Dutch Research Council in order to gain new insights into and contribute to the innovation of independent, public supervision, NWO to fund three NWA studies into supervision in a changing society | NWO.

This is very timely research, since societal interdependencies are increasing and societies and governments see themselves confronted with a whole array of very complex policy challenges such as inequality, keeping health care systems accessible and affordable, transnational organized crime, migration, climate change and energy transition, demographic change to name but a few. These challenges require organizations from different sectors to collaborate in order to come-up with solutions for complex situations. The nature of complexity is that no individual organization can address these single-handedly but capacities and resources from different organizations need to be combined. An example is the provision of integrated care by a network of general practitioners, hospitals and nursing homes for elderly who have multiple health issues, or the collaboration of youth services, schools and behavioral therapists to provide inclusive care and education to children with specific learning and behavioral needs.

Such interorganizational collaboration however also comes with new risks and challenges to service delivery. How do patients or learners for example know where to go when the network does not meet their needs and fails to provide the care or education they need? Who is responsible when things go wrong? Who can be held accountable for the correct spending of large sums of taxpayer money? These questions are even more urgent when trust in public institutions and actors is decreasing.

This project aims to address these questions and particularly asks:

How can accountability in/of inter-organizational networks improve the functioning of inter-organizational networks to ensure they can address complex societal challenges in the domains of health care, education, justice and security and social housing.

Control, supervision and accountability have not received a lot of attention in the public management literature on organizational networks so far. One might also wonder to what extent we actually need more control and supervision. Is supervision of the participating organizations not sufficient? Why would we need yet more monitoring and control on the network level and lose some of the characteristics that make networks lighter on their feet than hierarchies (Powell). If we assume that a network is an emergent entity that is more than the sum of its parts than this should also be the case for supervision and accountability, i.e. the sum of supervision on and accountability of all organizations in a network is not the same as the supervision of and accountability of the network as whole. This already starts with the fact that the individual organizational goals might diverge from the network goals.

However, given the complexities of both the networks and the supervision, there are certainly tradeoffs and it is not a foregone conclusion what good supervisory arrangements in this context are and what contingencies influence the application of different supervisory arrangements and what effects that creates. The project first starts with an empirical part in which eight networks from four different societal sectors (public safety, housing, education, and health) will be investigated based on the research question: "How does internal and external supervision work in networks, how is it appropriated and applied, in what factors does it differ in different social, institutional and cultural contexts, and with what effects?"

On the basis of the results of this phase, we will discover and design different supervisory arrangements and will test them in these eight networks. From the start, colleagues from the networks, the inspectorates and branch organizations will be involved in a collaborative effort to find innovative answers to these questions. The overarching definition that will guide our research is based on the work by Tran (2021): Oversight and accountability describe the various relationships between the parties involved in or affected by a program/action, where each party has a duty to explain and justify his/her or their behavior, and other parties can ask questions and make judgments and draw consequences or not.

The EISON project therefore takes an explicitly relational and empirical perspective on accountability and supervision in and of organizational networks. While some of the questions might be specific to the Dutch institutional environment, i.e. the large number of independent, private organization that are publicly financed and controlled by government inspectorates, the fundamental question of how to organize accountability in and of networks is important in many different institutional contexts in a world that has become highly interconnected.

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In this blog section, we will regularly post information about first results of the project, publications and interesting developments around the question of accountability and supervision in and of organizational networks.

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