4.2.1. Bureaucracy

An hierarchically-structured bureaucracy was considered by Weber as the most efficient form an organisation could take. Thus the bureaucratic form is often found in governance networks, especially those in which governments take the lead role.[1]

There are a number of features central to the ideal type of a bureaucracy for Weber. which include:

It may appear from this that a Weberian bureaucracy is not necessarily incompatible with the multi-stakeholderism required of a governance network, in that it does not preclude those in authority from allowing their subordinates to contribute to the governance process through formal channels. On the contrary, it is structured as it is precisely because the division of labour that it specifies provides each member of an organisation with a unique and formally-defined role that contributes to the working of the larger whole.

The separation of organisational roles from the identities of those who occupy them, and the reliance upon merit as the sole criterion for appointment to such roles, might also be said to also support the participation of all stakeholders, by ensuring that positions of authority are held by those best qualified for them, and that they conduct their duties in accordance with impartial rules rather than in their own personal interests.

However on closer examination, herein also lies a fatal limitation with the use of a bureaucratic structure, even in its ideal form, as a model for the internal structure of a governance network. Requiring that stakeholders participating in a bureaucratically-structured governance network act in roles precisely defined by formal rules, completely obviates the reason for involving those stakeholders in the first place.

The reason for requiring that a governance network include all stakeholders is precisely because they represent their own values. Governments represent the interests of their citizens, the private sector represents the value of the free market, and civil society represents the values of the public outside of their national affiliations. Requiring these stakeholders instead to anonymously act out predefined roles in support of an amorphous collective interest dictated from above would defeat this purpose altogether.

However saying this does raise an interesting question: what if the interest from above was not that dictated by a single stakeholder representative (whomever was judged as most meritorious to exercise authority over the others), but rather by a panel on which all three stakeholder groups were represented?

Such a panel would be an oligarchy.



Skelcher, Chris, Mathur, Navdeep, & Smith, Mike, The Public Governance of Collaborative Spaces: Discourse, Design and Democracy (2005), 578, 591


Weber, Max, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization (1964)