The governance of inter-organisational decision-making : understanding the impacts of informal networks on formal decision-making regimes in the Brisbane Airport region

Donnet, Timothy (2012) The governance of inter-organisational decision-making : understanding the impacts of informal networks on formal decision-making regimes in the Brisbane Airport region. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Airports and cities inevitably recognise the value that each brings the other; however, the separation in decision-making authority for what to build, where, when and how provides a conundrum for both parties. Airports often want a say in what is developed outside of the airport fence, and cities often want a say in what is developed inside the airport fence. Defining how much of a say airports and cities have in decisions beyond their jurisdictional control is likely to be a topic that continues so long as airports and cities maintain separate formal decision-making processes for what to build, where, when and how. However, the recent Green and White Papers for a new National Aviation Policy have made early inroads to formalising relationships between Australia’s major airports and their host cities. At present, no clear indication (within practice or literature) is evident to the appropriateness of different governance arrangements for decisions to develop in situations that bring together the opposing strategic interests of airports and cities; thus leaving decisions for infrastructure development as complex decision-making spaces that hold airport and city/regional interests at stake.

The line of enquiry is motivated by a lack of empirical research on networked decision-making domains outside of the realm of institutional theorists (Agranoff & McGuire, 2001; Provan, Fish & Sydow, 2007). That is, governance literature has remained focused towards abstract conceptualisations of organisation, without focusing on the minutia of how organisation influences action in real-world applications. A recent study by Black (2008) has provided an initial foothold for governance researchers into networked decision-making domains. This study builds upon Black’s (2008) work by aiming to explore and understand the problem space of making decisions subjected to complex jurisdictional and relational interdependencies. That is, the research examines the formal and informal structures, relationships, and forums that operationalise debates and interactions between decision-making actors as they vie for influence over deciding what to build, where, when and how in airport-proximal development projects.

The research mobilises a mixture of qualitative and quantitative methods to examine three embedded cases of airport-proximal development from a network governance perspective. Findings from the research provide a new understanding to the ways in which informal actor networks underpin and combine with formal decision-making networks to create new (or realigned) governance spaces that facilitate decision-making during complex phases of development planning. The research is timely, and responds well to Isett, Mergel, LeRoux, Mischen and Rethemeyer’s (2011) recent critique of limitations within current network governance literature, specifically to their noted absence of empirical studies that acknowledge and interrogate the simultaneity of formal and informal network structures within network governance arrangements (Isett et al., 2011, pp. 162-166).

The combination of social network analysis (SNA) techniques and thematic enquiry has enabled findings to document and interpret the ways in which decision-making actors organise to overcome complex problems for planning infrastructure. An innovative approach to using association networks has been used to provide insights to the importance of the different ways actors interact with one another, thus providing a simple yet valuable addition to the increasingly popular discipline of SNA. The research also identifies when and how different types of networks (i.e. formal and informal) are able to overcome currently known limitations to network governance (see McGuire & Agranoff, 2011), thus adding depth to the emerging body of network governance literature surrounding limitations to network ways of working (i.e. Rhodes, 1997a; Keast & Brown, 2002; Rethemeyer & Hatmaker, 2008; McGuire & Agranoff, 2011).

Contributions are made to practice via the provision of a timely understanding of how horizontal fora between airports and their regions are used, particularly in the context of how they reframe the governance of decision-making for airport-proximal infrastructure development. This new understanding will enable government and industry actors to better understand the structural impacts of governance arrangements before they design or adopt them, particularly for factors such as efficiency of information, oversight, and responsiveness to change.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 55206
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Keast, Robyn L., Brown, Kerry A., & Pickernell, David
Keywords: network governance, decision-making, collaborative planning, social network analysis, informal networks, formal networks, inter-organisational decision-making, urban infrastructure, transport infrastructure, regional development
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > QUT Business School
Current > Schools > School of Management
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 29 Nov 2012 04:23
Last Modified: 03 Sep 2015 11:02

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