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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Network Power in Collaborative Planning


This article makes a case that collaborative planning is becoming more important, in great part, because it can result in network power. Network power is particularly critical in contemporary conditions where traditionally powerful players are unable to accomplish their objectives alone. Consensus building and other forms of collaborative planning are increasingly in use today as ways of achieving policy results in an era distinguished by rapid change, social and political fragmentation, global interdependence, and conflicting values. The article makes the case that network power can be thought of as a flow that can be partially guided by planners and others, but it is a form of power in which participants all share. It comes into being most effectively, but also paradoxically, when three conditions govern the relationship of agents in a collaborative network: diversity, interdependence, and authentic dialogue (DIAD). When these conditions are met, the participants in the network can develop adaptive innovations that were not apparent or even open to them as individual agents. Like a complex adaptive system, the DIAD network as a whole is more capable of learning and adaptation in the face of fragmentation and rapid change than a set of disconnected agents. Shared meanings emerge from the dialogue and participants can develop identities that link them together. As a result, they are enabled to act both independently and cooperatively for mutual benefit without central direction. Planners have many roles in such networks, as designers and supporters of dialogues creating and maintaining linkages, as direct participants in them, as technical analysts informing them, as facilitators and mediators and as nodes connecting various smaller networks. Planning education needs to incorporate new subject matter to better prepare planners for these roles.

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