The Value of Civil Society Networks: A Probe into a Case of Cross-Border Network Partnership in Technology Capacity Building
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The Value of Civil Society Networks: A Probe into a Case of Cross-Border Network Partnership in Technology Capacity Building

  • Author(s): Zhang, Xiaoyi
  • Advisor(s): Mehta, Aashish
  • Appelbaum, Richard
  • et al.

Networks as a distinctive organizational logic have been widely studied at several analytical levels and from a variety of theoretical perspectives since the 1990s. While previous research has highlighted network structural characteristics that benefit or constrain individual organizations, there has been less attention to the influence of different network processes. This thesis aims to better understand what process patterns of an interorganizational network generate most added value for individual organizations. Through an exploratory case study of the TechSoup Global Network, a technology-oriented civil society partnership, the research combines network structural characteristics with network processes to explain where the network value is located, what the types of network value are, and how these different types of network value are delivered. The research consists of 23 semi-structured interviews with the TechSoup Global Network partner NGOs over the course of three months. Interviews were broadly structured in accordance with three initially hypothesized value-addition processes: coordination of joint actions, access to organizational resources, exchanges of information and knowledge. Data collected from the interviews were coded and subsequently mapped to a list of pertinent conceptual frameworks regarding network value and value-addition mechanisms including social capital, structural holes, network closure, and transaction costs economics. Results indicated that network value in the TechSoup Global Network case mostly stemmed from coordination of joint actions on a global scale, as opposed to access to organizational resources or exchanges of information and knowledge. The processes of efficient joint actions, which required transaction costs to be reduced, in turn activated the structural advantages of the network. Specifically, joint actions enabled network actors to bridge across structural holes between nonredundant groups of organizations across borders and sectors; these collaborations also created value by providing a certain level of network closure in the forms of trust and interconnectedness and serving as a signal of organizational credibility and capability. Furthermore, this case study demonstrated network value added not only from weaving ties within the boundaries of the network but also from establishing connections with third parties and beyond. Conceptually, this research enhances our understanding of the interplay among network processes, structural features, and network outcomes while providing further evidence for Burt’s 2000 assumption that brokerage across structural holes is the source of added value whereas network closure contributes to realizing the value buried in these structural holes. From a practical standpoint, these findings have significant relevance for professionals working with global interorganizational networks in the civic sector: jointly implementing projects at the network level can activate certain structural advantages that are critical to the success of a network partnership.

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