Sociology Dissertation – Social Network Analysis

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1.0 Introduction

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1.1 Research Design

The proposed design for this study is a flexible mixed-method design making use of both qualitative and quantitative methods for data collection and analysis in order to understand and later analyse policy implementation networks for MSEs in Ireland, particularly concerning those in the Dublin 15 area.

This approach was required for two reasons: 1) time and resource constraints; and 2) the literature reviewed for this research indicated that such an approach would provide better answers to the questions being asked. As shown in Table 1 below, this method was also important to establish the complimentary nature of the methods being used for the enquiry. For example, qualitative methods were required initially for content analysis of documents produced by the European Commission and the Dept. of Trade, Enterprise and Employment. However, a quantitative approach is given to the treatment of the relationships under investigation namely, mandatory and voluntary cooperation for policy implementation. Therefore, the following steps were taken for this particular research:-

1. Internet research for qualitative content analysis and name generation of policy actors and policies being made at both European and Irish levels;
2. Short open-ended qualitative interview with a major policy actor in Ireland for name generation of policy implementation actors;
3. Quantitative data collection and non-random sampling and estimate number of start-up companies in the Dublin 15 area; and
4. Data collection and analysis using Social Network Analysis methodology for all names generated to measure the effects of mandatory and voluntary cooperation among policy actors. Patience

A follow-up interview with a key informant on the network composition and to confirm that the relationships drawn on the literature for policy implementation indeed existed in the manner they were in the questionnaire. In this case, a Head of Small Business Unit in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment could confirm the relationship among the actors in the network from an ‘ego’ perspective and pros and cons for this approach will be discussed further in the methodology chapter.

The table below gives an illustration of the design being used and it follows the design approach suggested by Creswell et alli 2003:-

Table 1 – Sequential Research Design




Theoretical Perspective

Sequential – Qualitative first


At Data Collection  and Interpretation


With Some Combination

As mentioned earlier, this design draws on Creswell’s (2003) work about various research design approaches – with special attention to the use of mixed-methods in the human sciences. A rather overt and systematic use of the methods have grown in popularity and it is evidenced in the work entitled Handbook of Mixed Methods in Social Behavioral Sciences, launched in 2003 by Abbas Tashakkory and Charles Teddlie and from which Creswell derives most of his useful explanations on the advantages and weaknesses of such a design.

In a flexible design, the researcher is given a greater freedom to change research questions as the research progresses since she would be rigidly attached to one philosophical paradigm or the other, but would find relevant to include those that make sense to the enquiry as it evolves. On the other hand, making use of both qualitative and quantitative methods for data collection and analysis – whether they take place sequentially or concurrently, allows for a richer understanding and, hopefully, explanation of the problematic under investigation.

Details of the methodologies and paradigms they are associated with are dealt with in the Methodology chapter. For this section is imperative now that the researcher makes the esteemed reader aware of the possible biases and the actions taken to deal with them.

Bias statement

It has been argued that bias is when systematic random or non-random errors are not accepted or acknowledged by the researcher at any point of her work, such as in the design, measurement, sampling, procedure, or choice of problem to be studied. Bias is also related to the accuracy of the information produced and reliability and validity may also be sacrificed, though not necessarily.

Hammersley and Gomm (1997), however, assert that nonfoundationalist realism is rather appropriate for it neither relies on foundational epistemology nor it does on relativist and standpoint theory and its aims are to favour the production of knowledge rather than one’s political or personal agenda. According to these authors, foundationalism makes bias a rather evident matter in a research once the researcher’s ideological commitments are indentified as affecting research procedures hence compromising outcomes expected credibility. But bias is not as straightforward as foundationalists, according to them, would like it to be. In a nonfoundationlist realistic perspective, social researchers are not part of the phenomena they want to describe or explain nor can they construct phenomena through their accounts, but merely account for these realities and be judgemental of the influence that what they understand for established knowledge can have on their accounts of social reality. (1997)

In this research, in a foundationalist perspective, the biases that could possibly compromise the commitment with knowledge production is that:-

1) the researcher is a micro-entrepreneur from the vicinities;
2) her commitment with epistemological views of policy networks as ineffective given the predominant hierarchical structure and political agendas;
3) Snowball sampling technique may introduce bias for it may not represent a good cross section of the population investigated; and
4) Questionnaires sent to MSEs were not returned for reasons which will be explained in the Methodology chapter. This can also lead to incorrect conclusions.

However, this is not an action research and the methodologies applied for enquiry on policy implementation networks aim to control for bias arising from the researchers’ own point of view regarding cooperation for the benefit of Small and Micro Enterprises in Dublin 15. Moreover, from a nonfoundationalistic realism view point, efforts were consciously made in order to avoid that knowledge so far taken as established in the field of cooperation among actors in policy networks compromises the knowledge produced by the evidence on cooperation among actors in this research.

Taking the above into consideration, one of the methodologies used is a qualitative approach considering respondents’ representations of reality through a qualitative content analysis and qualitative techniques in social network analysis.

Once data were generated, they were treated by using quantitative data analysis techniques and were converted into algebraic formulae reflecting responses given, i.e. whether a relation exists or not between two actors or more and if it is reciprocal one is a matter of replacing YES and NO answers, or in this case BLUE and RED arrows, for 1 and 0, respectively. This is not to say that social network analysis will serve as a complete assurance for validity and credibility, as questionnaire return rates and responses can indeed compromise it. It is hoped, however, that the weaknesses evident on this work are rather derivative from the very limited time afforded to Taught Masters students, effectively from May to August 2009, than from research bias.

1.2 Justification

This work has a scientific and practical relevance and they are equally important as it is hoped that its findings and conclusion will not just add to the scientific knowledge but also reach the actors involved in policy implementation for micro and small enterprises in Ireland as well as those concerned with aspects of economic development.

In the scientific sphere, this study will be initially guided by O’Toole’s (1997) work stressing the increasing complexity of networked settings in the public administration where he also urges for more empirical research to be conducted in order to comprehend the impact of such settings on policy implementation. This is also Blair’s (2002) views in his work on implementation networks in which he infers that complex systems formed by actors both coming from both the public and private sectors are assumed in now-a-days public administration.

According to Blair, this will help measure the level of direct action by the government so to assess the complexity of such networks and he goes on to borrow from Alexander (1995) the concept of compulsory and voluntary links as the essence of policy implementation systems. Further to such concepts, the focus of this study is on mandatory and voluntary cooperation amongst MSEs stakeholders both in the public and private sectors.

Having it all said, measuring service integration among agencies is not the objective of this study. Instead, it will try to leverage on social network analysis practice and theory to measure centrality, closeness, structural holes and brokerage (Freeman 1979; Burt 1995 and 2005). Other theorists, especially those whose studies are within social network analysis (Simmel 1995; Wellman 1983; Hanneman 2005), and regarding the bureaucratic aspect of the public administration (Weber 1978 and Blau 2006) and the (potential) social capital resulting from networks (Bourdieu 1986; Putnam 1995; and Fukuyama 1996) will also be used in the hope to complement existing literature on the topic. The above will, indeed, guide this study all the way through.

1.3 Chapter Outline

Defining the size of a business

This research does not aim to be seen under the umbrella of business studies, but a sociological study of cooperation among policy implementation actors for policies in benefit of micro and small businesses in Ireland. Nevertheless, it is found pertinent to use business literature in order to outline the most commonly used definitions of business’ size according to factor inherent to its life cycle.

The literature on organisation life cycle (OLC) has been found to be the most appropriate to define the size of a business. However, it is important to note that professionals used to working with businesses may find their own ways of defining business’ size and may as well widely disagree from the scholarly models created and widely used to date.

The traditional models for sizing a company were given mostly in the 1980s first through conceptual works and eventually through empirical research which attempted to establish the phases of an organisation according to the environmental issues it faced throughout its existence (Rutherford et al. 2004).

The literature consulted for this section has shown that one of the models that has been most cited and used as a reference is that created by Miller and Friesen (1984) whereby the organisation life cycle was divided into five phases: birth, growth, maturity, revival and decline (1984: 1162). These phases can be summarised according to the age, size and growth rate of the organisation. In summary, these phases were the birth phase for small companies, the growth phase for medium-sized companies, the maturity phase for larger organisations, the revival for very large and finally the decline phase for market size companies. The latter phase is linked with the decline in innovation and with environmental factors such as market dry-up. Meanwhile the earlier phases of the business are linked with the most innovative, although unstructured, stages of the organisation (1984: idem). Figure 2 below exemplifies the above:-

Figure 2. Organisation life cycle (OLC) and its expected size per phase.

The head count for the traditional models is shows as 0-4 persons employed in the birth phase, then 5-19 employees in the medium-sized firms and finally above 20 in the larger ones (Huang and Brown 1999 cf. Rutherford et al. 2004).

Weaknesses of this model have been pointed by more recent works (Stubbart and Smalley 1990; Tichey 1980 cf. Rutherford, Buller and McMullen 2004) which took different views and approaches to establishing the different phases an organisation goes through. Other works making use of open-ended choices rather than forced-choice methods to identify an organisation’s problems according to its size, have found that obtaining external financing, internal financial management, economic environment and regulatory environment are problems often experienced by organisations in their start-up and growth phase (Terpstra and Olson 1993 cf. Rutherford, Buller and McMullen 2004)

Taking definition from a different angle, the authors Rutherford et al. (2004) infer that other models have been created to overcome the weaknesses presented in previous models and the model by Kihenen (1990), which makes use of Artificial Neural Network (ANN) in order to depict rather realistic stages of an organisation given a series of other factors not limited to age, size and growth rate and it is similar to a cluster analysis and named as self-organising map (SOM). This model, different from traditional models, including the model created by Miller and Friesen (1984), does not force firms to fit into predetermined groups but allows for stages to fall into categories given by the data under study (2004: 328). Nevertheless, the traditional model remains imperative throughout their work and so it will throughout this work. The reason is twofold: a) the traditional definitions have been confirmed through empirical work and across countries; and b) it is assumed here that the problems faced by an organisation in each phase of its existence can be logically linked with the needs of these organisations for growth.

Hence, policy-making and implementation, as it will be demonstrated later on, is more likely to follow traditional models than novel models. Though this is not to say that new findings on an organisation’s functioning will not be appreciated by policy actors. Moreover, taking into consideration the criticism on the traditional models it is therefore acknowledged that the adoption of traditional model is merely as starting point for reference given the insufficient time for the maturing of this study. Table 3 below shows the most common problems in organisations given their size and phase found by traditional models which have also been confirmed by more current studies utilising different organisational typology techniques:-

Table 3. Problems helping establish the size and stage of an organisation.




Newness, obtaining external finance, internal finance management, unstructured, informal, product development, economic and regulation environment, weak client base, owner/manager dominated.

Birth/Start-up (Small firms)

0-4 employees

Production efficiency and effectiveness, human resources management and re-organisation, economic and regulation environment.

(Medium-sized firms)

5-19 employees

Maintaining growth momentum and market position, economic environment, production stagnation and lack of innovation, and employee retention.

Stability/Maturity and Decline
(Large firms)

20+ employees

Source:Miller and Friesen 1984; Kazanjian 1988; Terpstra and Olson 1993 and Huang and Brown 1999 (cf. Rutherford et al. 2004).

Conceptualising the phases and problems of organisations will help us understand the policies made in benefit of micro and small businesses in the European Union. However, a point in time must be made regarding the micro-enterprises that may not fit into the typology above given the ethos of their existence.

In Europe, the crafts industry is within the definition for micro-enterprises as well as entrepreneurs in the rural areas. However, one should also consider the large number of self-employed professionals such as plumbers, carpenters, painters and also accountants whom may never expand their business, formalising it into a company hence adhering to the organisational life cycle above. Nevertheless, they too generate employment and tax revenue on top of their networked oriented business behaviour hence contributing to the country’s economy but as well as for social and local integration in Europe (European Commission’s SME Portal – Observatory Report of European Enterprises 2003/7).

Given the above, the needs for micro and small enterprises will vary according to their problems and other human aspects inherent of the cultural and social settings and mindset businesses are found. These settings have been acknowledged by the European Commission in providing assistance to groups widely seen as minorities in large scale businesses, but forming a large number among micro and small entrepreneurs, namely women and immigrants.

The Concept of Policy Implementation Networks

In policy network theory, implementation networks have been categorised and conceptualised mostly according to the context in which they have emerged in order to either reduce transaction costs or resolve problems effectively. Such a context will determine the resources and power that members will share on their way to achieve their shared goals or resolve their common problems (Provan and Milward 1995 and Bozer 1996). The subject of context is here defined as the ethos and habitus of policy implementation networks in general and they will be explained later on in this chapter.

Modern states are now dealing with problems of greater complexity and this requires a superior level of negotiation and public participation in order for services to be delivered to the public as effectively as it is possible. For this reason, O’Toole (1997) asks researchers and public administrators to take networks more seriously and calls for a whole research agenda on the effects they have on hierarchical structures common to public agencies and ultimately affecting policy making, implementation and evaluation (O’Toole 1997; Provan and Milward 1995, 1998 and 2001; Bolzer 1996; and Sandström and Carlssson 2008, among others).

The last decade saw a particular growth in research interest on policy implementation networks. Most of the work produced, once satisfied with the working concepts and theoretical frameworks on the subject, now concentrates on measuring implementation effectiveness from different angles and using different methods (idem).

While O’Toole (1997 and 1999) remained mostly in the theoretical field hypothesising on management action in hierarchical structures (O’Toole and Meier 1999) and Bozer (1997) strived to conceptualise networks as forms of governance, others like Blair (2002) took the empirical road either by putting to test models created by O’Toole and Meier (1999) or utilised Social Network Analysis in order to analyse networks for what they really are, social structures with interdependent interests (ibidem).

As to the initial theoretical framework for policy implementation networks, O’Toole and Meier (1999) created models for managerial action in public administration taking into account the prevailing hierarchical structure of public agencies. For them, networks are of great help to public servants and they see the two structures, linear and non-linear, as poles of a continuum related to buffering in the interests of stability (1999: 510).

However, it is important to note that the emphasis of their work is on improving hierarchical systems rather than replacing them for networks since the authors see the informal and inconsistent nature of networks as a weak structure for buffering environmental issues common to policy implementation or service delivery while they also believe that a hierarchical system can maximise management resources more than networks as the latter demands more of such resources in order to maintain reciprocal ties. Though, they do acknowledge that not all networks have inconsistent relationships and have achieved stability by sharing a consistent policy agenda away from a hierarchical habitus, e.g. US farmers’ network, borrowing the term in italics from Tocqueville (2004: 329).

Blair (2002), on the other hand, deals with empirical quantitative research on policy implementation in the field of economic development by studying the so-called Enterprise Zones in Southern United States, very popular in the 1990s, especially during Reagan’s second term in presidency. He makes use of policy tools theory and methodology while also drawing from O’Toole and Meier’s (1999) conceptual framework and models for public management in policy systems to formulate his three major hypotheses that aim at measuring the level of direct government intervention in service delivery systems for Enterprise Zones in distressed areas.

The first hypothesis states that less government direct intervention means more complex implementation networks, while the second hypothesis continues from the first by asserting that less government participation also means that more actors are involved in implementation, especially private and non-profit organisations. Finally, the third hypothesis, which will later provide the most confounding findings, posits that the private sector takes a greater role in implementing programs in economic development policy networks (2002:170).

The first two hypotheses were validated by the findings and agreed with the theoretical concept framework by O’Toole and Meier (1999) on the structure of new policy implementation systems. However, the third hypothesis for which he expected a negative correlation between private and public participation in implementation, he, in fact, obtained a positive one. His findings indicated that the more active is government intervention in the EZs investigated, the more participative businesses were in implementing the programs. However, this finding, according to Blair, does not contradict what had been theorised by O’Toole and Meier’s (1999) (cf. Blair 2002), but he classifies O’Toole’s (1997) system as the old implementation system and the later as the new system.

Although policy tools theory is one good way of measuring government intervention in economic development, other approaches may also provide fruitful findings and ways of analysing policy implementation networks.

Bozer (1997), for example, explains that policy networks are conceived as a particular form of governance in modern policy systems (Kenis and Schneider 1991; Kooiman 1993; Mayntz 1994, cf. Bozer 1997). In fact, she notes that their main focus is on problem-solving and not on intermediating interests. Any cooperative game members play in order to negotiate strategies to arrive at a solution and based not only on mutual goals, but mostly on communication and trust while acknowledging that their values, ideas and identities are essential to the network. Therefore, Bozer understands:-

Policy networks as ‘webs of relatively stable and ongoing relationships which mobilise and pool dispersed resources so that collective (or parallel) action can be orchestrated toward the solution of a common policy’ (Kenis & Schneide 1993: 36 cf. Bozer 1993:5). A policy network includes all actors involved in the formulation and implementation of a policy in a policy sector. They are characterised by predominantly informal interactions between public and private actors with distinct but interdependent interests, who strive to solve problems of collective action on a central, non-hierarchical level. (Bozer 1997: idem)

She asserts that scholars whom have dedicated their work to see these network members as rational actors, following a horizontal self-coordination, may forget to include some of the main aspects making for such networks in the first place. For Bozer, looking at the intermediation position that networks can have, one may realise that policy-making can be ‘blocked by dissent’ and create what she sees as the ‘bargaining dilemma’ (or prisoner’s dilemma) where ‘defection from cooperation is more rewarding than compliance for a rational actor, owing to the risk of being cheated’. (1997:4) The exception exists when ‘bargaining is voluntary’.

As approaches to research change over time and so do concepts and theoretical frameworks on policy implementation networks. Though, most references analysed for this work, showed that there is more of a convergence of knowledge on the topic rather than any radical change. It was noted, however, that works on the subject matter have become more and more empirical and it was found that using structural analysis has proved rather fruitful for a much needed progression on studying it.

Aside policy tools, strategic decisions and interest intermediation to share resources and increase productivity and effectiveness, networks are social structures where norms are created and crystallised or otherwise and as such they must be analysed for their properties, the opportunities (advantages) and constraints (disadvantages) that these properties can originate. In other words, since networks are dynamic social structures, the questions asked, either to understand their modus operandi or more so to measure their effectiveness, refer to how actors organise themselves to problem-solving and what are the properties that this can originate. This seems to be the approach taken by a recent study on four policy networks in the educational system in Sweden by Sandström and Carlssson (2008).

They acknowledge the organisational roots of policy network theory and from which important concepts have emerged, such as advocacy coalitions, implementation structures, iron triangles, issue networks, policy communities, and subgovernments (Sabatier & Jenkins-Smith 1993; Hjern & Porter 1993; Jordan & Schubert 1992; Heclo 1978; Jordan 1990; Rhodes 1990; cf. Sandström and Carlssson 2008). Nevertheless, their research is justified by the reasons mentioned earlier, being a lack of substantive empirical work using the methods of social network analysis to study policy networks, since only network theorists in different disciplines (Sociology, Political Science, Business Administration etc.) have been interested in the social capital derived from network properties and which is capable of evaluating outcomes and performance.

The authors concluded that their theoretical and methodological approach, as aforementioned, proved fruitful for the understanding of policy networks as a structural process where heterogeneity and centralisation are beneficial to network performance whereas structural holes (poorly or non-connected actors) should be avoided when the objective is to achieve efficiency (2008:517). In this view, concepts and knowledge generated by their study converge with those generated by previous works mentioned earlier in a complimentary manner.
Evidently, there are several theoretical and empirical works making valuable contribution to the conceptualisation and setting an ever richer theoretical framework to rely on. However, given the short time given for this research, we will settle for what was seen as some of the most useful works with which to begin with.

The ethos and habitus of policy implementation networks

After contemplating some of the most prominent and recent concepts and theories on policy implementation networks and having touched on the subject of context, we now proceed to further the discussion on the latter beginning with seminal works on bureaucracy, the original ethos of public policy making and an aspect of the context which policy networks can be found. After that it will be discussed the idea of habitus as conceived by Tocqueville on his work about the associational ability of North Americans in the United States of his times.

Beginning with the former, Max Webber interpreted the bureaucratic organisation by using terms such as money economy (for its existence), but also stability and rigidity as forming the ‘mechanised bureaucratic apparatus’ while emphasising its ‘technical superiority over every other form’. (1978:345-50) In parallel to contemporary public administration systems, the bureaucratic systems conceived by Weber had similar reasons to evolve and proliferate, being the always increasing complexity in administration, pressure from interested parties for social policy and willingness by the state to increase efficiency while reducing transaction costs. Still according to Weber, authority and hierarchy are also essential to the universe occupied by the public office. However, networked systems, although still embedded in bureaucracy, being hierarchy its essence, would not posses the same strictness and uniformity. As we have seen earlier, this is not to say that today’s public administration cannot achieve stability through ways other than hierarchy. (O’Toole and Meier 1999)

However, it is well known that Weber came from a rather theoretical perspective, which is the opposite of Peter Blau’s (1963) case, whom has written an entire book on the American bureaucratic system as a result of his ethnographical work in the 1950s. For Blau, this type of social organisation could not be defined merely through hypotheses, but was rather the subject of empirical investigation. Moreover, he opted to see bureaucracy as an orchestrated effort of public officials to ‘transform exceptional problems into routine duties of experts’. (Hughes 1951, cf. Blau, 1963:251)

In fact, Blau acknowledges that the bureaucratic system in Germany during Weber’s times were very different from the same system on Blau’s times, especially if we consider they also refer to different countries, hence of different cultures. Even if we accept that expertise, or specialism, has been the raison d’être of public administration (again, for transaction cost reduction and efficiency’s sake), social interaction among servants are always changing and recurrent cooperation among workmates and just not friends would help contribute to the emergence of the new ethos of policy implementation networks. (Blau 1963:259; Bozer 1997)

Therefore, one can hypothesise that repeated social interaction among individuals within the same group or organisation will lead to cooperative behaviour and as Bozer (1997) has inferred, such interactions combined with the notion of good communication and trust building will make for an operating networked system not only for policy implementation affecting one group or the other, but also for improving public service delivery as a whole, as noted by O’Toole 1997, O’Toole and Meier 1999 and Blair 2002, among others.
If we accept that communicating one’s intentions normally precedes trust building in negotiations, it might be rather relevant to go through the aimed outcome of such repeated communication with a view to also build social capital – as the optimum product of trust and voluntary cooperation.
Some of the main literature posits that trust and reciprocity are paramount to building social capital as well as the main mechanisms that an organisation or a country needs to cope with and successfully overcome financial crises (Fukuyama 1996). Putnam and Fukuyama, for example, infer that the erosion of social capital in the United States, caused by of sharp decline in associational ties and civic engagement, lead the country into a path of distrust and acute individualism amongst its populace. Fukuyama also explains that countries with consistent associational ties and high level of mutual trust, like Japan and Germany, may recover from economic downturns much quicker than countries such as the USA and Italy. As we will see later in this work, the vicissitudes of building up social capital and maintaining it have been equally observed and widely discussed by the works of Putnam (1995 and 2000) and Fukuyama (1996) among other authors for whom such a decline is of utmost concern.

In order to understand the main structures sustaining the theories on social capital, we shall briefly go through some of the classic literature that were used by both Putnam and Fukuyama to explain it in part or in whole and which will be helpful to understand matters regarding associational ties, trust and reciprocal relationships as another important element adding to the context of policy implementation networks.

In Robert Putnam’s article of 1995, he reveals his disappointment with the decline of associational ties amongst Americans that once used to be the highest in the world as stated by Alexis the Tocqueville in 1863. However, it is in Fukuyama’s work that we will see a more elaborated reflection on how such a decline can not just be seen in America but in other countries and the effects it has on these countries. It is also through Fukuyama that we shall observe a greater understanding on how it all begin, in the first place, how it is declining in the second and how it can be built up all over again.

While none of the above theorists seem to offer an innovative solution to such the generalised decline in social capital, they do show us that a counter attack to avoid its erosion is possible via old recipes given by theorists whom before them could see it coming; from Hobbes to Tocqueville and Bourdieu.

Through the works of Hobbes and Rousseau, for example, they search on the origins of everything social and human, and it is their precepts on the social contract among citizens guided by certain ethical habits, as observed by Weber and Tocqueville. These habits will generate and consolidate associational ties that shall begin first through one’s own family, then through one’s occupational groups, or a religion, and eventually lead to a political party or civic engagement, or all of them at once – as so much emphasised by Durkheim as well as Tocqueville.

Thomas Hobbes, in his works De Cive (the citizens) and Leviathan (1651), explains that the social state comes to replace the natural state through a social covenant that will provide for the survival of humanity in the face of its worst enemy, being humanity itself and the covenant will be either amongst citizens themselves or between cities. His famous phrase in the Epistle Dedicatory of De Cive to Earl of Devonshire in 1651 makes it more explicit:-
To speak impartially, both sayings are very true; That Man to Man is a kind of God; and that Man to Man is an arrant Wolfe. The first is true, if we compare Citizens amongst themselves; and the second, if we compare Cities. (2004: 2)

However, it is in the Leviathan where he sets out the specifics of such a covenant, which comes to existence through a contract having at heart a mutually agreed covenant for the transfer of rights by both contractors (parties) at some determinate time after or in the form of a free-gift, that is a covenant where such a transfer is made by only one of the parties in hope to gain friendship, or service from another, or from his friends; or in hope to gain the reputation of charity… [and] this is not a contract (Hobbes 1996: 89). Still according to Hobbes, failure by the parties (by one or both) to perform the promise made, results in a breach of trust, being a violation of faith. (idem) Hence, it is this contract, according to Hobbes, that will replace the permanent state of fear present in the natural state for the state of mutual trust forged by the social state through its political authority.

These precepts will be further developed by Rousseau in what he defines as the Social Pact where the terms association and associates, respectively, will refer to those abiding to the collective will represented by the body politic (the state). Its associates are classified as either active participants (citizens) in the power of a sovereign state or as subjects, subjected to the laws of the state whether it is a sovereign or pacific state (Hobbes 1998: 15-6). Although mutual trust is not meticulously discussed in his definition of the social pact, he does emphasises on the act of giving (or performance of the covenant) and the expected reciprocity therewith.

Complimentary to the above, Weber and Tocqueville will examine what makes for successful associations and their corresponding political and economic returns. Weber, for example, posited that the protestant ethics, especially the Calvinist ethics, are the ethos in which capitalism will be developed and consolidated (Weber, 2001). Whilst for Tocqueville, the mores and habitus of Americans are the causes explaining why the USA was so successful in its associational ties and democratic system and he observes that their commercial passions are the real forces behind their political life rather than the opposite (Tocqueville 2004: 329).

Therefore, if in the first place we needed to establish a social contract, which everyone would voluntary abide to, having reciprocity and mutual trust dictating the covenants being made (and sometimes broken) by the parties then, it was left for us to comprehend and learn the environment in which such covenants would be most likely to succeed or fail, being religious ethics the most accepted vehicle by social scientists through which such covenants are effected and understood.

Nonetheless, in contemporary nationalistic literature, the religious ethics need not necessarily be those of the religions we formally know about, but perhaps a religion that, one may argue, has become everyday more tacitly adhered to in modern societies: nationalism. This is the viewpoint of Llobera (2000) whom defines the modern nation-state as the God of modernity, for societies everywhere can now project in the state all their glory, but also their frustration. The aforementioned is important if we are to consider now-a-days public service delivery and social networking in general as part of day-to-day organisation and interaction, or especially in the context of policy implementation networks.

Where engaging in associational activities, individuals must attempt to the reciprocity norms ascribed to the different groups they belong to whether voluntarily or not. A grand starting point to understand these norms are the works of Malinowski (1922) and Mauss (2002) on the Kula (Melanesia) and the Poltlach (West North America), respectively. Both gift exchanging cycles are understood as reciprocity systems. The latter is considered an extreme form of the former since it involves the entire community and all sorts of possessions. However, both involve emotions and religion.

For the sake of clarification, the Kula consists of a set of traditional rules stipulating the circulation of specified articles in a ring of islands in New Guinea. It is a permanent cycle maintained by the a set of two male inhabitants of these islands whom in turn form long life partnerships through the continuous and ceremonious exchange of Kula articles, a bracelet of white shell (mwali) and a long necklace of red shell (soulava). Magical rituals could be observed during exchanges (Malinowski 2001: 82-3).

The Poltlach, however, takes a rather extreme form and is considered a ‘totalised competitive giving’ (Mary Douglas in Mauss 2000: xi). The duty of honour in this system is greater than in the Kula and there are cases where the receiver will never be able to honour the giver because of the fiercely competitive character of the cycle, which continuous between families as well as generations (Mauss 2001: 25).

Perhaps the reader may have the impression that the above examples of reciprocity systems might look misplaced, outdated or even extreme for what is meant by the ethos and habitus of policy implementation networks. But, hopefully, it will not be a lasting one for these are classic and widely accepted frameworks to understanding the trust building process in society.

Another prominent form of explaining reciprocity and trust-building is the cooperative theory as envisaged by Axelrod and Hamilton (1981). In spite of his theory not being a precursor in the subject of mutual cooperation and its implications for rational choice, it triggered a series of other researches that either agreed with the basis of it (the Prisoner’s dilemma) or challenged it altogether.

Axelrod’s (1981) cooperation theory originated from a very simple yet elegant game theory called the Prisoner’s dilemma, which deals with payoff and punishment for cooperation defect. This game theory’s formula for cooperation or defection thereof is made out of the formula where reward for mutual cooperation is always greater than the payoff to defect. It is illustrated by the formula T>R>P>S, where T is the temptation to defect, R is the reward for mutual cooperation, P is punishment for mutual defection, and S is the sucker’s payoff. In this game, it pays to defect regardless of players’ choices. Axelrod can offer a clearer explanation:-

In the Prisoner’s Dilemma game, two individuals can each either cooperate or defect. The payoff to a player is in terms of the effect on its fitness (survival and fecundity). No matter what the other does, the selfish choice of defection yields a higher payoff than cooperation. But if both defect, both do worse than if both had cooperated. (1981: 1391)

However, as we have noted above, reward (R) for mutual cooperation is always greater than any payoff and is represented by the formula R>(S+T)/2. According to Axelrod, based on the above game theory, defection ‘is always an evolutionary stable strategy’ and defection is advisable only if there is a low probability (w) that players will meet again. The inverse of this probability would give rise to what the author calls ‘TIT FOR TAT’ strategy where w (the probability of meeting again) is large enough to make for stable and robust mutual cooperation, which is what the author classifies as reiterate Prisoner’s dilemma meaning that instead of a one-shot chance, players can play again and sanctions can be applied to the defector by the victim of the first move. (1981:1392-3)

Challenges to this theory have considered that most individuals not always have sufficient time to think of strategic moves and rather adopt an adaptive strategy whereby the moves of players whom seem to be doing well are copied. (Simon 1982 cf. Axelrod 2000:5). Moreover, other gaps left by the theory were elucidated by Buskens and Weesie’s (2000) article on cooperation in social networks. There some of the points missed by Axelrod included the fact he seemed to ignore that individuals do not act in isolation and usually embedded in networks, which brings to light the subject of reputation effects in communication networks, for example. Moreover, they also consider the theory to be ‘pessimistic about the prospects of cooperation’, for sanctions are limited to the direct victim rather than considering the long-term damage on the defector caused by his non-cooperative behaviour. (2000:45)

The above literature is relevant to this work when it is taken into account the decision-making process in policy implementation networks given the hierarchical but highly complex and heterogeneous context of these networks.

Leaving aside, for a moment, trust building, reciprocity and cooperation, we now arrive at social capital, considered in this work the thickest layer of the social fabric. Here, the term is concisely explained by French Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, one of its prominent voices:-

Social capital is the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition – or in other words, to membership in a group – which provides each of its members with the backing of the collectively owned capital, a ‘credential’ which entitles them to credit, in the various senses of the word. (Bourdieu 1986)

Rothstein and Eek (2009) posit that social trust elicited by repeated mutual cooperation can minimise transaction costs since contracts (whether social or legal) are considerably less elaborated for they have the exchange of resources at heart, including in its immaterial form, in order to enable the achievement of common goals, or the solutions to mutual problems.

As we have seen, the context of policy implementation networks is given by the structure in which networks are located, being the result of social relations. The behaviour structuring these relations help us understand or explain how networks achieve their goals, resolve their problems ultimately affecting (positively or negatively) not only their targeted areas, but also influencing areas that may not be directly linked with the former – it is all down to a long and dynamic chain of ties.

The contribution of structural analysis

Structural analysis main use is that of network analysis for networks are considered the structure of society. It is based on weak determinism with a holistic methodology that does not see the individual acting solely based on his interest, or on the interest of a small group she might belong to. Structural analysis looks at the whole structure made of a series of networks, not just a ‘reduced sum of individuals’. (Degenne and Forsé 1999:6-7)

The two schools currently making for structural analysis methodology are individualism (Weber) and holism (Simmel). The individualistic perspective assumes that individual choices can explain social action while the holistic approach asserts that individuals are connected to others through reciprocal experiences and the relations arisen from their connection is what explains social actions.

Although no concept can be absolute when it comes to analysing social actions, structural analysis deviates from the more quantitative forms of analysis and therefore from individuals characteristics to immerge itself into social relations, either between dyads or among groups. There is not limited scope for analysis.

This methodological and analytical approach has been useful to understand social phenomena that could be explained only by statistical data or for those whom does not give the question for answered solely by observing very small groups, as it is normally the case of ethnography. However, a researcher using the latter method would intend to make, what Geertz would phrase as ‘generalisations across cases, but generalisations within cases’. (1993: 27) It is widely accepted that the former type of generalisation would normally belong to the sociological sphere rather than the anthropological one.

On the above, Wellman (1982) has said in his article ‘Studying personal communities’ that attempting to analyse a social phenomenon solely through individual’s characteristics (including demographics) may case the research to miss out points such as solidarity among groups, as an example he quotes the research on migrants adaptability to the new environment. Initially, researchers had the idea that migrants would not be able to adapt given their ‘loss of community’. However, what they later found is that migrants would normally rely on ties either at the new place or in their ancestral communities to make adaptability easier and the ‘loss of community’ would be merely an invalid assumption. (1982: 64-5)

Other authors on structural analysis, from Tonnies and Simmel (the classics) to Granovetter and Burt (some of the most prominent at present), take on social organisation as a result of structural arrangements having at centre of their analysis the characteristics originated by the dynamical relationship among individuals and subsequently among groups and so forth.

For this reason and for the fact that what is being studied is exactly the relationship among groups in order to implement policies for the benefit of other groups regardless of the interchangeable roles they are expected to play, either as a sources of information (consulted parties) or as information seekers (consulting parties) during the entire process of policy-making, implementation and evaluation.


MSE Policy Implementation Actors

2.1 Sampling methods

Given the limited familiarity with the subject of policy networks and despite previous knowledge of possible policy actors for Micro and Small Enterprises in Ireland, it was necessary to first perform a number of non-random sampling procedures combined with qualitative analysis techniques.

The initial stage involved internet research using snowball sampling and content analysis techniques in order to identify the main actors, excluding MSEs. For example, judgment sampling was complimented by content analysis, which allowed for snowball sampling in order to generate more names for the target population. This meaning that the information contained in one policy document issued by an actor judged as being a key player in policy-making and implementation for small businesses, i.e. EU Directorate General for Enterprise and Industry, led to another actor and so forth.

Another example of the use of these methods is the information on the website of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment which led me to the SME Unit in that Department ultimately leading me to the County and City Enterprise Boards and Enterprise Ireland, respectively. It was a top-down approach to sampling following not only from literature on policy networks. This approach has been subjected to criticism by other researchers, but it was indeed the approach that best suited the work given the time constraints it faced.

Once an initial list of names could be generated containing actors at a European, national and local levels, an interview with a key informant in the SME Unit of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, was also carried out in order to either confirm or generate further names. A follow-up questionnaire, after data had been collected, was faxed to the key informant whom had to confirm the list of actors involved in the implementation process regarding the five policies stipulated by the European Commission’s Directorate General for Trade and Industry. Controls were set for the follow-up questionnaire to consider actors and information given at the time of answering the first questionnaire.

Evidently, the risk of bias normally considered in non-random sampling has been considered in the design and is now further explained with the hope that such a risk is minimised by the knowledge generated herewith.

Regarding sampling for Micro and Small enterprises in Dublin 15, the sample of small businesses was obtained from the ‘company search’ page on the Companies Registration Office’s website ( by clicking on the radial button ‘Company’ and filling out the name and address fields provided with the words ‘services’ and ‘Dublin 15’. This generated a sample (N=273) for companies which names included the word ‘services’ and for the address entered, being 59 percent of these entities with an active status. Moreover, 38 percent (N=109) among them were up to 3 years old and the remainder was listed as insolvent and/or over that age. It is important to note that the sample above certainly does not represent the entire population of companies in the Service sector in Dublin 15 by 10th July 2009, the date which sampling was carried out. This is also to say that not all companies in Dublin 15 were on the list generated by the CRO search system. A thorough search would show different results, obtain companies of ages ranging from 1 day old to N days old and so on. Given the lack of time available, this was not possible.

The original population (N=273) was then reduced to N=109 and a sampling function was carried out using Excel RANDOM() formula by placing the 109 companies into one column and the RANDOM () formula next to it in order to select 25 percent of that number (N=27) using the random sampling formula f = n/N to obtain the number of cases in the sample. Then, another filtering procedure was carried out, having financial statements checked for accounts up to 1 year old in order in order to confirm that these entities would fall into the working definition of Micro and Small enterprises and they matched the criteria. However, where searching for telephone contact numbers for these entities, only the number for three entities was found.

From these three entities, one had no financial statements because it was only a month old as per CRO records hence was not required to file account until it is eighteen months old. Although one cannot prove that this is either a Micro or a Small company based on the date of its incorporation, it is safely stated that it is a start-up in both legal and financial terms. Regarding the first two remaining enterprises, it was confirmed that their financial results for the last year classified them as being small businesses. A head count would also be necessary to specify whether they are within the micro or small business category, but it suffices to know that they are small and below the threshold of €10m turnover or annual balance sheet. Exhibit 3 in Appendix 1 can give further information on the statistics of the sampling frame.
These entities were therefore contacted and consequently accepted to participate in the research. However, none of them returned their questionnaires for the following reasons:-

– Company 1: the respondent for this company stated the questionnaire format and content was ‘beyond him’ and could not complete it;
– Company 2: in this case, a property services entity, the respondent was located only once will calls no longer answered or returned; and
– Company 3: the respondent agreed to participate every time she was contacted, but for lack of time and given the research deadline, a complete questionnaire was never returned.

Here again, the issue of bias considering the lack information on the Micro and Small enterprises participation in the implementation process will be discusses later in this work. For the moment, we are satisfied in remaining within the borders of sampling methodology utilised herein.

2.1.2 Selection criteria

On top of using the sampling methods above, some selection criteria were also established given the limited scope and time for this research. These criteria were the aims and contents of the five main SME policies contained in the modern SME Policy for Growth and Employment 2005 issued by the European Commission as part of the Lisbon Programme, being:-

– Promoting entrepreneurship and skills;
– Improving SMEs access to markets;
– Cutting red tape;
– Improving SMEs growth potential; and
– Strengthening dialogue and consultation with SMEs stakeholders.

An analysis of the policy document and other documents related thereto indicated the actors involved in implementation at all levels. The results of the analysis will be dealt with in the Findings chapter of this research.

In the case of Micro and Small enterprises in the Dublin 15 area, the selection criteria utilised was stricter than the EU Commission’s definition of enterprise would entail in order to make for a manageable pool of respondents. Hence, it did not include business names registered with the Companies Registration Office in the last three years, but only entities incorporated up to 3 years ago and legally regarded as being active by that public organisation. For clarification purposes, entities considered active by the CRO are those which financial statements have been duly filed since the company’s incorporation date until the company’s next annual return date.

However, it was also considered the fact that a company filing its accounts timely and annually does not necessarily mean a trading business. There are cases where companies are declared as ‘dormant’ by auditors compiling the financial statements and, as legislation dictates, they must be either a Registered Auditor or a Chartered Accountant and accounts will be filed as being ‘audited’ or ‘unaudited’ financial statements. Only companies considered small as per s 8, Companies Act 1986 and EU Recommendation 2003/361/EC can avail of filing ‘unaudited’ accounts with the Companies Registration Office.
According to different studies on Organisation Life Cycle models (OLC) (Rutherford, Buller and McMullen 2003; Miller and Frieser 1984), companies within that age are more likely to be between their start-up and growth phases depending, obviously, on a series of environmental factors, such as company’s characteristics, number of employees and size (Rutherford, Buller and McMullen 2003: 322 and Yan 2006: 6) meaning that the cycle is adjusted to each company’s own developing pace. However, considering Miller and Frieser’s (1984) article of the subject and as a referential point for readers not so much familiar with this aspects in business and economic studies, I decided to include their proposed OLC model in Appendix 1, (Figure 1).

Taking all of the above into consideration, the EU Commission’s definition of Micro and Small businesses, as adopted by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and applied by its regulatory agency, the Companies Registration Office, was used as a reference in this work to describe the sample’s demographics which are linked with the making of the policies aforementioned, in the first place.

2.2 Respondents

Greater details on the final sample (N=24) of actors making the policy implementation network for Micro and Small enterprises in Ireland, and more specifically in Dublin 15, can be found in Appendix 1, Exhibit 1. For this chapter, Table 2 shows the necessary details, as follows:-

Table 2.  Respondents for the Policy Implementation Network







EU Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry





EU Commission’s SME Envoy





European Enterprise Network





Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Small and Medium Enterprises Unit





Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Internal Markets Unit





Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Better Regulation Unit





Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Company Law Review Group





Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Employment Rights Legislation Section





Enterprise Ireland





Forfás – Management Development Council





The Revenue Commissioners (BES/SCS Section)





Central Statistics Office





Department of the Taoiseach





Department of Finance





Industry Development Authority





County and City Enterprise Boards





Skillnets – Enterprise Learning Network





Chambers Ireland





Irish Banking Federation





Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association





Small Firms Association





Fingal Enterprise Board





Fingal Dublin Chamber





Individual MSEs




The return rate for the questionnaires was 41.67 percent and a follow-up questionnaire to the Head of SME Unit (DETE) containing open-ended questions was sent as follows:-

– Have any stakeholders been included in the list that should have been?
– Are any relevant stakeholders missing from the table?
– Could you confirm that the actors in the first list above are indeed involced with implementing the policies above for small businesses, even to a small extent?
– Could you confirm that cooperation between you, whether mandatory or voluntary, is mutual?
The first two questions were also made in the first questionnaire sent to the above respondents and it is important to mention that they were adapted from Dr. Diane Payne’s (University College Dublin) Social Network Analysis study in November 2000 and originally created by Dr. Rene Torenvleid of Ultrech University. The remaining two were added to the questionnaire for the purposes aforementioned.

Social Network Analysis Methods

I now proceed to introduce the dominant methodology of this enquiry, Social Network Analysis. The methods of SNA are aimed at the structural analysis of social organisation and can be used to learn how decisions are made, information flows, or even infection diseases are transmitted from one node to another and to the network subsequently. We have already seen how networks can be unveiled from the questionnaire above and we now look at how cooperation has been measured and resulted from these measures.

The primary aim of this work is to learn more about the network itself since there has been no published or known material on this topic in Ireland so far. For this specific enquiry, it was already known what would bring policy actors together, being cooperation to implement the five leading policies of the Modern Small Business Act 2005 and the Small Business Act 2008, as a result. Then, guided by literature, the enquiry aimed at the type of cooperation among actors in order to implement these policies, whether it was mandatory or voluntary cooperation.

The following is the extract from the questionnaire with a definition of the cooperation types above obtained through literature review and dictionary research using the Longman Dictionary (2003: 1000 and1845) of the terms mandatory and voluntary: –

Mandatory cooperation implies that one of the actors has received formal instructions to cooperate with the other. Voluntary cooperation means that the actor cooperates motivated by an overlap in desires with the other.

After defining the types of cooperation, these were subsequently signalled by RED and BLUE arrows for mandatory and voluntary cooperation, respectively. Based on Dr. Payne’s questionnaire model, respondents were instructed to indicate with the appropriate arrow the direction cooperation was taking between ego and alters. There were six tables to accommodate the three combinations for cooperation for each set of actors, being EU organisations, ROI Public organisations and Private organisations. For example, if actor A in Table 1 cooperated with B in Table 2 on a mandatory basis, then a red arrow should go from A to B in the two opposing tables. Where cooperation, whether mandatory or voluntary, was mutual then, one arrow would two heads for equal cooperation types, or bi-colour (red-blue) arrow for different values.

In Social Network Analysis this is also a sampling procedure and it is defined as the ‘realist’ approach to sampling as the sampled actors set the boundaries and membership as perceived by the actors themselves. (Laumann, Marsden and Prenky 1989, cf. Wasserman and Faust 1994:31).

We have seen earlier in this dissertation that individuals make decisions to suit not only their individual interests but also the interests of others in their network of relations considering the sanctions that can be placed upon them by damaging their reputation hence restricting their access to resources in future transactions within the affected network or with the affected persons in the network, depending on their position in same. In policy implementation networks it is no different and for this reason the concepts of position, centrality, closeness, among others, will be used in order to explain the findings in the whole network for policy implementation.


‘Think Small First’?

Small businesses’ needs have been addressed by literature in a number of ways either limiting to core elements of business, such as legal, administrative, managerial and strategic aspects or considering all of the above plus micro and macro economic aspects such as the impact that unemployment, inflation, tax cuts and exchange rates can have on the decision-making business owners (Tahler 2005: Chap. 2; Strauss 2004 and Collier 2006).

Policy-making for small business is no different, or at least it is not expected to be, in that their considering of such aspects will decide how effective and close policies are to businesses’ day-to-day reality. For this reason, a series of official documents issued either by the public sector both at European and national level were examined against those issued by the private sector, especially by business associations which are supposed to voice the needs of small businesses in a fashion regarded as close as possible to their reality for consultation with small businesses had happened beforehand.

The first set of documents to be analysed was the Small Business Act 2008 named as ‘Think Small First’ and derived from the Modern SME policy for growth and employment 2007. The document outlines the measures that the European Commission is willing to take alongside member states in order to support small businesses and the spread of an entrepreneurial mindset amongst Europeans from an early stage in their education. Analysing this document, among other small business related documents published both by the public and private sector, proved invaluable for it helped unveiling other aspects that could corroborate for cross organisational cooperation and for an assessment of the document’s content coherence with the subject matter.

It is widely acknowledged that micro and small enterprises might share similar experiences when it comes to access to financing and or the level of management skills since medium size businesses are assumed to have overcome the learning curve of the initial phases of the organisation’s life cycle. Nevertheless, putting into perspective, small and medium size enterprises, compared with large organisations, are under the same threats when it comes to handling administrative burdens such as excessive regulation and having to pay the same rates for corporate tax among other fiscal duties.

However, a quantitative content analysis showed that the acronym for ‘Small and Medium enterprises’ (SME) ranked above (13 times) the combined words ‘small enterprises’ (7 times) and ‘micro-enterprises’ (5 times) despite the relevance given to the latter in other documents by the European Commission, i.e. ‘Putting Small Businesses First’ 2008. The context in which above words were located also reveals how they are perceived, being often amalgamated together into one single genre:-

The national and local environments in which SMEs operate are very different and so is the nature of SMEs themselves (including crafts, micro-enterprises, family owned or social economy enterprises). Policies addressing the needs of SMEs therefore need to fully recognise this diversity and fully respect the principle of subsidiarity (Small Business Act 2008: 2).

The above definition concurs with the official definition of SMEs given by the European Commission’s ‘Putting Small Business First’ 2008, a document setting out the principals of the policies in benefit of small and medium size enterprises:-

SMEs may be divided into three categories according to their size: micro- enterprises have fewer than 10 employees, small enterprises have between 10 and 49 employees, and medium-sized enterprises have between 50 and 249 employees. (2008: 7)

On the other hand, the word ‘support’, which appeared 31 times, was mostly found in the context of financial and advisory assistance to SMEs first, assuming that these are already established entities, and subsequently support to start-ups, female and immigrant entrepreneurs.

The word ‘policy’, which had 29 counts, was linked once with the achievements of the European Commission and the Member states in benefit of SMEs while at the same time being linked with a call for more turning principles into action and a call for a ‘genuine political partnership between the two actors in order to implement these principles (Small Business Act 2008: 4)

On the same view, data collected on ISME press release documents showed that the acronym for Small and Medium enterprises appeared 13 times (or less than 0.4 percent) and that.

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