In addition to the evaluation of the city deals in the Netherlands carried out by PBL in 2017, David Evers, Marloes Dignum and David Hamers have now published an article for an international scholarly audience. In this article, we answer the question to what extent city deals have the network governance (as opposed to government) character that they were supposed to have.
The Dutch national government likes to present itself as modern, open and having embraced the transition from government to governance (transformation thesis). In 2015, it launched its ‘Urban Agenda’ to harness the creative potential of cities to solve complex problems by means of city deals: voluntary agreements between municipalities, national ministries and private parties. City deals were supposed to operate according to the precepts of network governance and reap the benefits commonly associated with it.
In 2017, PBL carried out a research to investigate whether this was the case. Based on 44 in-depth structured interviews with a representative sample of participants, the city deals were found to exhibit network governance attributes to widely differing degrees. Moreover, little correlation was found between network governance attributes and positive outcomes. As such, this empirical investigation supports the recent critiques of the transformation thesis. We conclude that network governance is neither imperative nor inevitable as asserted by the so-called ‘government to governance transformation’ thesis, but the outcome of battles waged in public administrations on a daily basis.