Fostering Public Value in Security Networks: the Role of Leadership

Fostering Public Value in Security Networks: the Role of Leadership

Security networks have emerged as effective vehicles to tackle complex security challenges. This article presents how leadership fosters public value creation in such networks, based on empirical evidence from the author’s recent study of leadership* in two Dutch security networks.

The landscape of security provision has changed considerably in the past two decades. The notion of the state as a unitary provider of security has been replaced with that of ‘security assemblages’ or ‘security networks.’ These networks include a range of public, private and civil society actors collaborating to achieve individual and shared objectives.

An advantage of networks is their potential to tackle complex security challenges for which the pooling of resources between organizations is required. At the same time, collaboration is easier said than done: misalignment between the individual goals of network members and the public value objective(s) of the network often occur.

How does one overcome the challenges of networked collaboration in the security domain? A recent research report by the author and her colleagues Lara van Osch and Johan Jan Beukman (Leiden Leadership Centre), supervised by Prof. Dr. Sandra Groeneveld and Dr. Ben Kuipers, answers this question by means of a comparative case study of two security networks, analyzed through the lens of leadership.

Leadership explained

Leadership involves “the process of influencing others to understand and agree about what needs to be done and how to do it, and the process of facilitating individual and collective efforts to accomplish shared objectives” (Yukl, 2006, 8). Yukl (2012) has developed a taxonomy of four leadership behaviors displayed to influence others: task-, relations-, change-and externally oriented leadership.

The cases: reintegration of juvenile offenders and mental health treatment

The leadership taxonomy was applied to two Dutch networks aimed at tackling complex security challenges. The first network aims to foster the reintegration of juvenile offenders, by combining incarceration, treatment and support to juvenile offenders in small-scale, low-security prison facilities. The second network involves a collaboration between the police, (mental) health care providers, an insurance company, the public prosecutor’s office and several municipalities to deliver proper care for people with a mental health problem who might pose a threat to public order.

Leadership behaviors fostering public value creation in security networks

Task- and externally-oriented leadership behaviors turned out to be vital for the networks’ creation and survival. Externally oriented behaviors such as networking, external monitoring and representing are displayed to attract ‘champions’ and ‘sponsors’ who promote the network and invest resources pivotal for its survival. Task-oriented behaviors such as planning, clarifying tasks and monitoring progress are essential to provide a sense of (practical) direction to the network.

Relations- and change-oriented were used to build and maintain relationships, and shape the public value objective. These behaviors provided a credible narrative for collaboration.

Change-oriented leadership involves advocating change – meaning that a network member convinces others of the gravity of the status quo (non-collaboration). In the Mental Health and Public Order Network, a police officer would alert other network members of cases in which a mentally distressed person ended up spending a night in a prison cell because the local health clinic did not have space left to accommodate the individual. By doing so, the officer made other members aware of the need for (better) collaboration.

Secondly, the behavior of ‘envisioning change’ was used, meaning that a network member explains how effective collaboration could alleviate the status quo. In the Juvenile Detention Network, for instance, a network member stressed that a combination of low-security detention in collaboration with healthcare partners better serves the developmental needs of young offenders and is therefore more effective in preventing recidivism.

Lastly, change-oriented leadership in networks involves facilitating collective learning between network members. In the Juvenile Detention Network, for instance, disagreements arose between the party responsible for the placement of young offenders in either low- or high-security facilities and the Child Protection Agency. Whereas the former organization takes ‘potential security risk of the young offender’ as its criterion for placement, the latter focuses on ‘development opportunities for the young offender’. These two positions often resulted in disagreements. To reunite the two, ‘feedback groups’ were set up, where both parties would meet face-to-face to explain why they (didn’t) believe the offender poses a security threat and why the offender’s needs would be met in a high- or low-security prison. Having these discussions face-to-face, rather than making a decision and informing the other party later, resolved most of the disagreements.

Relations-oriented network leadership involves efforts to enhance trust between members and to create and maintain constructive relationships between partners. Research indicates that mistrust is one of the biggest challenges for collaborative effectiveness. Mistrust can arise when network members have misconceptions about other network members.

To build trust, differences between organizations has to be explicated. A word like ‘urgent,’ for instance, became a source of confusion when police, mental health institutions and municipalities used this term for different types of situations. Explicating these differences can sort out these misunderstandings.

Emphasizing the common interest is also important: why do the members collaborate with each other? What ties the members together? Here, the common security challenge at hand

proved to be the glue that kept the partners together: the vulnerable child, the person in mental distress and his/her family. Having a common target group and objective that everyone agrees on, turned out to be an important aspect of collaborative dynamics and trust between the members.

A third strategy to create trust, is by showing one’s own vulnerability. Network members would show emotions, expressing joy or discomfort with decisions made by other members. Network members observed two effects of this type of behavior; showing emotions would help other members open up more, and it would also lead to other members empathizing with them and wanting to help out. Both effects were regarded as positive for the collaborative process.


What do these case studies tell us about collaborating towards public value in networks? For one, collaboration should not be taken for granted as a technical means to solve security challenges. Networks need resources to survive; they require structured planning to execute tasks, they need trusting relationships between partners and an agreed upon public value objective. These require continuous efforts on four fronts: task-, relations-, change-, and externally oriented leadership. That does not mean that all of these efforts have to be made by one ‘leader.’ Both cases showed that task-, relations-, change-, and externally oriented behaviors were exerted by multiple individuals in the network, based on skill, expertise and experience. In that sense, public value leadership is, indeed, an orchestrated effort of multiple network members.

*This article was written on the basis of the following research report:

Leiden Leadership Centre. (2021). Publiek Leiderschap en werken volgens de bedoeling. [‘Public Leadership and Public Value Creation’]. https://www.universiteitleiden...

This blogpost contains insights from the report’s chapter focusing on ‘creating value in public sector networks.’ This research project is executed as part of the ‘Furthering Public Leadership’ program, a collaboration between Leiden Leadership Centre and several public organizations.