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Wherever there are interconnected networks of organisations, whole system working has a lot to offer. Despite their differences, both private sector and public sector face similar organisational challenges. And both governance and social capital occur within networks of resource exchange.

Private sector networks.

The context, the players and the purpose of the public sector may be very different from the private sector, yet the organisational challenges they face

are similar. Commerce and industry, as much as the NHS, grapple with dense networks of interconnections.

Richard Normann uses the word ‘offering’ to describe what it is that service industries deliver. These offerings are often intangible and ownership is not transferred. Production and consumption frequently occur in the same moment and place and the service user takes part directly in the production. Service organisations have traditionally adopted a ‘relieving’ strategy - bring us your problems and we’ll fix it - but this is changing. If we see the client as an active and integral part of the service, then both provider and client add value. This is co-production. It leads to a view of the organisation’s purpose as enabling clients to meet their needs, rather than relieving them of their needs.

Increasingly, manufacturing and retailing develop through inter-connectedness. Goods are frequently bundled together as customised ‘offerings’. If you buy a book on mountaineering from amazon.com you may be offered the opportunity to buy related goods like climbing gear or climbing holidays.


Another area in which there has been a transition from hierarchical to network relationships is conveyed by the increasing use over the last 20 years of the term ‘governance’, which has a different meaning from it’s earlier equivalence with government. Rod Rhodes says ‘governance refers to self-organising, inter-organisational networks’. The factors he identifies as helpful in such networks - relationships, interdependence, repeated interactions, resource exchange, trust and reciprocity - are those described as whole system working.

Social capital

The term ‘social capital’ has been developed to describe what it is in a community (including its organisations) that give it the capacity to ‘get things done’ for mutual benefit. One way of defining it is as a measure of the quantity and quality of the relationships and connections between people and between organisations. Growing social capital is a process of growing this network of exchange of support and assistance.

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