Micro Foundations of Network Formation: Experimental Evidence from American Municipal Governments

Abstract

The earlier research agenda on intergovernmental collaboration is “too late” and “too aggregated.” The existing literature investigates intergovernmental collaborations in the late stage after networks have formed. Further, intergovernmental network analyses are aggregated at the organizational and network levels, which makes it difficult to discern government leaders’ individual motivations to collaborate. To help us achieve a proactive worldview, this study integrates three fundamental network formation theories, rational choice, political homophily, and social capital, to predict public officials’ decisions to collaborate. A conjoint experiment of U.S. municipal officials was conducted to test the hypotheses. The results indicated that all three theories determine municipal officials’ decisions to collaborate in sustainability programs jointly, but political homophily has relatively less explanatory power than the other two. This study revealed further the different priorities between elected officials and city managers’ choice to collaborate. An additional subgroup analysis of party affiliation suggested that Republicans are willing to sacrifice self-interests to balance costs with their co-partisan collaborators. Overall, this experimental approach advances network theories and offers new opportunities to study intergovernmental collaboration.

Yixin Liu
Yixin Liu
PhD Candidate